I know we’re not supposed to read anything into the Supreme Court’s decision not to rule on religious exceptions to mandatory contraception coverage, but I’m going to read two things into it anyway.
First, it’s a legal win for the administration. In the absence of a controlling Supreme Court decision, the decisions of the lower courts control. Eight of the nine circuit courts that have heard this issue have ruled in favor of the administration.
Second, it’s a political win for the administration. The Supreme Court declined to rule largely because there would likely be a split 4-4 decision in the wake of Justice Scalia’s death. The Court continues to operate (perhaps not the best word) with eight justices because Senate Republicans refuse to vote on Judge Merrick Garland’s appointment to the Court. So now we can point to a real and tangible way in which the obstruction caused by Senate Republicans is hurting the causes they supposedly champion.
I’m not going to spend time writing about the drastic separation of powers problems that arise when one branch of government decides it can “defang” another branch through a loophole that is neither a check nor a balance but instead an unconstitutional workaround.
I’m not going to write about how we are left without a single controlling entity (political though it may normally be) to speak with authority on issues of federal legality and constitutionality.
And I’m certainly not going to spend time writing about how the Obama administration has gone out of its way to provide federal subsidies and direct contacts with insurance companies so that religious institutions do not have to fund contraception coverage for their employees (at this point, said institutions just appear upset that their employees can legally get contraception coverage), for that would devolve into a discussion of the merits of the case, about which the Supreme Court has specifically declined to say anything.
Instead I’m just going to leave you with the idea that, in the context of this non-ruling by the Court, we are left to draw one of two possible conclusions about Senate Republicans.
One, they do not actually care about the issues of religious freedom that they purport to embrace.
Or, two, they are not confident enough in the legal argument in support of those issues to chance a blanket decision against them and are happy to take a win in one out of nine circuits.
Just as they are happy to unconstitutionally strip the Court of one out of nine justices.
But hey, if you’re a Senate Republican these days, one out of nine ain’t bad.
Paul Krugman has an op-ed piece in the New York Times today explaining why President-Elect Obama should do away with the tax cuts in his recovery plan and focus instead on more comprehensive spending programs. While Mr. Krugman’s knowledge of all things economic far outweighs my own, I feel that he overlooked a few essential reasons to keep the tax cuts. The bullet points in their favor are, not surprisingly, more political in nature than they are economic.
First, though, let’s take a look at Krugman’s argument. His main point is that the tax cuts will be ineffective. At a time when American workers have less job security, less money overall, and less access to lines of credit, the most intuitive way to spend the money from a tax rebate is simply not to. Most people will save it. This, in itself, will do little to “jump start” the economy. The $150 billion proposed for the business tax cuts and the additional $150 billion proposed for the payroll tax cuts (although Krugman concedes the latter was indeed a campaign promise), he argues, could be better utilized in a more poignant fashion. In a strictly financial sense, I agree.
However, if we broaden our perspective to include the political implications of the proposed payroll and business tax cuts, we see a drastically different picture. The image of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell smiling and openly supporting Obama’s recovery package tells the entire story. I don’t, however, wish to use facial expressions as my main body of evidence, so let’s look a little deeper.
Through 2010, there will (likely) be 41 Republicans in the U.S. Senate. While they are greatly outnumbered by Democrats, if these Republicans are unified, they present a potential filibuster threat. As we have learned through all of American politics, the quickest way to unite a party, and thus enhance the likelihood of a filibuster, is to polarize the political spectrum. When party loyalty supercedes common sense, both sides can at times transform into a single-minded conglomerate of impatience. And we simply cannot afford such a deadlock in the next two years, not when we are crossing the threshold of what many are calling a “slow-motion depression.”
The advantage to having our financial system crumble slowly is that we may watch and analyze in real time. While we did pass through a few weeks of unfettered chaos in late September and early October, we have to remember that this time around, the markets did not simply crash, the worst case scenario of the credit freeze has thus far been avoided, and there is still some liquidity to our capital. But this does not mean we are safe. It simply buys us time. In order to take advantage of this Matrix like slow down (the bullets are still headed straight for us; they’re just moving very slowly), we have to act quickly. A legislative body in a polarized political deadlock will most certainly move more slowly than we can afford.
Those of you particularly gifted in the detection of nuance have, by this point, inferred that I am calling the Congressional Republicans immature. Partly yes, but more situationally. We have all witnessed blatant and counter-productive stubbornness from both sides. At a time when Democrats hold the majority in both houses and a democratic president is about to be sworn in, the Republicans are the ones who will likely throw a temper tantrum. But in giving to the Republicans reasons to support his plan, Obama is employing a little extra maturity in order to avoid a future partisan death grip. Call it appeasement, call it a pacifier, call it politics as usual– the point is: it works.
Krugman cited an Obama team’s projections of unemployment rates over the next few years both with and without the proposed recovery/stimulus plan, as well as projections by private analysts. Both look grim. If we do nothing, the Obama team predicts an unemployment rate of up to, possibly over, 8% in the next two years, whereas the rate with the proposed plan will be held under 7%. Some of the private analysts are expecting a doomsday 11% in the absence of government intervention, which could be enough to reach the tipping point, where, as Krugman points out, the U.S. might fall into a “Japan-type deflationary trap.” He says that the government must do more in terms of spending to avert these devastating numbers. And he is right.
But at the same time, by putting $300 billion into tax cuts now, steep as it may seem, Obama has thrown the Republicans an ideological bone. He has shown that he understands conservative economic thought, and, even if said ideology is best applied in other situations, he has shown that he is willing to concede substantively in order to achieve a higher end. This gains Mr. Obama an enormous amount of political capital, which in turn could become invaluable when he must push legislation not popular among Republicans. After this point, all he’ll need to do is convince one Republican to side with him in order to defeat a filibuster. Right now, he has the lot of them convinced.
Before I get to the meat of this post, there are a couple things you should know about me.
First, when I was in college, I was a (to quote a teacher of mine) Myers-Briggs junkie. The Myers-Briggs is a personality test that categorizes people into one of 16 groups. I took the test countless times, read books about it, and studied all its little nuances and quirks. The specifics of the test aren’t important here, but one of the questions on this personality test is. “Are you more convinced by a logical argument or a touching appeal?” More convinced? Certainly by a logical argument. It is impossible to argue with reason, save by some metaphysical Kantian avenues. But reason itself surely stands above emotional appeal.
This is not to say that I am unmoved by such appeals. In fact, I am probably one of the most susceptible people I know to a well-structured emotional plea. Don’t tell anyone, but I have been known to tear up during some television commercials. Of course, this is all with the understanding that, as I stated before, reason trumps feeling.
The second point with which I should contextualize this post is that, while I have a certain respect–indeed, admiration–for the principles behind organized labor, I feel that many of its contemporary manifestations have lost sight of the equilibrium it once sought, and have begun perpetuating claims of near absurdity. I am not against unions in principle, but neither do I subscribe to all that they have become. In fact, I have a great many problems with the evolution of organized labor.
I suppose this may have been somehow instilled in me by my late grandfather, whose work ethic seemed to be an asymptote to which I might strive my whole life, but never quite attain. Until he was diagnosed with cancer, he missed fewer work days over his 40 year career than I have missed over my thus far short one. His conservative views of labor throw mine into an almost liberal light. From him I implicitly learned about propriety, generosity, and the importance of hard work. He died when I was ten years old, so he was not able to nurture many of the seeds he had planted, and many of them are just now beginning to sprout.
Now that the stage is set, I may begin to pull the characters out of the wings. The first is Republic Windows and Doors, a Chicago factory. Republic Windows came into extreme financial disarray recently, and last week, closed down, leaving about 300 workers out in the cold just weeks before Christmas. This is a sad story, one which this year has plagued the nation as companies everywhere have been going under, leaving their employees to fend for themselves. The difference is that the workers of Republic Windows were entitled, upon their severance, to 60 days notice, or to 60 days pay, which they have not received.
Enter Bank of America. The lending giant canceled Republic’s credit line, due to its dismal performance outlook. It is worth noting here, if only to underscore the nationwide woe and to illustrate the scale and scope of this downturn, that Republic Windows and Doors had successfully been in business for 43 years. But this year, Republic did not succeed, and Bank of America cut its loss and denied a continued line of credit to the company.
The problem comes in the fact that Republic can no longer afford to pay its workers the 60 days severance pay to which they are contractually entitled. In an effort to discern who is responsible for this mess, we look at the problem from the point of view of the bank, who claims it is the company’s responsibility to pay the workers and to honestly communicate a realistic timetable for ending their employment, and the point of view of the company who claims that the sudden withdrawal of credit has made it impossible for them to give the money to their employees, and point the finger at Bank of America.
But in any story, I believe that we are hardwired to jump to the character to whom we may relate most. In this case, for most of us, that would be the worker. Perhaps it’s because we cling to adversity, perhaps because there is something to gain in rooting for the underdog, or perhaps even because some compassionate better angel of our nature pushes us in that direction. The third character that seems all but forgotten in this is the group of employees, many of whom had worked at Republic for decades, who have lost everything. Their livelihood has been taken from them, without the mere compensation of two months of employment.
By coincidence I was listening to Christmas carols in my car on the way to work this morning, and The First Noel started playing. I’ve heard the song countless times before, but this morning, the first lines of the song caught me in a new way. “The first Noel the angel did say/was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay.” I thought of lowly shepherds, lying out in a dark field. Nearly all the flock is asleep, and the night drags on in tedium. In an instant, the sky lights up with blinding force and angels emerge from the clouds, bestowing upon the lowly shepherds, before anyone else, the light of a savior.
Take the last part as you will, metaphor, history, fable, what have you. But the image conjured strikes me with the same power, regardless of the truth behind it. For some reason, while listening to this song, my thoughts turned to the sit-in workers in Chicago at Republic Windows and Doors, the workers who have had everything taken from them, and yet see a light that you and I may not yet see. Together, they have endured a betrayal, and together they persist in fighting an injustice that, in today’s economic conditions, seems almost commonplace.
While a touching appeal can be very effective, and reason even more so, when they work in conjunction, the two possess an unstoppable synergy that neither our compassion nor our rationality may ignore. What the workers have done in uniting to demand what is theirs is to create a wave, a non-violent, righteous wave that throws back to the Great Depression era, as Nelson Lichtenstein and Christopher Phelps point out in a CNN commentary. And inasmuch, they have restored the long-dormant principles to organized labor.
Almost two decades ago, my father was laid off the week before Christmas. I didn’t understand what was happening at the time. My parents didn’t tell me; I merely sensed something terribly wrong, and overheard the bad news–although indecipherable–in the adult conversations. Unbeknown to me at the time–I would not find out for many years–my grandfather, the same one who (I was convinced) was disappointed in my imperfection, visited my house upon hearing of my father’s (his son-in-law’s) unemployment. He handed my parents money, telling them not to let circumstance ruin Christmas for the kids. I was one of the kids. I’d like to think that, while I inherited quite a bit of “conservativeness” from my grandfather, I also inherited an uncommon empathy from him. The two may seem contradictory today, but I think the dichotomy is not so mysterious.
It was the interplay between these two forces, the two I saw so alive in my grandfather, that washed over me this morning during my commute to work. The firm and unbending, and the empathetically yielding; the rational, and the compassionate. Many people now are not nearly as blessed as my family was to have someone willing and able to help in times of need. And I believe that’s what makes the goings-on in Chicago now all the more potent. For many, this is a very real and tangible line that is being crossed between the abstract and weighty economic principles at work and the very real effect on their families. We’re all feeling it in one way or another. But for the workers of Republic Windows and Doors, a demand for rightful compensation is a last stand, a final attempt to hold the line between the economic downturn and their own well-being. In many ways, their voices represent so many millions more.
A touching appeal? Yes. But there is reason behind it. This is not simply a discourse on the sadness of being laid off. It is more a look from both the inside and the outside, an examination of the reasons, both rational and personal, for the sit-in staged by the workers in Chicago. Perhaps we can all see in them a band of shepherds charged with a tiresome task, who are now seeing a light yet hidden to us, and thus will not budge from clinging to their last hope. In so doing, they have sparked in us that hope we had been seeking, that in the deep cold of the winter, in the middle of economic chaos, justice may yet pervade.
Well it happened. After hearing the most awfully repeated phrase tonight, I vomited. But as I was cleaning it up, I heard some amazing things. Tonight the Democratic party found their voice, their message congealed, and rationality made a comeback.
Perhaps this is due to the verbal prowess of some of the speakers, from John Kerry to Bill Clinton. And Joe Biden made absolutely clear that he would not only stand beside Barack Obama as his vice presidential candidate, but that he would stand in front of him and plow through challengers, throwing his decades of experience and hard work behind his attacks. Even Obama himself stopped in, putting an exclamation mark on the evening.
Even more impressive was the fact that each speaker tonight, with foreign policy as the central issue, courted independents. Clinton, Kerry, and Biden each laid out a rational case against McCain’s foreign policy judgment, and showed in their best estimations why Obama would make a better commander in chief. Lo and behold, the appeal to reason worked. No more mindless screaming — well, less of it, at least. But there was meat to the arguments now.
Bill Clinton’s speech, after a several minute standing ovation, made Democrats nostalgic for the feeling of having one of their own in the White House. Not only that, but the competence that seemed to ooze from the podium helped to instill confidence in the party’s message in the wary independents.
Joe Biden did several helpful things in his speech tonight. As Paul Begala said, he was the “ham and cheese” of the Democratic party, in that he was able to bring his talking points down to the level of the average everyday American, and show that he could empathize with them. He also touted, to some pundits and analysts’ dismay, his foreign policy credentials, challenging John McCain on his record. The third thing Biden did was say the things that Obama can’t or won’t say. Biden can get his hands dirty, whereas Obama has a pristine image to maintain in the eyes of the American people. Biden showed that he was not afraid to go on the offensive.
Today, Barack Obama was officially nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate (watch the clip again carefully and you’ll see Chuck Schumer smile and wave his hand like a little kid). Tomorrow, he will give his speech before tens of thousands people. The culmination of the convention tomorrow night, however, has been hyped so much, that Obama will need the speech of his life to continue positive momentum into the final two month stretch.
If I hear one more person say “We can’t afford more of the same,” I’m going to vomit. In fact, it seems that a precondition for being allowed to speak at the convention was that each speaker fit that phrase somewhere into his or her spiel. And we’ve only had two days. There are still two more.
I am reminded now why candidates fear conventions. They are that strange few-day period when everyone in your party gets to express their yahoo attitudes with whatever flamboyant hats, garments, signs, and dance moves they feel are appropriate. Usually these are the same ones that the people watching at home feel are grossly inappropriate. This, alone, can drive a wedge between the party and the people, which can be dangerous for a party self-appointed to the populist role. But in all seriousness, the Democrats aren’t going to lose votes because of the way their delegates dress or dance. The real danger lies in the temporary suspension that must occur in any centrist message in order for the convention to be a success. It’s not that the Democrats have been particularly moderate thus far in the election. But Senator Obama’s nuanced vision of America has been put on the back burner so that the Democrats can have a self-righteous get together and pat each other on the back with large foam fingers.
And so we happen upon a smidgen of discontinuity. Until Thursday night, when Obama reclaims his message and becomes (officially) the figurehead of the party, we are left with all manner of chaos. Right now we are in a bubble. Until we come out the other side, rationality will give way to party loyalty, and complex thought will cede its place to mindless screaming. This will happen with the Republicans, too. Suddenly, calm and conservative will be replaced by boisterous and gregarious, an uncomfortable transition for any Republican at home to watch. But the same problem will apply to both parties.
At a time when candidates are rushing to the center, trying to win independents, and scurrying after the voters Hillary Clinton dropped like marbles scattering across the floor somewhere left of center, the conventions are more of an archaic obligation than an exercise in reasonable persuasion. It is a time for reaffirmation in one’s political ideology. Pragmatically speaking, however, these giant bashes are entirely counterproductive. The only exception that comes to mind in recent electoral history was the Republican convention in 2004. Then the Republican strategy was to mobilize as many voters as possible, rather than to win over people who already felt iffy about some Bush Administration policies. If they were going to go Republican, then they were going to go all the way. Well, I suppose Zell Miller’s fire and brimstone condemnation of John Kerry might have helped with a few fringe independents.
But now the Republicans are trying to convince the reasonable center and attempting to distance themselves from many of the policies of the past eight years. They are going after the very same independents to which Democrats feel entitled because of some of the recent failures of government. Each party will draw a line in the sand to balance how much they are willing to concede with a number greater than 270. The problem is, the lines overlap, and so the battleground will not be the entire political spectrum; rather, it will be a small strip in the middle. This is how general elections usually work. So it is easy to see why appeasement of a party’s base and retrogression to hard left or right positions are entirely irrational from an electoral perspective.
Let’s leave the abstract for a moment and zoom back into this election cycle. The conventions this year prove problematic for both Obama and McCain in different ways.
We’ll start with Obama. His quest has been to overcome, or at least sell his candidacy as overcoming, divisive politics. Fine, but when thousands of uber-liberals are waving emphatically with face paint and glitter, booing any mention of a Republican or even the word Republican (unless said Republican is there to denounce his own party), the message of unity becomes a little distorted. Obama has no reluctance in pronouncing himself a Democrat, and it is a predicate that he embraces, but he presents himself as a candidate–nay–a person who understands the other side, who can empathize with a certain appeal of the Republican philosophy, and who can use shared core values to hone in on common ground. Unfortunately, those with all the airtime until Thursday night appear not to share this complexity. Obama will be charged with having to drag his party, kicking and screaming, to a negotiating table before he can even invite the Republicans. If he makes a great transitory speech, from little “us” to big “us,” at Invesco Field, then he may be able to pull it off, to salvage some of the cooperative spirit that was rampant before this week. But the convention has not made this task easy. To be fair, there are some speakers who have tried to hold on to Obama’s ideas on unity in his absence, like Mark Warner, who said:
I know we’re at the Democratic convention, but if an idea works, it really doesn’t matter if it has an ‘R’ or ‘D’ next to it. Because this election isn’t about liberal versus conservative. It’s not about left versus right. It’s about the future versus the past.
McCain’s problems will be two-fold. First, along the same lines, McCain has presented himself as a “maverick” who will cross party lines in the interest of common sense and a pragmatic approach to finding solutions. He, too, is fighting for as many independents as he can win over. So the strong pro-Republican rhetoric will obviously not help him, especially at a time when there is a certain stigma attached to the word “Republican.” But the added complication for Republicans will be that their convention will take place after the Democratic convention. And so, when Obama has collected his party and put them back on his platform, Republicans will still be indulging in self-aggrandizement, doing what the Democrats are doing now, and making viewers and independents just as nauseated. So if we can imagine ahead a week from now, McCain will have a scattered and silly party while the Democrats will have been recently reunified behind an electoral purpose. In simple terms, Obama will have a one week head start. And for many independent voters, the frame by frame contrast of next week may be enough to sway them toward the Democratic ticket, even if the reasoning will be concealed in the unfairness of the linear nature of time.
So now there is not much left to do except to wait and see how it all plays out. A day and a half remain before Obama almost scriptedly emerges from middle-America to save his party. Let’s see if I can make it that long without vomiting.
Last month, the world lost a wonderful advocate. Tim Russert’s death came as a deep blow to many of us. As is always the case with death, those left in its wake feel a void that, while only temporarily unbearable, pulls at our very essence. In such instances, we are left to stare down immense unfairness, and must attempt to reconcile ourselves with the eventual finality of death as contrasted to our finite time in this world. Often, we see in this only sadness. But occasionally, we can find in the depths of tragedy a passage out of the darkness, a lesson that we might not have learned otherwise. Too often we rationalize the terrible things that happen because of the wisdom they impart on us. But it is simply the natural course of things. It is a means of survival embedded in each of us when faced with such sadness to find some light in even the darkest of passages. Maybe that’s why I’ve decided to continue writing.
After moving back to Delaware from Baltimore and starting a new job, I haven’t found much time to keep up with the news and write about it. I’ve been lost in the everyday 9-5 shuffle that I once swore to defy. I was at work when my father’s text message found me. “Tim Russert died of a heart attack.” I turned to my co-worker in shock. The image burned into my mind that entire afternoon was the picture I had placed on my post when I claimed that Tim Russert had won the Ohio Democratic Presidential debate. He smiled with an “I know something you don’t know” grin, but not in a shrewd way. The undertone was not smug or selfish, rather it was more along the lines of “I know something you don’t know, but don’t worry; I’ll show you.”
I could never hope to be a Tim Russert, but his pursuit of the truth sans decor has revealed to me the ideals for which I hope to strive. One of the most powerful phrases I have ever encountered came in the form of the motto of my alma mater, Johns Hopkins: Veritas vos liberabit. The truth will set you free. It is in the pure, unadulterated truth, that we can honestly perceive and understand the world around us. The pursuit of this lofty goal can take many forms. At Hopkins, the truth was sought in an academic sense, as we analyzed and judged theories and explanations, from scientific canon to lines of political thought; no idea was sacrosanct. And so it is in finding the truth. Lies, falsities, deceptions, and perversions must first be weeded out. It is not an easy task, nor is it entirely fulfilling. Holding to the ideal of truth can often mean having to abandon previous ways of thinking, ideas that we once held as truths. But the thought of being able to shed all of our blinding preconceptions and find that which is pure, that which is right, that which is true — that is the hope to which we cling.
Yet here we are, in a world where we not only ignore the truth, but we bury it beneath layers of dirt, masking it in rhetoric and heuristics. In such a place it becomes easy to rely on the day to day continuity rather than to observe and analyze each moment in itself, each piece of time, each action, each particularity. Part A only exists to precede Part B, and Part B to follow Part A. Rarely do we look beyond simple causal connections and see each part for itself, for what it is, and what it is not. But the truth is not a shortcut. It relates to the essence of every material and immaterial thing we can perceive or imagine. It is that which is all around us, yet nearly impossible to find. We will not come across the truth by passively observing our world. We will only find it through hard work and persistence in peeling back layer by layer.
While our very nature may seek the shortcuts that deceive us, there is yet a saving attribute of humanity. It is the inability to accept the rigidness that seems to exist all around us. Laws of conservation tell us that no matter or energy may simply be created or destroyed. Nothing can be born of itself. But, as we’ve seen in The Dow Chemical Company’s commercials, when we add the human element to the equation, things look different. Elasticity is introduced. In our search for the truth, we find a fluidity that lends itself to the organic nature of our existence. Suddenly, something can exist from nothing, as, to be cliche for a moment, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. So it is in the vast emptiness we encounter when facing tragedies. Maybe it is simply due to our lack of understanding, but human nature will not let us accept the existence of nothingness. And so we take it upon ourselves to fill the void as best we can, never to replace the missing piece, but instead to honor it.
It is in the wake of emptiness where true fulfillment occurs. It is in the vacuum of space and time where the fire of humanity is kept aflame by a tiny spark of stubbornness, quietly and almost laughably defying the universe, refusing to be snuffed out. The task we face as a people, as a species, as a family inhabiting a pale blue dot, is to balance that spark of defiance with the open mindedness needed to effectively pursue the truth. For what we encounter “out there” will reveal to us more about ourselves, and what we find inside is a testament to the beauty that has preceded us and cultivated us. We are the world. The hydrogen atoms bonded to the oxygen in the water in my body look the same as the hydrogen atoms in a star billions of light years from here, now dying, but whose birth, because of the immense distance between it and us, we are just witnessing. And so the truth relates to us, just as we are a testament to the truth. It is an internal, as well as an external pursuit.
That’s a lot to take in. And suddenly the task we’re charged with seems impossibly large, unable to be delegated to a day’s work, or even a lifetime. As individuals, we may never find perfection, but to realize truth as the pursuit of humanity may be as close as we come. I would argue that to fill nothing with something is the essence of humanity. We are builders. Our very existence and self-awareness shows the complexity of what Descartes called “dualism,” and we are left pondering the universe and our place within it. We are wonderers. Our long search for truth and goodness has guided so many of our actions. We are seekers. Builders, wonderers, seekers. That is what we as a human race are. So we can say that Tim Russert, in his musings, questions, observations, friendships, and work grasped the very essence of humanity. His passing has inspired others to pick up the flag that stands for all we do as a people, and continue on. That is why you are reading this. That is why I wrote it.
It is my intention to be as fair as possible when writing about the elections. I will try to call out anyone who appears to be immersing their constituency in the bowels of fiction instead of embracing the truth. But recently I’ve realized that most of my posts have been critical of Democrats.
I don’t mean to say that the Republican candidate has no flaws, but as he is racking up endorsements and funds, the Democratic duo are locked in a contest of exposition, each trying to out-politique the other. And so the gloves have come off on the Democratic side, while John McCain is waiting in the wings to pounce when finally either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton bows out.
This wait-and-strike policy is applicable in many different situations, but the easiest way for me to explain it is using video games as an example, specifically first person shooters. Great, you’re thinking, this eclectic fusion of video games and politics is just too nonsensical. Normally I would agree, but this is the simplest way to explain McCain’s current strategy.
Your computer-generated character is sneaking down a long, grainy corridor. You stop at a T junction at the end of the hall and peer around the left corner. Five aliens are waiting, guns drawn. Peeking around the right corner, you see five other aliens. You weigh your options. You could try to use the corner for cover and pick them off as best as you can; or you can charge, guns blazing, hoping to take down all ten extra terrestrials before they can get you. Neither option is promising. But wait, out of nowhere, the two droves of aliens begin shooting at each other, still unaware of your presence. Suddenly your choice is clear: wait until they are done fighting before you attack. At worst, you will only have five aliens to deal with, but that’s assuming one side comes out totally unscathed. More likely, you will only have to clear one or two, because even the winning side of the first fight will have sustained significant damage against an evenly matched opponent. You have now gone from having to face ten aliens to having to face two, without even firing a shot — an amazingly efficient use of your resources — and meanwhile, you have remained safe from the crossfire.
Right now, John McCain is crouching in that T junction, waiting smugly as his two opponents verbally, politically, and rhetorically destroy each other. Either Obama or Clinton will eventually win, but by that point, they will be terribly weakened, not in the sense of having lost strength per say, but in the sense that they have expended resources, and more importantly, used up their relatively untainted political clout. Whoever ends up battling McCain will have quite a bit of baggage by the relative finality of the Democratic Convention.
I use this example to highlight McCain’s strategy, as well as to explain my heavy critique of the Democrats. I have called both Clinton and Obama out on some of their empty promises simply because they are vocalizing them loudly. In every debate, rally, or primary night victory speech, we hear the same things. McCain, however, has been unusually silent. Aside from the lack of Republican debates, McCain no longer has any viable opponent by a long shot for the Republican nomination, so the victory speeches are not as energizing or exciting or, sometimes, existent. It’s not that McCain has stopped campaigning; it’s that he is doing so more carefully simply because he can afford to do so.
In addition, we have the media to partially blame for this, myself included, as I have also been writing quite a bit more about Democrats lately. And so we see an emerging vicious cycle: the more exciting a race is, the more coverage it gets, the more scrutiny it gets, the more exciting it becomes. Right now, the media and news outlets are McCain’s biggest inadvertent ally in the fight against the Democrats. They are allowing him to stay out of the crossfire and remain safely tucked away, waiting to strike when the moment is right.
Yesterday I checked, just for good measure, the CNN political ticker page. Amazingly, Obama and Clinton are each mentioned 62 times on the front ticker page. That looks like pretty balanced reporting to me, until you consider that McCain is mentioned only seven times. Seven. He is almost entirely under the radar, and enjoying every minute of it.
And so, with this intrinsic bias in mind, I want to use this post to call the senator from Arizona out on a few things that could provide the Democratic nominee with footholds up the side of Mount McCain.
One of the most obvious mistakes, and I use the term “obvious” relatively given what we’ve said so far, is that McCain has continued speaking in abstractions when laying out his potential policies. This is a criticism that I have more often levelled at Senator Obama, but to be fair, Obama’s plans (while more self-contradictory at parts and not very inclusive and assimilating of other ideas, despite the promise of uniting the county) are much more well articulated in details and specifics. And Clinton has accused Obama of offering only words and no substantive hope. No matter who the Democratic nominee is, McCain needs to beef up his policies with actual plans, or his experience and political know-how will be overrun by the details, flawed though they may be, offered by the Democratic candidate.
On international trade, the McCain campaign says that “the U.S. should engage in multilateral, regional and bilateral efforts to reduce barriers to trade, level the global playing field and build effective enforcement of global trading rules.” I think almost all Republicans would agree with this. I think most Democrats would agree as well. I agree with it. Most sensible people I know would agree with it.
And that’s the problem. McCain maintains the illusion of bipartisanship by using abstract statements that are pretty much invulnerable. But they don’t provide any real solutions. If McCain could provide a specific policy to enact with China, a plan to keep jobs in America while still at the same time allowing for the adherence to the principles of free trade with countries who are economically stable enough, or even just an outline of the specific trade plans he will explore while in office, I would feel much more comfortable.
McCain’s health care plan is quite a bit more detailed, but then it would have to be, what with Obama and Clinton reciting their entire plans during each Democratic debate. However, again, there seem to be a lot of good ideas without any set means of achieving them. McCain talks about lifting the restrictions that insurance companies have imposed on who may treat patients and lifting the restrictions the government has imposed on who may insure patients. If we’re to keep health care privatized, then this sounds like a good means of opening the market while at the same time making quality health care more accessible. But how does he plan to get there? Will he, John McCain, personally take on the insurance companies and all their lobbyists? Probably not, at least not successfully.
On the environment and energy policy, McCain again makes sense, but not enough sense. We can actually use one of Hillary Clinton’s phrases (aimed at Obama with regard to health care) and apply it to McCain here. If you don’t start out with a specific plan in mind and a realistic way of getting there, then you “will be nibbled to death,” by lobbyists and partisan legislators. I feel almost conciliatory in saying it, but in this case, Clinton is absolutely correct.
But John McCain has been around Washington long enough to know the political realities of the system better even than Clinton. So why would he be so unspecific as to how he plans to achieve his goals? It is possible that this has something to do with diverting the limelight elsewhere. In order to remain under the radar, he can’t make any controversial statements. Not yet, at least. We’ll see whether McCain finally gets down to details when he joins in the political firefight.
While some of McCain’s ideas are a little vague, others just don’t make sense. His immigration policy, at least as outlined on his campaign’s website, is merely a laundry list of considerations. When I read it, I felt as if I was looking through an incomplete guide on how to formulate one’s own immigration policy. It does not give any feasible way of dealing with the current problem. It doesn’t even acknowledge that there are any illegal immigrants (let alone millions) already inside this country.
His immigration plan is 386 words long. My college entrance essays were longer than that, and I was only trying to get into a school. John McCain is trying to get into the oval office. Not only that, but the plan begins with a hook meant to draw in the reader. “Immigration is one of those challenging issues that touch on many aspects of American life.” Oh, no. One of those. Allow me to snap my fingers, tilt my head, sigh, and express my mild frustration.
McCain says, “If we have learned anything from the recent immigration debate, it is that Americans have little trust that their government will honor a pledge to do the things necessary to make the border secure.” First of all, I hope we’ve learned more than one thing from this debate. Second, if we have learned only one thing, I would hope that it would be a more substantive lesson than that. But, please, no one panic, because John McCain follows up this statement with, “As president, I will secure the border.” Oh good. I was befuddled for a moment by your vagueness, but now I see that everything will be fine.
Sarcasm aside, there isn’t even a link for education under the list of issues on the McCain website. I can tell you that his support of “No Child Left Behind” carries with it the condition of minor revisions. We can guess, probably fairly accurately, at what these revisions would be, but as someone trying to earn our trust and support in winning the presidency, wouldn’t McCain be better off just coming out and telling us?
The problem with waiting until the aliens massacre each other, which is not really accounted for in video games, is twofold. First, the remaining aliens will likely be the strongest simply because they were the ones to survive the initial battle. Second, the remaining aliens will be battle-hardened, and if they are savvy enough to find your weaknesses, then they will know exactly how to exploit them. Obama and Clinton have put behind them quite a bit of “live ammo” training and actual political combat with one another. They and their respective campaigns have developed a more intuitive political sense. Meanwhile, McCain has been at the shooting range, honing his skills. But he has never had to put up a political fight quite like his now impending challenge, and whoever the Democratic nominee is will make Mitt Romney look like easy pickings.