Rant: Why This Presidential Election Is Worthless

I’m angry. I don’t know if any of this adds up. Oh well – can’t be any worse than what Maureen Dowd writes. Edited and softened considerably 10.03.09 – in the current political climate, restraint and moderation are the only virtues left. People are looking for anything that sounds extreme to use as a weapon.

1. Ranting about the media frenzy, the empty rhetoric (“really? your candidate is about change? So is mine!”), the color commentary on speeches and debates, the incessant gossip is easy, and doesn’t add up to a case. For all those things have existed in politics for centuries, and good leaders were to be had.

The issue is whether our elections are making us better or not now, and whether we are getting competent leadership through the electoral process or by accident.

2. Unlike most people, I really like W. as President. For me, the Presidency is a foreign policy position primarily, and I think we should war with Muslim extremists and stop them from killing people all over the globe. And if that means nation-building and a strengthened commitment to defense and security issues, so be it. I feel our current problems in Afghanistan are stemming mainly from Pakistan and Iran, areas where we don’t have forces in control. But Allied efforts in Afghanistan have dramatically improved people’s lives, and good news from Iraq was unthinkable early last year.

However, W. wasn’t elected President because of his vision in foreign policy. He was elected out of Clinton fatigue and where he stood in the culture wars. He himself knew this – the issues that were important to him, issues in 2000 like reorganizing the Armed Forces and No Child Left Behind had to be grafted onto how he was primarily marketing himself, as an evangelical who was effective in his previous post as Governor.

3. And that’s exactly the problem: we can’t elect someone based on their foreign policy. What are we supposed to ask for, the names of all our operatives around the globe and every single bit of classified info, then shove it in the candidates’ faces and ask them how’d they respond? We don’t even know what all the information that we have now portends, let alone all the information we’re (rightly) not privy to.

Therefore, the preeminent tendency in American politics today is to concentrate on the domestic at the expense of the foreign. I suspect this is the real reason for why people like President Clinton: his unseriousness about foreign policy was a virtue. Why can’t we just sit around as Americans and get rich, and tell the President what issues he should talk to us about via focus groups?

4. But before Clinton, there was a way to relate Americans to what was going on beyond their borders. Everyone knew the Soviets were scum, once upon a time. Why? Because the Soviets had a way of life that was fundamentally opposed to ours – atheistic, violent, tyrannical, and suppressive of commerce, private property, and individual liberty.

Now we don’t have that relation to Russia anymore, so Time magazine can hail the current leader of Russia as just as good as – if not better than – our President.

What has happened is pretty simple: we want to deny the area we have no knowledge has any import (foreign policy). Therefore, we respond one of two ways: we actually make the denial (Clinton years), or we impose our values on how we picture the world (Bush is just as bad as Iran, he’s stealing elections there, etc.). Using our values to picture the world was once a good thing when it meant opposition to Communism and Nazism. What has happened to it now?

5. The rough answer is that our domestic politics are far shabbier than anyone can account for. Consider how the mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana reacted when Katrina hit: they delayed FEMA, then put the blame on FEMA and Bush for the ensuing disaster. Some people look at this as an offshoot of the “blame Bush” syndrome, but I think the underlying cause is deeper. After all, do any of us have any say about what goes on in public schools? How many of us know anything about the governance of anything we’re a part of?

What the culture wars did was erode self-governance by making everything activist. If I get elected to something, it will be because I’m pro-life or not hostile to religion, not because I’m actually competent at doing the job. That doesn’t mean a sense of value is alien to competence – prudence actually requires one knows values thoroughly, so that way one can act most justly and effectively. It just means we can’t be debating values all the time and then expect competent leadership in any capacity. Nor can we be elected because we stand for something other than public service.

Our domestic politics have eroded, and we now project that awfulness onto our view of the world. We actually debate like as if we can influence decisions regarding the troops when we can’t even fix a streetlight or a pothole.

In our rhetoric about the everyday, everything is a revolution, everything is change. Look at the way the candidates speak – it’s as if they have some genuinely new proposal under the sun that no one has ever seen before, it’s as if we’re all greater for listening to them.

6. All I want is a candidate that will protect American lives and stand up for American citizens; security is paramount, and only with security can those of us in this country reach out to people the world over well. Otherwise, we will be taken advantage of in the worst way: literally killed by extremists, then effectively cursed at by the rest of the world while responding. Being cursed at doesn’t bother me: it only bothers me when the government takes it seriously and is willing to gamble with American lives for goodwill from countries that have none to give.

That’s it – that’s my one criterion for the President. Nothing more. Tell me which of these dumbass candidates can meet that criterion. I have no clue myself, quite honestly, because all I hear about is change or character or some other tripe that I don’t care about.

In the meantime, I – and anyone else who will join me – will deal with the issues of equality, and trying to get our schools back, and educating the rest of us in the heritage we have but don’t know. We’ll gladly deal with that because if we’re going to have a proper domestic politics, we need to get back a sense of value, and it isn’t going to happen because the President told us so. It’s only going to happen because we value each other.

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  1. Such language? Monde du!!

    I like it when you get angry, then you use the F bomb. That is the ultimate sentence enhancer! But, you are right, politics has gone all wacky because we have “revalued” every thing. Nothing means what it used to mean, and we have created activist politics to deal with the new created reality. Shame, oh shame!

  2. You make interesting points; however, to what extent do you give credence to the old adage, violence begets violence? Certainly, national security is an important issue for any President to take seriously, but as we march toward an increasingly interconnected global economy, wouldn’t you agree that it is the concept of diplomacy a president needs to re-define? Isn’t through regional development, not bombs, that hearts and minds are best won?

  3. Markus – thanks for the comment.

    You’re absolutely right, but I think you’ll note that the language I’m using to describe what a candidate should be pledging himself to is from a rather famous work considered to be constitutive of the modern Presidency.

    Fear and respect before generosity, not because “generosity sucks,” but because our lives can be endangered otherwise, as well as the lives of our allies.

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