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One last political post - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
One last political post
Well, this is a genuine post about the politics of politics, not about particular candidates. It will be my last political post for awhile (at least until tomorrow, when I think of something else), because I'm tired and want to get back my real writing, but I did want to at least state some opinions that I've come to during the course of this race.

Opening with a quote from an otherise extremely (Bush) partisan article by Orson Scott Card, which made me want to cheer:

To all of you who think it's clever to steal the political signs from somebody else's lawn:

The only message you send by that action is to declare to the world that you hate America. You hate American freedom and American democracy, and you would rather replace it with a system where only people who agree with you will be allowed to speak.

Whose side are you on? Not the American side.

If you see signs in favor of candidates you detest, the answer is to put up signs of your own and try to talk other people into doing the same. Americans seek dialogue -- not monologue. Especially not monologue achieved by forcing the other guy to shut up.

Anyway, the election made me think about what we really need and want in a candidate, both from Bush's successful run and from what successes Kerry achieved, as well as what mistakes were made. So, without further ado or random quotes, here are my thoughts on what we need in a candidate next time.

  1. The candidate needs to be comfortable in his own skin and being who he is. Pundits have learned the wrong lesson from Clinton's jiving with his sax or Bush's sitting down to have a jaw with people on the campaign trail. People don't respond to that because they like to have a president who is easygoing or one-on-one or whatever... they liked it because it was Clinton enjoying himself in a way that was purely Clinton, and Bush connecting in a way that was natural to Bush. Asking John Kerry or Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton to try and be more like Bush or more like (Bill) Clinton is just bad politics. People aren't stupid, and recognize when someone is mugging for the cameras. Hillary Clinton would be absolutely crazy to try and come off as an Earth mother type or a fun loving goofball like her husband. People won't respond to her trying to be anything other than what she is. She's a bright, ambitious, powerful woman who doesn't take much crap--that's not a bad persona to project, actually, and if people think it's what they want in the White House, they'll vote for it. The same is true for any other candidate with any other type of personality. The point isn't to try and fake a different personality, but to show why you, in particular, are the person the country most needs. Pretending to be anything you're not--including "one of the guys"--is just going to backfire anyway, so BE YOURSELF. If you lose, you lose, but at least you haven't totally insulted the intelligence of your constituency in the process.

  2. Don't run an anti- campaign. One thing the Kerry campaign seemed to overestimate was the amount of anti-Bush sentiment. That's understandable--the anti-Bush sentiment was very vocal. The reason it's a mistake isn't that the anti- sentiment is somehow mistaken or wrong or anything (even if I think it is), but that it's alienating to people who don't share it but are otherwise undecided. I tried to explain it to some campaigners on the street, but they refused to discuss the subject, since after all, it was obvious that they could whip up "passion" by playing on the "overwhelming" anger at Bush that they were so certain was everywhere. As a consequence, they probably lost a lot of undecideds because hey--one thing everyone knew was what George Bush was about. So now that the election is over and the tactic really didn't work (I am willing to entertain the notion that I'm wrong, and I had to wait and see), I'm going to re-iterate, in print (sort of): Tell me why I should vote for your guy, not against the other guy. Why are you, above all other people in the country, the one to lead us? Where are you going? Both Bush and Clinton gave clear ideas, even if they were impractical, and people were able to weigh and evaluate them. Kerry did as well, but they were so deeply buried under the anyone-but-Bush rhetoric that a lot of people were turned off before they got to them. I don't just mean not insulting one's opponent--I doubt that can be avoided--but not making it an actual plank on one's platform. Positive campaigning: It's not just right, it's practical.

  3. Get your sorry butt into the present day. Both sides managed to annoy the living hell out of people by nattering on about things that happened back in the Vietnam era without making any actual connection to what was happening now. Did G. Bush skip national guard service? Has that behavior continued in some way? If not, you're just going to annoy people by bringing it up. Was Kerry's anti-war testimony in the '70s material to his opinion on the war on terrorism? If so, explain how. If not, you know what? The guy's allowed to have moved in one direction or another over thirty years. Candidates may tell their own stories to give people an idea of who they are--and the stories they choose to remember are fairly indicative of that--but opposing candidates are well-advised let some romanticizing lie, as irrelevant sniping comes off as mean-spirited, and the electorate doesn't much care for mean-spirited people. If it's relevant, then explain how.

  4. Be honest about the requirements of past jobs. Kerry has been a Senator for a long time. That involves changing one's mind from time to time, sometimes as part of political compromises, sometimes as part of an actual change of heart. That's why I'd be a bad Senator--too set in my ways. By the same token, Bush was a businessman, and that sometimes requires doing business with people one neither likes nor approves of. And Hillary's a lawyer, for crying out loud. Don't whitewash professional necessities. Voters are usually working people and will, in all likelihood, get it. I don't have any proof of this, but I strongly suspect it. (Though for heaven's sake, be ethical by the rules of your own profession if you intend to run for office someday.)

  5. Understand the concept that people of good will may disagree with one another quite passionately about issues. In other words, supporting a war doesn't mean someone loves to kill old women and babies. With very few exceptions, it means that the person believes in the goals of the war and believes that other options have either been exhausted or are impossible. This is true even if you yourself disagree with the war and its goals. Conversely, a person who doesn't believe in putting religious symbols on public land doesn't hold this belief because he hates G-d and wants to rip out the spiritual heart of the country; he holds it (usually) because he believes it supports freedom of religion. That there are psychopaths who love war and militant atheists who want to suppress American religiosity is not a defense of believing that everyone who disagrees with you is in one of those camps. This is something everyone should strive for, but politicians in particular need to understand if they're not going to alienate large clumps of voters.

Okay. I think that's it with the politics for awhile.

EDIT IN, but not making a change. I just realized I did something I hate--referred to men by last names, and a woman by her first. With Hillary Clinton, especially in a post where Bill Clinton is prominently mentioned, it's hard to avoid, because repeatedly using both names is awkward, and "Rodham-Clinton" sounds like their late life child named "Rodham." It would be the same talking about G.H.W. Bush and G.W. Bush, if I were talking about both of them--I've noticed pundits referring to them as "forty-one" and "forty-three"--but because of the gender situation, it becomes even more awkward with Hillary Clinton, because of course, it's disrespectful to just use her first name casually while addressing the men more properly. (I saw a Hillary/Obama icon earlier and thought, "Great--they use the man's proper address in the VP spot, but the one running for president gets treated like a secretary in the 1950s!"... and then I do it myself!)
30 comments or Leave a comment
rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: November 4th, 2004 01:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I'm kind of tired of politics too, but at least you have good, clear articulate reasoning in your political posts.

I'm not so much worried about Bush as I am about the people around him, and about the direction which they plan (and have said they plan) to take things. But in four years, God willing, we'll get another chance. Heck, in two we could try to get better balance in Congress and that's something too!

I like it best when Congress and the President are on different sides of the fence.
may_child From: may_child Date: November 4th, 2004 01:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like it best when Congress and the President are on different sides of the fence.

Me too. That checks and balances thing.

Michael Lind, a conservative who wrote a scathing indictment of the Republican party's takeover by the radical religious right called "Up From Conservatism," said a couple of things in the book that made me stop and think.

The first: "To establish that a politician is a hypocrite is not to establish that he is wrong. A politician who dodged the draft may nevertheless be correct in arguing that the Vietnam war was justified. A politician who divorced his wife and abandoned his children may nevertheless be correct to praise intact families."

The second: "If conservative policies benefit the country, then they should be adopted, regardless of whether conservatives express individual failings." (He obviously felt the reader was intelligent enough to substitute the words "liberal" and "liberals" as they chose rather than tacking on an additional sentence.) Then he went on to say, "Conversely, the sterling character of a conservative does not entitle him to adopt policies that are harmful to the country. It is better to be governed well by sinners than to be misgoverned by saints."

Though you'd be hard-pressed to find any saints in politics (and plenty of sinners), I happen to think that last is a pretty powerful statement. Whether George W. Bush is a morally good man (and I don't think he is), is ultimately irrelevant. I consider his policies and his governing to be harmful to this country and its citizens. Conversely, Bill Clinton's moral foibles were well known, but I consider his policies, though far from perfect, to have been more beneficial to the country and its citizens.

There was another quote in the book that is slightly off-topic, but nonetheless I can't not share it. In a chapter discussing family-values rhetoric, Lind talks philisophically about how, for instance, marriage can be saved, using the radical religious right's moral template: "Men who divorced their first wives -- say, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich -- could be held up as living, breathing symbols of immorality, while couples who have stayed together through tough times -- say, Bill and Hillary Clinton -- could be honored and praised."
jiminyc From: jiminyc Date: November 4th, 2004 01:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Americans seek dialogue -- not monologue

Oh, this is brilliant.

Your qualities for a good candidate are very sound. Let's hope that we get someone who meets these qualifications in the next election.
From: leeflower Date: November 4th, 2004 03:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wholeheartedly agree with Card on this one (which may be the only time that ever happens).

Stony Run Friends Meeting in Baltimore has a 'war is not the answer' banner that keeps getting stolen. They now have a laminated message pinned to the back reminding the vandals who do this what the spirit of america is all about (read: not theft).

Stealing things from private property=criminal and juvinile.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 4th, 2004 03:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Later in the article, he argues that teachers should have more control over their classrooms and less middle-management bureaucracy. That's agreeable enough.
melyanna From: melyanna Date: November 4th, 2004 03:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
In the theft reports in a local newspaper here in the Chicago suburbs, there were, on one day, two reports of sign theft — one from each side. I also saw plenty of Bush/Cheney and Kerry/Edwards signs that had been spray-painted. That got downright nasty here. And immature.

You've got a good point about letting candidates be who they want to be. It irritates the living daylights out of me that candidates want to hide the fact that they were Ivy League, or flaunt their Cs. You know what? I want a leader who's intelligent and hard-working, and not ashamed of it. I want an elitist. Clinton may have had a good ol' boy presence, but anyone who listened to him speak for ten minutes got the distinct impression that he was a very intelligent man. He didn't try to be what he wasn't.

I think that's half the reason Barack Obama is as popular as he is in this state. He's an easy-going guy who can talk with anyone and everyone, but he never tries to shed his cultivated, well-educated manner either. He's a Harvard man, and he treats it like an asset, not a hindrance.

About history — I understand the frustration with wanting to get out of Vietnam already. That irritated me too. I'm more concerned with leaders who have no sense of history. It's true that we shouldn't dwell in it, but history is what got us where we are in the first place, and if we aren't willing to look to the past to find patterns of any kind, then I fear for the future.
From: leeflower Date: November 4th, 2004 03:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
funny thing about Candidates not being who they claim to be:

Bush talks about NUCULAR weapons, but NUCLEAR families.

He knows how to say the word, but chooses not to, because speaking the way he does makes him look like a good ol' boy.
mrs_who From: mrs_who Date: November 4th, 2004 03:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
rabidsamfan wrote: But in four years, God willing, we'll get another chance. Heck, in two we could try to get better balance in Congress and that's something too!

I don't mean to single you out, but this is one reason I'm not a member of either major political party. By "we" I assume you mean the Democrat Party? Plenty of Democrats won this time and "we" as American voters - those of us who bothered to vote - well, we did indeed get a chance! A chance to vote for any party of our choice. And as far as a "better balance", C-span reports D201, R232 in the House and D44, R55 in the Senate. Unless you're Green, Libertarian, Communist or another party, it looks fairly balanced to me, if slightly leaning Republican. If it were slightly leaning Democrat, I'd still consider it fairly balanced.

Since when did our identity as a human, a woman/man, an American, get wrapped up in which political party we lean toward, and cause either elation or depression depending upon "who won"?

I apologize if you feel like I singled you out! I really don't mean to, but your comment provided an opportunity to point out a trend I've seen and - as I said - feel quite baffled about.

buongiornodaisy From: buongiornodaisy Date: November 4th, 2004 04:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree. The segmentation of life into which party you belong to disturbs me, really. Not every party is the Communist party, but all this talk about loyalty to the party, solidarity with other party members to the point of moral compromise, and supporting the party with funds and political activity reminds me too much of 1984. I want to support which ever candidate I chose based on my own assessments, not the assessment of a "party." Yes, I lean Democratic, and I am glad when Democrats win, but I'm not going to pledge to serve the party. I have someone better to serve.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: November 4th, 2004 07:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's why I was really turned off by the people who were saying things like "Help us take back the White House!" It sounded like the White House was being occupied by some hostile foreign power. Come on, people. I may be a rightie, but I live in Chicago, and Daley is the mayor and Obama is the rising-star senator, and I can live with it. They won, after all. Sure, I'd rather see a (halfway-decent) Republican there instead, but I don't think of the mayoral office and senator's seat as things that are somehow *rightfully* of my party.
buongiornodaisy From: buongiornodaisy Date: November 4th, 2004 04:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
From: arclevel Date: November 4th, 2004 08:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really like your ideas and would personally like to see them in a candidate -- hopefully one whose positions would incline me to vote for them! Unfortunately, the cynical part of me thinks you're overestimating the electorate.
atropos87 From: atropos87 Date: November 5th, 2004 03:40 am (UTC) (Link)
Positive campaigning: It's not just right, it's practical.

Absolutely. The content of some of the negative campaigning really shocked me when I was over in Philly and saw some of the adverts on the TV. It's not something we get so much of here from the parties themselves although regrettably the trend does seem to be going in that direction. Why on earth would any conscientious voter want to be spammed with a load of propaganda about why the other side are evil, mean and nasty? If you can't set out why your policies will benefit the country in a logical, clear and persuasive manner then you don't deserve to be elected IMO.
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: November 5th, 2004 05:06 am (UTC) (Link)
We had the opposite happen with us.

Someone put a Kerry sign in our yard.

Since we had many signs up for a local levy that we felt was very important to pass, we didn't put out any signs for any candidate (why water down the message?)

Mr. Kerry's sign was unwelcome and removed.
skelkins From: skelkins Date: November 5th, 2004 06:31 am (UTC) (Link)

Wow, that's rude! I guess they must have thought that since you had so many, you'd never notice? Very sleazy.

We had lawn signs stolen and vandalized, bottles thrown at our house, and a few other minor unpleasantnesses. I am about as far from Card politically as one can get, but I'm definitely with him on the lawn sign issue. It's one of the few issues for which even I find myself thinking that awful word: "UnAmerican."
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