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Partisan Politricks

September 17, 2008
by Rob Lafferty

"Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." – George Orwell

You're a loyal Democrat or a loyal Republican. You vote in every presidential election and you vote for your party's candidate each time. You're a true believer, a partisan – and you're part of the problem in what passes for democracy in our modern American Republic.

You're in there with the people who vote from an irrational fear that terrorists will kill them unless we elect a Strong Leader to keep us safe so that we can die some other day from some other cause. Fear is the oldest of the many politricks that candidates use, because it still works. It was a key factor in 2004; a lot of people overlooked the fact that George Bush was actually the man in charge when the 9/11 attacks happened because Bush somehow made them feel safer than John (Scary) Kerry.

You're also in there with those voters who choose a president based solely on who has the best speaking skills, which is often the most visible form of politricks. At least you're not alone – most of us are quick to praise anyone who tells us what we want to hear, and we'll reward them with our vote if they say it with a little style and flair. If Al (Bore) Gore had shown just a bit more charisma in 2000, the American social landscape would be noticeably different today.

You're in the problem pool with all those well-intentioned folks who somehow became enablers of the politricks that rule our modern version of democracy – but at least you vote, and doing your civic duty tends to balance your political karma. In November comes another chance to exercise your right and fulfill your obligation to vote in elections. It's also a chance for your redemption as a voter.

The path to voter redemption is a path that leads away from partisan loyalties, away from emotional responses to oratory, away from the politricks of Fear in its many forms. It's a path that starts an honest assessment of what the federal government should be doing for the American people, and ends with a vote for the best person to manage our government's responsibility to serve the American people. It's also a path seldom taken...

The Democratic Party offers Barack Obama as their candidate for the 2008 popularity contest. The similarity of his surname and Osama bin Laden's first name may be a portent of doom, but Obama can probably overcome that kind of politricks because he's an engaging public speaker who can inspire a crowd. That doesn't prove he would make a good president, but we made a similar choice in 1960 when we elected a young John Kennedy over the experienced Richard Nixon by a narrow margin.

The Republican Party decided many months ago that John McCain would be their candidate to succeed the Worst President Ever, who is also a Republican. They may be able to overcome recent history by admitting that they let the party get hijacked by a neo-conservative fringe group who led everyone into strange and undesirable territory. That admission won't come until next year for most GOP partisans, however, and the election will probably have been lost by then.

In terms of how they will govern if given the chance, it just doesn't matter what Obama or McCain or Joe Biden or Sarah Palin say during the next six weeks, because the motive behind their scripted comments will be purely to draw votes. They may let an interesting thing or two slip out that reveals a fundamental part of themselves to the public, but any connection their speeches may have to our common reality will be purely circumstantial.

McCain showed that disconnection between politricks and the real world in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention. The crowd fed on his words like a hungry beast, drowning out the voices of protesters with chants of "USA, USA" and cheering loudly whenever McCain spoke those magic phrases that define core Republican values. He called for Change in the politics of Washington D.C. and promised to lead us all into an Era of Change.

The reality of the past three decades had nothing to do with McCain's speech. A Republican president has been in the White House for 20 of the last 28 years; "Reaganomics" has been the primary policy of this country since 1980; and from 2000 through 2006 the Republican Party controlled the Presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives at the same time. The folks in Minnesota who cheered McCain's call for government reform are the same folks who put the current government into office; that reality won't change no matter how the pundits try to spin it.

McCain has been a Senator from Arizona for 26 of those 28 years of Republican domination. He has a long record that can be examined, as does Joe Biden with his 33 years as a Delaware Senator. Both McCain and Biden are decent men who have done good things over the years, but after all those years in office neither one has much credibility as a political Agent of Change. We have a long history of looking to the fringes of the system for our Reformers, not to someone deeply embedded within it.

Despite all their talk of Change, both McCain and Obama chose their vice-president from the ranks of the strong Party faithful. Instead of trying to "balance the ticket" with someone who would appeal to independent voters, each man sought to unify his political base of loyal partisans. Each decision seems to have worked – so far – but it leaves us with another campaign between two antagonistic groups who are ready, in McCain's words, to "stand up and fight" for whatever they believe is worth fighting for.

And as it turns out, those two governing philosophies are actually more alike than they are different. Neither candidate will be able to deliver on any ambitious campaign promise because the country is too deep in debt to afford anything beyond the continued military and defense spending that both candidates propose. McCain wants to keep a lot of US troops in Iraq. Obama wants to take a lot of them out of Iraq and send them to Afghanistan. Those are two different approaches strategically, but they're not as different as, say, ending the occupation of Iraq and bringing all US troops home from Afghanistan. Especially from a soldier's perspective...

With only two narrowly opposed philosophies of government to choose from in a presidential election, it's not surprising that most folks don't bother to vote at all – especially poor folks, who know from history that their lives won't get any better no matter who wins. There are also a huge number of potential voters who are so disgusted by the politricks of partisanship that they refuse to participate in a spectacle where they're expected to play the role of a happy warrior being led into battle.

Presidents don't always need to be the smartest person in the room, but they should have enough honor to show some respect for the intelligence of the citizens who elected them. McCain speaks critically of Obama's lack of foreign policy experience and praises Palin for her judgment. He knows Obama has shown solid judgment as a Senator while Palin has never even met a foreign head of state, so instead of the "straight talk" he claims to be famous for, McCain uses the language of politricks to obscure both issues.

In the end, another ancient politrick will decide the 2008 winner-take-all election. It will come when the Electoral College meets to count their votes on January 6, 2009. Because when you mark your ballot on Nov. 4, you won't actually be voting in a national election. Oh, they'll count your vote and announce the national total, but it's the winner in each state that matters.

An American presidential election is actually 50 state elections. The candidate who wins a state – even by only one vote – wins all that state's votes in the Electoral College count. Or maybe not; Hawai‘i is one of only 26 states (plus the District of Columbia) that require Electors to vote for the candidate who won their state. In the 24 states that allow Electors to disregard the November results, voters can't be sure if their ballot matters because they can't be sure how their Electors will vote in January. So when you cast your ballot, don't harbor the illusion that it's being done in a one-person, one-vote process where all votes are equal.

Whatever that final result turns out to be, Americans should not expect to be represented by the next President. We will, instead, be Led by a Leader who will take us all someplace we don't really want to go. That's the ultimate politrick, and it works every time.