Monday, September 15, 2008

Picking a chief - 1/22/08

[Nothing to say here, my concerns haven't changed a bit.]

To follow up on my last post, it's fair to ask why I am pessimistic that Americans will carefully consider the candidates for president and make a rational choice based on their priorities. Why do we base our vote (for any office, but most importantly for president) on half-baked emotionalism or imagined personal compatibility?

There are probably any number of reasons for this; I'll just jot down those that come immediately to mind, and think about them as the campaign forges on.

First, there are people who honestly don't believe there is any difference between the parties and, thus, the candidates. It's easy to see why. All the candidates (save the unelectable mavericks like Paul or Kucinich) believe unquestioningly in the benefits of the free market and free trade, they all believe in the inescapable power of representative democracy, they all believe that we're under siege from Islamo-fascistic terrorism. Given the simplistic questioning in the debates or on the interview shows, it's no wonder we can't find distinctions. Have we ever asked Hillary Clinton how she squares the conflict between the free market and democracy? Have we ever asked John McCain why terrorism is so much worse than other forms of conflict?

No. We just accept the prepackaged, focus group-tested sound bites (I'll be an agent of change, I'll be ready to use my 35 years of experience day 1, and so forth). In addition, we know that the probability of fundamental change inside the Beltway is very small. The president really doesn't have control over a huge percentage of what goes on in Washington, so we're unlikely to see, for example, significant less influence by special interest groups.

Second, we're lazy. Most Americans are not engaged with the issues; they don't spend any time trying to find distinctions between the candidates. It's true that the jargon doesn't help in grappling with the nuances of the various health care plans or the long-term foreign policy direction. But most people don't even try.

It probably takes a crisis to focus our minds on the issues that we face, and despite 9/11, or our loss of jobs overseas, or our real estate meltdown, most Americans are just not convinced that any of this denotes a crisis. (I'm not sure what would rise to that level; Hitler and Sputnik got this country moving, but not unanimously.) As long as most of us get our three squares a day (even if we pay more), or can still drive little Johnny to his oboe lessons (even if we pay more), or are not under siege from Islamic terrorists, we're going to believe we're essentially OK.

It is said we get the president we deserve, and that is probably true. It's also unfortunate, in that I believe that we face previously unknown challenges, and it's going to take a little more than vague hand-waving about "change" to confront them.

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