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October 28, 2004

Political Musings

In a completely unsurprising turn of events, The New Yorker endorsed John Kerry for president. You can read the piece, if you wish, for a long, well-argued condemnation of almost everything the Bush administration has done.

In the same magazine a couple of months ago, Louis Menand wrote an article about how voters make their choices. Here's an excerpt about undecided voters:

"To voters who identify strongly with a political party, the undecided voter is almost an alien life form. For them, a vote for Bush is a vote for a whole philosophy of governance and a vote for Kerry is a vote for a distinctly different philosophy. The difference is obvious to them, and they don’t understand how others can’t see it, or can decide whom to vote for on the basis of a candidate’s personal traits or whether his or her position on a particular issue 'makes sense.' To an undecided voter, on the other hand, the person who always votes for the Democrat or the Republican, no matter what, must seem like a dangerous fanatic."

Well, I'm not a fanatic. In fact I don't consider myself someone who will always vote Democractic. It's just that on almost every issue, I agree with the Democrats (the exception, no surprise since I work at Microsoft, is anti-trust law as it applies to the software industry. Similarly, my sister-in-law, who is a doctor, agrees with the Democrats on everything except medical malpractice suits).

But I do find myself baffled by undecided voters. I'm not voting for John Kerry; I'm voting for a Democractic administration. I don't care if they run Bubba the Chimp up the flagpole; I want an administration where the Secretary of the Environment is not a former lobbyist for extractive industries, where judges are not selected solely based on the reliability of their anti-abortion positions, where a difference of opinions is considered a positive, not a negative.

Here's another quote from Menand's article:

"'The typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field,' the economic theorist Joseph Schumpeter wrote, in 1942. 'He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes a primitive again. His thinking is associative and affective.'"

Right! I am baffled by people who in their work lives value adaptability, lateral thinking, flexibility, broad knowledge, and healthy debate, and yet when it comes to politics simply stick their heads in the sand and wish it was 1954 forever.

The goal of the Republicans is to win not just this election, but to establish a Republican strangehold on the House, Senate, and White House that lasts for at least 30 years. This is a key election, of course, although the fact that Dick Cheney will not be a viable presidential candidates in 2008, and Hillary Clinton will, should give the Democrats at least one more chance before they succumb to an avalanche of gerrymandered congressional districts approved by a stacked judicary.

Anyway, let's reflect on what the country would be like after 30 years of unfettered Republican rule. Assume that the Republicans continue their plan of siphoning as much money as possible from the poor to the rich, with the attendant destruction of the public sphere: the environment, transportation infrastructure, public schools, aid to the poor, etc. essentially disappear and everyone is left to fend for his- or herself.

The question becomes, does the United States then enter a downward spiral from which it cannot recover, left behind by Europe, China, India, Japan, and perhaps a couple of other Asian countries?

The United States has 3 things going for it:

  • The native language is spoken around the world.
  • It has vast natural resources.
  • It is perceived as being the #1 country.

The first will still be true in 30 years; too many countries have made the investment in teaching their students English for this to change in a generation and a half. In any case there is no natural successor as the global language of commerce.

The second will also probably continue to be true; although a Republican administration would work hard to decimate the natural beauty of the environment while increasing reliance on non-renewable energy sources, the United States is REALLY BIG, and I doubt in 30 years that you could reduce the percentage of land that was "natural" below that of a place like Japan. There's a lot of room in the lower 48, and then there's Hawaii and Alaska as backup.

The third strength of America, the perception of it by others, is more shaky. I'm not talking about protestors in France who hate America; I mean the perception that the US is the "place to be" for money, technology, higher education, and general quality of life. There are two trends that will cross; as American schools turn out students who are less- and less-well educated, the jobs will be filled by foreign-educated employees. But will those employees continue to come here if they decide that the experience for themselves and their families will actually be worse than it would be in their home countries? Will they enjoy living in a country with a rising crime rate fed by the disenfranchisement of entire sections of society? Will they continue to come to the United States for graduate school if funding for higher education dries up? Already you have a generation of foreign-born employees who are casting a cold eye on the American public education system, and deciding it is not up to snuff (unlike Americans (or Canadians like me) who continue to subscribe to the sappy notion that public education is a benefit unto itself).

Of course, this perception feeds on itself; it is harder to attract foreign workers if the ones already here are sending back emails describing how bad things are getting. Once the perception goes, then reality will follow closely behind. 30 years of Republican government may be just enough to send the country over the edge.

Posted by AdamBa at October 28, 2004 10:18 PM

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