Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A pox on both your houses!

Honestly, by this point, I am getting completely sick and tired of the election campaign, which seemed to have started all the way back in the middle of 2004 with Barack Obama’s speech to the Democratic National Convention. Finally, barring any legal challenges, it will all be over, one way or the other, tonight. And I’m glad for that. But seriously, I’m needing something, anything, to get my mind off of all this political coverage, most of which seems more steeped in platitudes and sheer inanity than actual substance or reportage. So I decided to find a movie to watch that would somehow, hopefully, distract me long enough from the stuffed shirts and empty suits on the networks. Then, getting through most of the video releases at the local rental shop, I realized why it was that I don’t rent many movies; to me, they seem only of marginally higher quality than what MSNBC passes for investigative journalism. And then, on the cover of an especially crappy movie, everything about this election made sense.

The movie in question, in case you were wondering, is “Aliens vs. Predator”, a typical high-budget special-effects-laden popcorn flick with an overall intelligence level a few notches below that of Paris Hilton. Needless to say, I didn’t take that movie back with me to watch, but the marketing tagline for it stuck out plainly in my mind: “Whoever wins, we lose.” Once I read that, I knew my angle.

To some extent, that slogan just encapsulated the entire 2008 Presidential election campaign.

On one side, you have Barack Obama, possibly the only man on the planet to have lived for nearly a half century without leaving any sort of paper trail or appreciable perception on anyone in terms of his capacity for governance. In a sense, he has become the ultimate example of a tabula rasa, a blank slate, to which people have been able to attach their own visions, hopes, and aspirations to his lofty rhetoric about change and coming together to move forward. Not that, mind you, he has shown any semblance of “coming together” on anything, unless it is somebody from the other side of the aisle completely capitulating to his line of thinking (such as Chuck Hagel, a Republican Senator from Nebraska, with respect to foreign policy; Sen. Hagel is now being talked about as a potential Secretary of Defense in an Obama administration). While having surrounded himself with a fantastic team of advisors and academics to build his policy platform, he also seems to disregard them when he needs to listen to them the most (such as his words vis-à-vis Austan Goolsbee, the brilliant University of Chicago economist, on matters of trade). His campaign relies on iconography in campaigning that hearkens references to Latin American “cult of personality” dictators like Juan Peron or Hugo Chavez, while simultaneously saying that Americans cannot continue living their lives as they have in the past and “expect the rest of the world to be okay with that.” His faith in the state to provide solutions to all manner of personal and societal ills, while profound, is also alarmingly naïve; as even the Scandinavian governments are scaling back their welfare states in response to overpromising and underdelivering, Obama seeks to inform the American people that, on matters of the environment, finance, and education, yes, the government knows what’s best for you, and will do so whether you like it or not. His taxation plans provide disincentives for people to actually invest, take risks, and become successful, while simultaneously allowing foreign nations to effectively close off their markets to our manufactured products by wanting to rip up currently existing trade deals. In many ways, we haven’t seen such a level of disregard for the freedoms of the individual from a Presidential candidate since Michael Dukakis twenty years ago; the difference being, of course, that Dukakis had absolutely no shot at winning. Obama, barring a small miracle, should win easily.

That is not to say, however, that everything is fine and dandy with Senator John McCain, a man who is becoming more emblematic of a historical relic than he is of being a viable Presidential contender. McCain escaped a circular firing squad of a Republican primary simply by virtue of the fact that nobody had many serious qualms about him, not so much of having any practical expertise or qualifications to be President. He was selected more or less because nobody could gin up enough hatred of him. In an age where rhetoric and capacity for ideas is paramount, Republicans placed their hopes on a man who graduated fifth from the bottom of his class at the US Naval Academy and whose main qualification in the Senate was that the media didn’t seem to hate him all that much (mainly because they only covered him when he criticized President Bush, fairly or not). He took a gamble on making the election be all about national security as conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan improved rapidly, undermining his own alleged confidence in the military direction of the current Commander In Chief, whom he claimed to be in agreement with. He stated that he didn’t know much of anything about economics… as the election became almost entirely about the economy. He tried making the argument about Obama taking away many individual freedoms… while still fondly talking about the idea of mandatory national service for American teenagers, a notion not unlike the state-driven conscription regimes practiced within Western Europe. When Obama punched, McCain seemed lost, either going off in tangents or trying a new line of attack rather than doing the manifestly obvious of refuting Obama’s wildly inaccurate statements (in particular about the economy). He tried making the election be about experience, then selects as his running mate somebody even younger than Obama, with just as little political experience, largely on the grounds of finding somebody who would be inoffensive to a group within the Republican Party whom a) had nowhere else to go and b) had been a group that, until that moment, John McCain completely disregarded. After that point, McCain seemed satisfied in letting the majority of the high-profile campaigning be handled by his running mate (apparently being oblivious to who was at the top of the ticket), only starting to get back into things a couple of weeks before Election Day, as he was already taking a drubbing in the polls. He locked himself into public funding, effectively freezing out some of the party’s top fundraisers, while Obama burned through a literally superhuman six hundred million dollars in funding, outspending him in battleground states by at least a 3:1 margin and spending more in usual “safe” Republican states than were spent on battleground states in 2000. Normally these mistakes are fatal in an ordinary election year; in a year where the Republican Party brand is hitting rock bottom, the campaign seemed less like a competitive group and more like a suicide mission until the last few weeks… but a campaign is not made in a couple of weeks. This is hardball, not the Easy-Bake Oven approach to the Presidency. All of these factors combine to raise questions about McCain’s competency for the top office.

So, am I pessimistic about the fate of our country moving forward? Not in the slightest; America will only decline when and if it chooses to, on the backs of its individuals rather than on its government. One man, regardless of how ambitious and how poorly-thought-out their decisions are, cannot bring it down on their own. Hell, our country survived twelve years of FDR’s statism as well as four years of Jimmy Carter’s malaise; after that, we can survive anything. That being said, to anyone who thinks that either one of these candidates are the best possible person to run this country, you have another thing coming; this is not a battle of who will do the best as it is one of who will be able to inflict the least damage. For at least the next four years, our individual freedoms will be put to the test in ways that they likely haven’t been at least in several decades. “Whoever wins, we lose” indeed. Just know that the bright sun of morning only comes after hours of darkness, as it seems as though the darkness is upon us.

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