Broken Politics

I’m been quiet the last few weeks on the presidential election. Recent events in both parties, however, have made it worth revisiting the campaigns and the language associated with them. To clarify my position before diving in, I support none of the candidates (even the ones no longer in the race), and I believe both the Republican and Democratic parties are broken. With that out of the way…

The New York Times Contradiction

Less than a month ago, The New York Times (NYT) endorsed John McCain. Here’s bit of what it had to say:

…there is a choice to be made, and it is an easy one. Senator John McCain of Arizona is the only Republican who promises to end the George Bush style of governing from and on behalf of a small, angry fringe. With a record of working across the aisle to develop sound bipartisan legislation, he would offer a choice to a broader range of Americans than the rest of the Republican field.

We have shuddered at Mr. McCain’s occasional, tactical pander to the right because he has demonstrated that he has the character to stand on principle. He was an early advocate for battling global warming and risked his presidential bid to uphold fundamental American values in the immigration debate. A genuine war hero among Republicans who proclaim their zeal to be commander in chief, Mr. McCain argues passionately that a country’s treatment of prisoners in the worst of times says a great deal about its character. (link)

Clearly, the NYT expressed some reservations. After all, there’s no love lost between it and the Republican party. A close reading of the endorsement shows no sign that the NYT had any concerns about the moral fiber of McCain, which makes this week’s NYT story, less than a month after the endorsement, so interesting:

Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity.

It had been just a decade since an official favor for a friend with regulatory problems had nearly ended Mr. McCain’s political career by ensnaring him in the Keating Five scandal. In the years that followed, he reinvented himself as the scourge of special interests, a crusader for stricter ethics and campaign finance rules, a man of honor chastened by a brush with shame.

But the concerns about Mr. McCain’s relationship with Ms. Iseman underscored an enduring paradox of his post-Keating career. Even as he has vowed to hold himself to the highest ethical standards, his confidence in his own integrity has sometimes seemed to blind him to potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest.

Obvious contradiction, anyone? In this instance the issue isn’t about the candidate, but about the media. I’d love to have witnessed the discussions on the second story, mainly to see if anyone pointed out that less than a month ago, no mention was made of any character issues in the NYT’s endorsement.

I’m personally no fan of McCain. I admire his service, both in combat and as a senator, to this country, but I do not believe it qualifies as an automatic pass to the White House. However, the NYT’s ought to be ashamed of itself. If the lobbyist story is true, it needs to revoke its endorsement. And if the story is mostly innuendo, they owe McCain an apology. At minimum, I could have done without the sexual overtones. I’m more concerned about what politicians do out of bed for lobbyists versus in bed.

The Democratic Dilemma

The majority of my friends are Democratic, or at least lean that way. I’m more of a small ‘l’ libertarian. However, I’ve watched with some compassion as the Democrats ask themselves who is best suited to head their party. Whichever individual they choose, makes history, but whichever individual they choose has potential issues with a national electorate.

With Hillary, everyone knows the mud will fly, but she’s capable of managing it…I think. She also faces a divided nation. I can’t imagine how it feels to know that people, individuals you’ve never met, hate you. Even voters who might support her are convinced she’s too polarizing. Erin Kotecki Vest actually published a letter at Huffington Post asking Clinton to step aside. (link)

For Obama fans, I feel the most sympathy for you, because in spite of the excitement he generates, he hasn’t been truly tested. Yes, he’s a powerful speaker. Yes, he’s probably capable of great things. However, I believe the media isn’t doing him any favors by not asking the hard questions or closely examining his voting record. Such things will come up in a national campaign. I’m not convinced that he won’t do what every other candidate has done at some point: make a mistake. He’s human, and with his lack of experience and depending on the size of the mistake, it could seal his fate.

If he should win, I’m worried you’re in for serious disappointment based on what I’ve seen out the Democratic Congress for almost two years. I’ve been thinking about something Dave Winer posted last week:

The Dems should be aiming at running the table, taking solid majorities in both houses and a mandate-level plurality for President Obama, an LBJ-level landslide. We need a government, not more bullshit. The Republics need to move over for four to eight years so we can resume our position of leadership in the world, the new world, not the old one. The one where our workers have to compete for the business. We used to get all the business by default. That’s not the world we live in anymore folks. The Republics don’t get that. (link)

As I noted before, I think both major parties are broken. I don’t think the question is whether the Democrats want to effect change, but whether they can. Amongst my Democratic friends, there’s often the lament that the party as a group has a hard time getting it together. Individual Democrats may step out from the party and shine (Obama at the ’04 convention comes to mind), but as a group, they have trouble working with themselves.

I’ll grant you that the majorities in both houses of Congress are incredibly slim, but in theory, why aren’t the Democrats voting “no” to everything that comes from the Bush White House? Does having a greater majority actually fix the underlying problem highlighted by slimmer margins? The same problems exist in the Republican party, but they do a better job of sugarcoating it. I think Warren Beatty had the right of it: “We don’t need a third party. We need a second party.” (link)

Change Bigger than a Candidate

This year’s race has fascinated me. So many people, voices, words, etc. The one thing lacking, in spite of all the rhetoric, was change that’s bigger than a candidate. No matter who you’re rooting for, these individuals are ultimately the leaders for two parties not committed to change unless it’s to their benefit.

I know good men and women are serving in Congress, trying to be real representatives for their constituents. I also know that not so good men and women are serving in Congress, doing their best to profit from their positions of power. How do you put your faith in one person to swing the balance in favor of the good? Doesn’t long-term change demand something more, something that starts at the foundation and works its way to the top?

I don’t know the answers. And perhaps I’m not helping by posing the questions. I simply think we shouldn’t kid ourselves when we step into the voting booth that candidate selection alone is enough to effect the change we so desperately seek.



2 Responses to “Broken Politics”

  1. February 24, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    I’ve seized on your exact position. I have repeatedly made the case for this position over the last few weeks with my friends who are politically aware and/or active. In my own view, there are (and there were) no candidates worth my vote this year, in any party. All of the democrats were legislators, all of the qualified republicans either dropped out or have no hope of the nomination, and no one of these people inspired anything like hope or dreams.

    I can’t think of a time when I’ve gotten more fired up – and not in a good way – about politics. When I was in high school, politics interested me. The more I learned and the more exposure I had to politicians, the less excited I became. Over the last twenty years, a passing interest every few years in knowing who is running on what platform has been about the extent of my interest.

    Unfortunately, this disinterest has been shared by too many people. I think this has allowed the politicians too long a leash, resulting (I think) in the trouble with the system we have now: it has become an entitlement program for the elected. This, in turn, has led to many fewer significant policy differences between the two parties. Or at least that is my view of it. I see the two parties’ members willingly obscuring our view of their policy platforms, allowing a confused electorate in hopes of lengthening their stay in office by delaying or eliminating the need to answer any tough questions.

    People who put their faith in a party today are sadly mistaken and people spending their available moments of life volunteering for any of these bozos are on a fool’s errand. A better use of any fraction of your lifetime would be to mow the lawn, wash the car, read a good book, or just sleep.

    Thanks for the post – sorry for sounding off for so long.

  2. 2 Britt
    February 26, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    @Shannon: You can sound off for as long as you like. There’s no word limit:-)

    On a slightly different subject… As you’ve no doubt noticed, there’s a significant difference between the politics we learn about in high school government and the politics that take center stage in D.C. Here’s the underlying problem: I don’t know that much is significantly different from historical precedent; I think we’re too kind on historical leaders and not realistic enough about modern day representatives.

    In addition, I think our expectations of government are based on the notion that at one point in this nation’s past, its citizens rose up and fought back against tyranny. We then skip over all the infighting that followed and speak about the greatness of men like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt. We’re doing the same thing today, except the enemy isn’t necessarily a foreign government. It’s health care, terrorism, education, and stock markets. We want the government—a bureaucracy made up of territory-guarding, lifetime civil servants—to solve our problems. Is it any wonder that we’re continually disappointed?

    In history books, little time is spent on the foibles of the Founding Fathers or any who came after them. I have great respect for our past leaders, but I think we’d be better off as a country if we recognized that the sugarcoating of these leaders makes it difficult to do apple to apple comparisons.

    Governments are made up of humans. If constituencies stopped requiring pandering rhetoric and stopped demanding the appearance of perfection, they might end up with representatives willing to do the hard work.

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