Posts Tagged ‘election’

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Texts from the Edge (Well, the Shore…)

2010.June.26

These are excerpts from text conversations I had through my first day at the Texas Democratic Convention. While I have a Twitter, I do not post to it from my phone. Parentheses () indicate someone else’s response. Brackets [] indicate a note I’ve added here. If anything isn’t clear let me know.

[I left Austin before ten and arrived in Corpus Christi at 12:30. I should have eaten before going in...]

Safe, sound, and parked for free on the… um, wet! shores of corpus! Here I go, wish me luck…
Aside from NARAL giving out lube, the booths are very disappointing this year…
Proof the Dems don’t have their shit together: this venue has two eateries, both of which have been sold down to nachos since I got here.

[Local Caucusing]

We’re already getting into pissing contests for party officers. Oh shit, someone just brought up the Texas Two-Step
(That’s today’s headlines…)
Is it? I’ll have to look for it. I abstained because none of the candidates seemed objective.
I never noticed before how many people are disabled here.
Wendy Davis sounds a lot more like a politician than she did two years ago. Very inspiring and vague.
And it was pretty clear that the party insiders had a group pre-selected. Ho hum.
“We will elect someone who is [...] an independent thinker and listens to the people.” [I forget who this was, either one of our caucus leads or our local Bill White organizer, but the contradiction made me chuckle.]
Having walked to the nearest Burger King, I can see how the convention center gets away with charging $5 for small nachos…

[Calling the convention at 6]

Music provided by the POW/MIA band. Blink. Blink.
It’s actually quite awkward for people to walk into the band playing, the conductor talking, and an unofficial rendition of ‘God Bless America’ being sung with one unknown voice coming from on high.
The Black Eyed Peas are officially past their prime when old white politicians come onstage to them.
Invocation awkward, preferential…
Also a mariachi band playing on cue for one speaker. They sound more skillful than the Vet Band, but refused to stop playing until the song was over.
“This is the year!” This is ALWAYS the year… [cf. 2008]
“We are the little people!”
I think the current speaker’s lobbying us to focus on recruiting Hispanics. And she doesn’t appear to know that bluebonnets are violet in color…
Wonder if anyone’s ever researched party strength against general polarized thinking…
The media is better than last time. Mission impossible video is well-made and engaging… if cheesy.
The vote for permanent convention chair didn’t even wait for the nays before calling it. ["All those opposedtheayeshaveit."]
I’m sweaty from my walk earlier… Possibly stinky. :/
Wow, they’re really hammering Perry over the mansion.
Oh, we’re getting a montage of videos. Some are really good. One is rather questionable/hypocritical though…
Made it 45 minutes before they started asking for $…
They showed a Kay Bailey Hutchison ad! Hmmm… [the one that bothered me above was one of hers, also, which explains that]
Lone Star Project touting how they are “Fighting Back with Facts” but their whole ad was a dig on Perry’s hair
Wonder what happens to all the Rubbermaid buckets they use to collect donations…

[Bill White Introduction and Speech]

“$18 billion deficit not good enough!”
Bill White gets like 8 intro speeches… [actually 3]
I wish the people who reference Perry’s sympathies would learn to pronounce “secede” more distinctly from “succeed”.
White’s daughter seems very political…
White comes out to “Start Me Up“. It’s been done. He should have come out to Black Eyed Peas instead.
He says the Democrats are the oldest political party in the world. Hmmm…
(That might need fact checking.)
My thoughts exactly. I know it’s the oldest in the U.S. [Looks like he may have been right.]
Ah, the awkward moment when a chant is started and people have to listen to figure it out before they can join in.
White: Perry only schedules 7 hours of state business a week. Taking record federal money but writing a book about states rights.
Dems are so excited about White they’re running 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
He got in a dig at the Republican scheme to help the Green Party.
He’s a great speaker: lots of info, not just rhetoric.

[Aftermath]

I like the Dems and all but damn the energy is repressed here. Where is the kinky caucus???
What’s with the people who raise their hands like calisthenics during benediction?
Watching the aftermath as people leave… Nary a visible tattoo or mischievous smirk to be found…
Only protesters I’ve seen are working a small table outside. They think Obama isn’t liberal enough and root for someone named Kesha Rogers.
I just helped a guy who lost his keys… by leaving them on top of his car. ;) [I also have a knitting bag I grabbed from the seat ahead of me... I'm pretty sure I'll spot the woman tomorrow to return it.]
I’m all done! Leaving downtown and looking for halfway decent food…
When am I not a work in progress? ;) Besides, first rule of event-planning: the agenda isn’t final until the event is over!
My spring rolls AND my tom yum had unexpected and un-extractable onions. Corpus hates me. Wendy’s here I come…
Much to my surprise, the Texas Democrats do not yet have a platform item for bringing JJ and Prentiss back to Criminal Minds, but I’m doing what I can to raise awareness.

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Into the Beast of the Belly (Can I Get a Whataburger with That?)

2010.June.24

I love a road trip. It gives me an excuse to tidy up my living space, sleep even more erratically than usual, spend hours at a time alone with the open road, and indulge in some serious primal sing therapy. If I had my druthers, my book would be written entirely from the road, via dispatches on research, conversations, and sights from across the South.

It’s been over a year since I had a decent excuse for a road trip, so I gladly signed on when invited to attend the Texas Democratic Convention in Corpus Christi (home of Texas’ own Whataburger–their burgers are nominal, but their breakfasts are excellent).

The process so far required just about the least I could do. The Dems prorate their delegations at each level based on corresponding primary turnout, but unlike 2008 there were nowhere near enough volunteers. I was nominated by my precinct in absentia, and promoted to the state level by virtue of having shown up at the county convention. I don’t even know whether I’m a full-on delegate or an alternate.

This year’s convention should be fascinating like a social worker checking in on a past case. While only a fraction of the enthusiasm of 2008 remains, that year has sculpted much about this convention. In 2008, I cheered on Obama’s campaign for not only rallying his influx of newly passionate voters, but for educating them along the way. I said even then that if Obama lost, the knowledge his organization injected into previously uninvolved voters would sustain a stronger movement among those who needed it the most.

To get through the Texans for Obama process and have a chance as a delegate to anything, you had to learn about your precincts, your senate district, your county, and how all of these institutions exist in conjunction with or separate from one another. You had to get to know your neighbors, your fellow activists (new and old), your Internet organizing resources, and you were invited to frequent training, volunteer, social, and strategy-planning opportunities. Even in Texas, where Obama was trailing and the campaign invested only minimal resources, those of us who participated got to know candidates, rules, and organizations at every level–information that, for the most part, remains relevant and useful long after inauguration.

From what I’ve seen so far, it is working, though perhaps not as thoroughly as I had hoped. Several supporters I met in 2008 have gone on to run for local office, form neighborhood organizations, or take on issues like activists instead of whining like armchair quarterbacks.

Of course 2008 also casts some shadows over the convention…

At any moment of the SD conventions I attended in March, you would think the Tarrant Democrats were a strong, united front with a healthy respect for polite dissent and the communal goals of serving the greater good and strengthening the Democratic presence in Austin…

Well, at any moment but one, and it’s kind of hard to explain.

The proportional delegations I mentioned above are part of a fun little contrivance the Texas Dems call the “Texas Two-Step”, where the state primary is split into both a primary and a caucus. Voters can participate in both. Those who support this system say it defends the interests of party faithful and/or particularly passionate voters who are willing to go to extra lengths to be heard. The caucus system is the source of most of the state Democratic platform, and everything is voted on at every level. But detractors say it essentially allows for some participants to vote twice.

If you heard about the 2008 primary here in Texas, then you probably heard that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each won and lost–Clinton won the primary, Obama the caucus. Because the caucus counted for slightly more votes, Obama ended up with most of the state’s delegates. Clinton supporters statewide, which included much of the party establishment and only a minority of the wave of newcomers to the process, were not exactly happy about the result, and a huge chunk of platform debate at every stage involved whether to keep or toss the Texas Two-Step.

Back to March of this year, when the issue came up again, I got to see that 2008′s animosities were alive and well. As someone who quixotically believes that liberal values and simplification of politics/government can somehow be compatible, I was the only former Obama-supporter to vote in favor of eliminating the Texas Two-Step. Moreover, I was told that this was really just “all about Hillary again”, and those of us who stood were chastised by friends and strangers alike, even booed. So much for unity.

Our delegation narrowly voted against the resolution to eliminate the Texas Two-Step, but I suspect it will come up again in Corpus Christi. Otherwise, all assurances are that this one will be swift, painless, and inspiring. Gubernatorial candidate Bill White lacks the charisma of either Obama or Clinton, but fortunately most of us are just as antipathetic to his opponent as we were to his predecessor, W.

Maybe I’ll actually have time to attend a party or two this year (conventions are rife with affinity-based trainings, happy-hours, and after-parties; the twelve-hour days in 2008 prevented my or anyone else attending most of them). Maybe there’s a reason they call them political parties after all…

Sorry, I was a real ass for saying that one. ;)

[Tomorrow (or, you know, whenever I get around to it): A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing! Or, How Does an Independent Survive Two Days of Non-stop Partisan Rallying?]

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Obama, DADT, and Lobbying the Radical Moderate

2010.May.18

Point of clarification: it’s all a Democrat’s fault.

Bill Clinton himself has admitted that his naive rush to “allow” gays in the military by instituting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a bad decision, resulting in an awkward bit of protocol that no one (including Clinton himself) expected to last this long. For all the anti-gay posturing of Republicans before and since, it was not Reagan or Bush I but Clinton and his bicameral Democratic majority who took a military directive and turned it into federal law.

But we all know it’s up to a Democrat to fix the mess; alas, our big hope is an old school president elected in new school times. Oh sure, Obama’s “diverse” and technologically inclined, but he approaches politics like a man born in another time: he skips the rhetoric and chides his opponents to do the same; then he makes a proposal, expects his opponents to suggest a reasonable compromise… and after a bit of teeth-gritting back-and-forth, a moderate policy is achieved and the greater good is achieved. This is called consensus-building, and it is pretty much antithetical to anything you will find on cable TV opinion programming.

Alas, these are new school times (or at least times from another side of the political cycle), where most of Obama’s opponents (and many of his allies) would just as soon shove rhetoric down America’s throats, stonewall without compromise, and go on cable opinion shows to blame everything on the opposition (even when it was your idea to begin with) than hash out nuanced compromise over a round table discussion.

The juxtaposition makes Obama’s slow-even-for-old-school approach to ending DADT stand out all the more. When the political atmosphere is overly charged, overly vitriolic, and overly partisan, being moderate seems radical; I contend that this is why Obama was elected–it’s certainly why I voted for him. However, many of those voting for a radically moderate policy may not have been expecting that it would be accompanied by radically moderate action, and some of Obama’s strongest supporters are getting tired of waiting for that “radical” part to kick in. DADT would seem like the perfect opportunity to implement major cultural progress that would reduce costs, require little Congressional crossfire, and avoid overhauling any further cornerstones to our economy.

Yet, Obama waited, and with good reason from his perspective. Ending two wars, averting financial collapse, and planting the roots of systemic change in healthcare seemed more important because they affected everyone. While social justice ideals may tell us that “an injustice somewhere is an injustice everywhere”, the fact of the matter is that most Americans (even the majority who support some advancement of LGBT rights) would have seen gay rights as a need of the few in the face of the needs of the many. Sadly, politics is perception, and jumping into such a decision could have endangered every other dream placed in Obama, radical or moderate.

Keep in mind, the nation is so primed right now that if Obama can reach the end of a single term without being assassinated or converting our nation over to rampant socialism, without rewriting the constitution to praise Allah or seizing property from Whites to give it to Blacks, without abandoning Iraq and Afghanistan or invading small town America, it will be a great victory for radical moderation over the dangerous forces of overblown rhetoric (though, without a separate figurehead, one unlikely to be claimed and, therefor, noticed).

There were small opportunities; perhaps Obama’s first weeks in office, or that dizzying week after health insurance reform passed: points in time when Obama was riding on high waves and an executive order suspending DADT could easily have been buried amid a thousand other headlines. But Obama’s approach of moderate action prevented such a stealthy move; what on a national level seems to be a simple transition will still have a direct impact on soldiers who are already psychologically stretched and physically drained. So he has called for a year-long analysis (such a study panel is the kind of moment when even I will mutter “liberal” under my breath with a snarl) to research how best to end DADT.

Will it take a full year to strategize the implementation of a DADT repeal? I seriously doubt it. Could measures further than those recently put in place have been taken to slow the impact of DADT? Of course. However, during that time, soldiers and officers who oppose the repeal will have a lot more time to consider their opinion and prepare for the change (Hell, we may even be out of Iraq by then, which should make anything easier for our military). Knowing it is coming should, I hope, make it easier to accept when the time has come. Even once it is legally possible for LGBT soldiers to serve openly, it will not be easy, and some soldiers will remain closeted for years, if not decades; the social adjustment could easily take a generation, but a gradual implementation (or period of warning) will go a long way into smoothing the rough waters of change.

There are more cynical advantages for Obama to delay, of course. He is keeping his options open, for one; should the November election see the Dems blown out of the water (which I doubt, but six months is an eternity in politics), he will move toward 2012 with one fewer bulletpoint against him from social conservatives. Or make that three, because while Obama supports gay adoption and “civil unions”, the sooner DADT passes, the sooner activists on both side will move on to fighting over even more controversial steps toward equality. And while few of the Black American voters who supported Obama 19-to-1 in 2008 have noticed how little his agenda has thus far helped non-whites and poor communities, you can expect that some of the 64% who find “homosexual behavior” to be “morally wrong” would notice if they saw LGBT equality placed as a higher priority.

(None of these items is as straightforward as presented here, though it is perceived to be by many. Sadly, this comparison–which is not original to me–is just another symptom of us-and-them thinking, where even constituents of progressive values focus on their own communities and do not recognize the commonality with other maligned groups.)

But drawing action from a radical moderate will not come from thinking cynically. LGBT activists have been exasperated with Obama’s inaction since the day after inauguration, and they have only experienced one major victory during his 16 months in office. There has been organization and marching and blogging and activism galore–and this is as it should be. In a way, maybe the DADT delay has been good for the LGBT community, too. Not for the individuals, sadly (rates have slowed since Obama’s inauguration, but hundreds have still been booted through his delay), but for the organizations and the LGBT community at large. As a repeal of DADT has approached… well, become imminent… well, seemed likely… eventually… the LGBT community has had less public attention on same-sex marriage (and even activists were running the risk of outrage fatigue after Prop 8). Perhaps with this little detour toward DADT (and ENDA, which will hopefully come next), the disparate opinions within the community will have a chance to breathe and remember what they have in common.

While the goal of every activist organization should be to render itself obsolete, a motivated and unified community is easier to solicit for donations and volunteers, and I suspect there’s still a huge well of untapped hetero allies out there who haven’t given since they got that HRC sticker on their back windows. At the same time, the broader American culture continues to inch closer toward tacit, even open, acceptance of that community and the notion that, hey, gays are people too! Demonstrations help that and arrests help that, so long as they remain clear, focused, and non-violent. Signs about same-sex marriage and adoption will do well alongside those on DADT and ENDA, but don’t try to also protest the wars, corporate media corruption, and the closing down of your local library (at least not at the same event). Activists must treat every opportunity as a discussion on one specific topic and resist the urge to yell at the hetero-normative public instead of talking with them. While some minds are not likely to ever change, others will be preparing for change who wouldn’t have otherwise.

Don’t misunderstand me; Obama is a busy man with a full agenda. Reneging will come all-too-easily if LGBT activists do not keep up the pressure. Politics being the antithesis of humanization, you cannot expect any politician to treat you like a human being instead of just a vote; you must demand it. It is the right and responsibility of every supporter of LGBT equality (whoever you sleep with) to keep up the protests, keep up the letters, keep up the conversation so the President does not–cannot–forget his promise. Unless the Dems keep a strong majority in mid-term elections (which is possible, but hardly likely at this point), I doubt we will see national progress beyond DADT and ENDA during Obama’s first term; then, it will again fall to LGBT activists to help him win a second term so he can make bigger promises toward equality and we can work tirelessly another four years to hold him to them.

It isn’t fair–and promises have already been broken–but it is the way of politics. You have to fight a lot to win a little, and deserving it means you just have to work twice as hard.

Questions to ask while we wait:

How is recruitment?
Why no temporary moratorium?
What about those already discharged?
Will DADT impact mid-term elections?

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Who’s Your Scapegoat?

2008.November.14

For those who don’t know, there will be national and international protests of Proposition 8 tomorrow at 12:30pm Central. Visit Join the Impact for more information. North Texas events are taking place in Dallas and Denton, possibly others.

Some of the strongest opponents of Prop 8 have released a letter asking for a little perspective from their allies:

“It is natural to analyze what went wrong. But in recent days there has been a tendency to assign blame to specific communities, in particular, the African American community.” The letter goes on to question early reports about the proportion of African American support for Prop 8. The organizers accurately describe this perspective as a divisive distraction away from the organizers who successfully leveraged passage of Prop 8 with aggressive campaigning. “The fact is, 52 percent of all Californians, the vast majority of whom were not African Americans, voted against us.”

Some commentators have also said that campaigning and funds from the Church of Latter-day Saints (mostly out-of-state) contributed heavily to Prop 8′s passage, which raises church-and-state questions.

But there are also reports of retaliation. Opponents of Prop 8 are using a website that tracks Prop 8 donations to target boycotts, on both personal and community levels. Protests have lead to the resignation of a musical theater director who donated $1,000 in favor of Prop 8. Even Mormons are leaving their famously insular church.

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What’s Your Stake?

2008.November.13

All other things equal, would you rather have an insider or an outsider representing you on policy matters?

John Steele Gordon, a commentator on NPR’s Marketplace, today contended that for Treasury Secretary, President-Elect Obama should select “a fox who knows the weak spots in the hen house”… someone like Henry Paulson. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have someone who knows a security from an exchange. (Gordon’s delivery was so dry it sounded like satire until he cited founding SEC Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy as an example of someone whose success came because he “knew where the bodies were buried” and “what reforms were needed”.)

Meanwhile in Texas, we have a member of the Texas State Board of Education who has taken it upon herself to warn America that the president-elect is not an American and will institute martial law. A little out of her jurisdiction, yes, but not much more than her position on the board – where she helps develop the public school curriculum – considering her side work developing a curriculum for “church study groups, home schools and private school classrooms” that her own children have only attended home school and private school.

Is it too much to ask that officials elected or nominated to serve a specific sector (such as education, FEMA, energy, international relations…) have some direct experience in that sector? Even if you believe in changing a system as it exists, you can’t (well, shouldn’t) just make an immediate and unmitigated 180 turn away from established policy. You probably don’t want to turn your car around on the highway without slowing down and exiting. You probably don’t want to put a communist in charge of trade (despite some of Obama’s frothier detractors’ certainty that very thing will happen). You probably don’t want a vegan as your butcher, a Mormon in your porn, or a misanthrope as your spokesperson.

Look for someone who has at least some vested stake in the work ahead. Even if they aren’t a member of your political wing. The party operatives might do more harm than good. Sometimes intentionally.

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Don’t Take It Personally

2008.November.3

Campaign work is not for the faint of heart.

Most politicos grow a pretty thick skin to it. When, with stinging eyes, I told our campaign manager today about Barack Obama’s grandmother passing away, he commiserated for about two seconds before saying, “I hate to admit it, but this will probably help him.” He’s great at this stuff, and has all the callouses he needs to go from one campaign to the next in quick succession.

Me, I get by through mitigated intensity. I made sure my contract said I would only be working part time, knowing that it would reach full time and beyond by late October, because it is important to me to maintain an equally intense personal life. I can spare a few weeks without much rest at the height of the campaign, but I couldn’t function at that level for months or years. Wednesday morning, win or lose, I wake up free of obligations.

The wheel-greaser of our office is young; this is her first political campaign and her first job out of college. She often has it the hardest, because while she is the least prepared for the barbs and arrows of campaigning, she receives them most often and most directly. Today, it was a bullying phone call blaming her for something that was 99% likely to not be her fault or even the fault of anyone at our campaign.

I believe she has great potential as a campaigner, if that’s what she really wants. She’s passionate and hard-working, but the unspoken third component one needs is balance. Either you learn to build the walls, like the campaign manager, or you learn to control the spigot, like me. To paraphrase an aphorism, you can give all of your energy some of the time, or you can give some of your energy all of the time, but you can’t give all of your energy all of the time.

But you don’t have to work on a campaign to give too much, and we would all do well to remember that (and remind our friends).

I’ve been the guy who checks the latest polls four times a day, whose office brings in lunch to talk about the election on the day after, then who goes home and talks about it with roommates and family members and friends near and far. Whatever energy you have left on Election Day gets squandered on whining when you lose.

If you follow local elections the way you should, you have a high chance that at least one of your votes is going toward a loss, but I’m not broaching the topic of burnout because I think my guy is going to lose. Like any unnatural high, there will always be a crash after an election, whether or not your candidate wins. You’ve had this siphon of energy and thought you’ve been feeding on a daily basis for weeks, months, years, and suddenly it’s not there any longer.

If your candidate loses, you wonder if it was worth the effort, and feel alienated from your fellow citizens, who voted another way. If your candidate wins, you lose an outlet just when things peaked. If you’ve just given a little, you find yourself wondering whether it was enough – was your sliver of dedication enough to claim credit or too little to avoid blame? If you give everything, you’re left to wonder what is left for yourself as your candidate fades away or forges ahead (and, I don’t know, starts picking a Cabinet).

Politics is both personal and impersonal. We are expected to vote for the candidate most like us, the one we want as a pal, the one who has our best interests at heart. Yet we will likely never meet the candidates or receive a more personal thak you than an email blast with our names pasted in at the top, and it is easy to find your power insignificant when your vote is literally one of millions. The candidate who wins with your vote could not have done it without you and people like you, but does that make it your victory?

Yes and no. You could just as easily ask, could your vote have mattered as much if the candidate had been less charismatic, knowledgeable, or effective at campaigning? Don’t you owe them a little thanks for helping you breathe a little easier over the next two, four, or six years?

The way to keep perspective is to distinguish what is the act of the individual and what is the act of the group. The individual registered to vote, conducted research, possibly volunteered, and cast a ballot. Of these things, the individual can take pride in him or herself. But it was the group that turned out in record numbers, the group that launched a movement, and the group (even if not all of it) that elected the victor. For these things, the individual must take pride in his or her community.

It is with one’s community that victory, defeat, and progress itself must be measured, acknowledged, and learned from (and if you can’t learn from a victory, defeat will find you soon enough). That community doesn’t evaporate after November 5th. Like a long courtship that has reached marriage, that’s when the real work begins.

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All Over But the Voting

2008.November.1

Early voting has ended here in Texas. I cast my ballot Friday morning on a flat digital tablet resembling an oversized Game Boy. I have reservations about electronic voting, but as I will be working the polls all day Tuesday, it was an absolute necessity.

For the curious, I voted on 17 races. Here was the breakdown:

  • 10 Democrats
  • 5 Libertarians
  • 2 Republicans

I do not vote in uncontested “races”, because they are undemocratic. Why put them on the ballot at all? If you include them, at least allow a referendum on the incumbent. It is another consequence of the pendulum swing of partisan politics – when the pendulum swings far to one side, the other side just stops bothering to show up until the party in power screws up and reap the electoral rewards. How is that a healthy discourse on the direction of our republic?

More importantly, I did not vote straight ticket. It wasn’t just a matter of supporting good candidates regardless of their party affiliations (which I did) or encouraging third party candidates wherever it seemed reasonable (and in Texas, sometimes Dems are the third party)… it is foremost to me a move that conveys accountability to those powers that would woo my vote. Ideologically, yeah, I have a lot in common with the Democrats. Or, I should say, they support my values more often. But a political party is an apparatus of communal convenience, and convenience is the modern enemy of freedom. As a party shifts (and all objects in motion stay in motion), I will find that some positions shift away from my own values, and other positions hold little water once in office. As its leaders attain and maintain success, the party grows lazy, corrupt, and/or desensitized, and the pendulum will inevitably have to swing back the other way. Think of it as a market correction for our political development. Just as with the stock market, a volatile political scene should be considered undesirable, even when you are the one who (temporarily) profits – because extremes are another correction waiting to happen. True progress comes from slow and steady growth.

Voters who opt for straight-ticket voting (especially those who do so consistently, and not as part of a specific statement on a party’s platform) are falling in line without asking questions, without hearing all options, and without asking themselves tough questions. Not only do you take the party’s worthiness (and dare I say infallibility) for granted, but you invite that party to take YOU for granted. If you let yourself be permanently defined by one label or one issue, you are opening the door for a party to undermine every other value you might otherwise have and your power loses much weight.

Parties never waste time vying for the support of its staunchest straight-ticket voters (well, almost never). Often, when a party realizes that its sheep are beginning to stray, they will bring forth a wedge issue to corral the base for another four years. But eventually real issues come to the fore and the pendulum swings once again. Freed from their haze of ignorance, voters will look back and say, “Wow, how did we let that last bunch in? Let’s stick with these other guys instead!” and forge a new generation of blind attachment.

Straight tickets also run the risk of promoting candidates who are not actually qualified for their offices. Let’s face it, somewhere in every town or state, there is some nut who runs for some office every two years, just to build up some name recognition and catch a partisan wave down the line. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are any more guilty than the other. Swinging back is necessary for balance after a period of extreme partisanship (such as the last eight years), but no reasonable Democrat can guarantee you on November 5th that each victorious candidate with a D by his or her name was the best qualified. Someone will ride the coattails and be in the right place at the right time with the right letter on the ballot.

If you didn’t early vote, do some research. Visit your local county’s election office (most have great websites) and get a good look at your sample ballot. Google each name and read the media recommendations (watching for slant – most newspapers are sadly just as guilty of partisan opinions as the rest of us) and write down the names of each candidate you support. And you know what? Even if you decide that each Democrat, or every Republican, or every Christian-Green-Anarcho-Libertarian is truly your candidate and warrants your vote, check them off individually. Because the parties track every tick on the ballot, and while they will not know how you as an individual voted, they will know how many ballots took the shortcut and how many took the long way. They must know the limits of their own power in your precinct, because every American citizen deserves to have candidates fight for your vote. Every time.

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I’m Your Biggest Fan – Don’t Fuck this Up!

2008.October.23

One of the themes I hope to develop with this blog is holding one’s own heroes accountable. Most voters will expect immediate and swift change after a new president is inaugurated, and they will expect it to happen with little-to-no attention on their part.

But that’s now how democracy works.

I want Obama to win, and I think he will. But I don’t want the millions of fervent supporters who got him into the White House to beam at him and slap each other on the back for a job well done. Our responsibilities as citizens do not end with the election of our candidate.

Obama won many of us over by saying the right things. Once he’s in office, we must make sure that he follows up by doing the right things.

The third debate would be a good example of a moment when we should expect more.

“I think the American people are less interested in our hurt feelings during the course of the campaign than addressing the issues that matter to them so deeply.” [except that this was in response to a question about negative campaigning; Obama used the issue itself to avoid the question]

“The notion, though, that because we’re not doing town hall meetings that justifies some of the ads that have been going up, not just from your own campaign directly, John, but 527s and other organizations that make some pretty tough accusations, well, I don’t mind being attacked for the next three weeks.” [The fact is, Obama has renegged on a couple of promises to McCain once they became politically inconvenient, and I haven't quite forgiven him for one in particular.]

Where was that classic “disagree without being disagreeable” line Obama has been saying for months, maybe years?

“… what is important is making sure that we disagree without being disagreeable. And it means that we can have tough, vigorous debates around issues. What we can’t do, I think, is try to characterize each other as bad people. And that has been a culture in Washington that has been taking place for too long.” [At last! Only 10 minutes into a 15-minute topic...]

That debate was painful for me. If it hadn’t been for further slips by McCain only minutes later, I might have conceded this debate to McCain. I was quite sure that both had lost it, and was surprised to hear the positive reactions Obama received. I guess we should be grateful that Obama’s worst performance was still better than McCain’s best, but that’s the same kind of pervasive us-and-them mentality that gets our politics so messy in the first place. Most of the time, as long as voters feel like their candidate is saying what they want to hear, they think that person is winning. Few allow for the possibility that someone could be lousy at debate, but a good candidate, or vice versa.

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Learnin’ Something New…

2008.October.15

As an amateur wonk and activist, I’ve heard the basics of the Obama and McCain stories a thousand times, and could probably tell them as well as any journalist on the cable news (though that’s not saying much). Yet, I couldn’t resist the lure of yet another bio as I sat down with leftover saag tonight, despite my intention to seek out some new drama to rot my brain for an hour. PBS’ award-winning Frontline was running a two-hour documentary on both presidential candidates, filling in the gaps for those who haven’t yet memorized Obama’s 2004 speech to the DNC or which years McCain was a P.O.W.

And I managed to learn something.

For instance, I knew that Obama had a relatively short political career, with a coreographed succession of moderate outreach and subtle idealism. What I had not realized, however, was that Obama has yet to win a serious contest in his political career. His greatest struggle up to this point was probably running for President of the Harvard Law Review back in law school. His first office was won after each of his opponents had their candidacies dismissed for invalid petitions (not my favorite way to win an election, and another quiet little hint that Obama might be worse than the Arab-Muslim-Terrorist-Black-Nationalist-Late-Book-Returner his opponent’s supporters believe him to be–he might be one of those god-damned politicians. You know, the kind Barack Obama wants to take Washington away from. Anyway, once he was the incumbent, re-election came easily. In 2000, Obama ran for Congress and lost 2-1 in the primaries against a popular incumbent. Obama’s 2004 election to the U.S. Senate came easily after his original opponent was embarassed out of politics by sex-club allegations from his ex-wife, Seven-of-Nine. Improvised opponent Alan Keyes was flown in from Maryland to establish residency and be black, but was laughed all the way home by 73% of the electorate.

As for McCain, I learned that I’m not the only person who thinks he has changed since his 2000 primary run (I want to call it “maverick”, but no… just… no…). Frontline laid it out there, how McCain stumped for W’s re-election in 2004 and came to support policies he had once opposed. Apparently, every presidential nominee since Reagan (and possibly before) has been an establishment statesmen who stands in party-line and waits his turn for the party’s nod. For McCain to get that nod, he had to get publicly close to W. And even as W’s poll numbers had bottomed out since the 2006 mid-term elections, the president still had the power to make McCain the party’s next statesman or denounce him to eternal maverickdom. Whether because he feels he needs the power to do some good (let’s hope this is Obama’s rationale for playing politics so well), or because he’s grown tired and wants to retire in four years, or because he has a Clinton-esque sense of entitlement, John McCain sucked it up and kissed a lot of ass to get where he is today. It’s too bad, really. I liked that 2000 guy. Moreover, I respected him.

Fortunately, there is still some hope that this election won’t be like the last few… dozen. That two decent, upstanding men will carry on a respectful, meaningful discussion of our country’s direction by focusing on those elusive issues and not on character assassinations, even when their own supporters call for blood. Is it so dumb to think maybe the guy who loses could wake up on November 5th and just say, “Well, we did our best and we did justice to our values, it just wasn’t our time…”?

Of course there’s always 2012…

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