Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The problem with this election and true community

If you were to ask 10 random people in the USA who is running for president, I bet you at least 9 of 10 could say the names of the two leading candidates, and probably spout out some opinions about one or both of them.
                However ask the same 10 people (or any other 10 random people for that matter) who is running for county mayor, city council, or the school board and you would be lucky to get one who could give the name of one of the candidates or any other information about the race.
                Is not that curious? The election where we have a 1 in 213 million voice we know the names of the candidates if not where they went to school, the most recent stupid thing they said and what they had for dinner last night. Yet in the races where we actually can have a pretty big effect, where our voice can be 1 in a few thousand, or even more, we know little or nothing about. In these races our personal clout with our family and neighbors can be a significant voice yet often we don’t even so much as take the time to figure out who is running until the day of the election. In fact less than half the people even show up to vote if there is not a president on the ballot.
                I find it ironic and sad in many ways but I can see why that is the case. When everything that matters to most people has become a federal issue from how our children are taught in schools to whether birth control is freely available from the government it makes sense that we would only care about a federal election.
                Some will say that this is just the nature of democracy and our federal system to which I reply an emphatic “NO! it is not!” Having a vote where my influence is 1 in 200 million to decide everything from how much I pay in taxes to how my health care is administered is not democracy, that is “feel good” tyranny. What is more it is not the nature of our federal system; it is not how it was setup or how it has to be.
                The Constitution was set up for this very purpose to give the federal government certain enumerated rights, and leave the rest to the state and local governments. The idea is to leave as much as possible, especially things that affect our daily life to be controlled at a level where we actually have the ability change the policy if we want. That makes sense to me. Education, health care, social issues, should not have to be the same everywhere in the United States, right? I mean why should the people from Duchesne county Utah be forced to have the same health care policies and education policies of Washington D.C. or Seattle?  I would like to see anybody give a real viable argument to counter.
                Why have we left the pattern set out by the constitution? Of course there are lots of reasons, but they all boil down to power and laxity. First the laxity of many voters who prefer to leave all decisions to one meaningless vote as it is easier than actually talking to our neighbors and making decisions about what affects us. The second is power, the federal government seeking for power and people who cannot stand people in a different state living by a different standard than them, so they have to force them to live the same. Often it is people who do not agree with their community standards and therefore appeal to a higher level to make the community yield to their standards, as well as the rest the country.
                I hate to use the example of abortion as it is politically, morally, and religiously charged, but the concept is the same for many other issues as well. Furthermore especially with recent developments it should be clear the advantages of not having the federal government get involved, especially for liberal-minded voters. The history Roe versus Wade and abortion laws in the United States is an interesting topic in itself which I am just getting acquainted with.  Abortion was legal in the United States essentially everywhere and at any time until 1821 when Connecticut passed the first limited abortion ban. After that more and more states began passing abortion bans because of multiple reasons, some population control, some obviously moral, some health related (for both mother and child’s sake). By the 1950s every state had laws against abortion; many much stricter than I think any state would put in place today. For example in Pennsylvania it was illegal under any circumstance to have an abortion. However most states allowed abortions in cases of rape or when the health of the mother was at risk. In the 1960s many states started rolling back their abortion laws, some repealing them completely. New York, Alaska, and Washington for example had repealed their abortion laws and abortions were legal under the care of a physician. Many states had made it legal if the baby was early in development. However in 1973 the case of Roe Versus Wade went to the supreme court (I’ll omit the details of the case) but needless to say it made abortion legal everywhere in the United States. My problem with this case has nothing to do with abortion. I think the first thing that needs to be understood about this case is that abortion is essentially the battle between two fundamental rights, the right to life (for the child) and the right to liberty (for the mother). What bothers me most about the dialogue on this subject (as most political subjects) is that people ignore that the other side does have a legitimate claim. For those that are “pro-life” I think it should be very clear why people have a different view. I mean it makes sense that a women should be able to decide what she can do with her body. However, at the same time pro-choice people ought to be able to respect and understand pro-lifers desire to protect the innocent and the belief in people having to accept responsibility for their actions. That is what we need to understand: both sides have very valid claims. My beef with this case has nothing to do with abortion, but rather the fact that the national government (the supreme court) is telling the states, the people, how to live, across the board, regardless of circumstances. I am sure Roe had some valid reasons for wanting abortion, but that fact of the matter is that not being willing to live by her community standards (or rather the lawyers who used her as an example) caused the community to live by her standards, and everyone else. (Interesting side note is that Roe of Roe v Wade is actually now a pro-life advocate.) Many states were rolling back abortion laws as they felt was best for their communities, many more would have followed if it was seen to be beneficial. so why do we force those places, those communities that want to place the life of the baby supreme be allowed to maintain their community standard? Liberals will of course take offense with this, and indeed show many reasons why this should not be (indeed I just read an article by one of them http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/tgr/06/1/gr060108.html). For now the federal government has ruled in their favor. However, what happens if that is reversed. Just yesterday I read an article in the NYtimes about the possibility of Roe-v-Wade being repealed (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/16/opinion/if-roe-v-wade-goes.html?_r=0) If the wind of national politics heads in a more “conservative” direction then all of a sudden even in San Francisco abortions could be illegal, and no one could get an abortion. Who would be calling for State’s rights then? Why can’t we keep those decisions at a local level where we can actually have a say in what happens? I am aware that sometimes unfortunate things will happen if states and communities are left to navigate their own destinies. Some people in conservative areas would be denied abortion. But the alternative is to simply hope that everyone in the country rules in your favor, in this way the entire nation can get the shaft, and not just a community. We need to live as communities, as Mr. Obama has said, some things we do do better together. But if the federal government does it, are we really doing it together? I think doing something together is working with your friends and neighbors, people that you actually know, to accomplish something. It is not having a giant federal bureaucracy make our personal decisions for us.
                I do not want to get into the abortion debate, or healthcare, or anything else, and what is more, I do not want to have my president deciding these issues regardless of who we “choose” on November 6. Because the reality is, I will not choose him. Many liberals are quick to back the idea of federal government intervention,  “after all” they say, “that is what gave women the right to an abortion, and ended discrimination in the south, and created a universal healthcare system to give poor good health care.”  To this I respond that indeed the federal government has done some good things, most regarding the civil rights movement (which is an issue I won’t delve into here). However, it should be easy to see that if conservatives take over the white house and congress, things could go just as quickly the other way. Government healthcare could become illegal, abortions illegal, and more things which liberals would find down right bad. Again my question is why we have to put all our hopes on a guy that we probably disagree with on 30% or more of the issues. It just does not make sense.
                Recently Mitt Romney was campaigning in Iowa and he was causing a stir because his wind power policy was at odds with many of the leading republicans in the state. Well duh, of course their views are not going to align completely with this one man who has to have views align with over half the population in quite a few states. In fact, next to no one will completely agree with him if they are completely honest. What is ridiculous is to think that he shares the same views on every policy out there with even a small fraction of the people, let alone half of the 300 + million people in the country.
                Even the most dogmatic, party line republican or democrat, if they were completely honest with themselves, would be forced to admit that they disagree with their party’s nominee on some, if not multiple issues. What does that say about the rest of us who are not dogmatic, party-line thinkers? Are we just out in the cold, forced to live under policies that have real, everyday effect on our lives, yet we do not agree with, and have no real ability to change? I say NO once again. This system we have created is not democracy; it is feel good tyranny which we can and should change.
                If we do not agree on everything, why do we keep pretending that we do? We divide the world into two camps in which the people in one camp are right about everything no matter what, and the ones in the other are all idiots and only make mistakes. I say why do we have to pretend like we all fit into two options, regardless of where we live? Why can’t Oregon have legalized marijuana and abortions, even late-term abortions if they want, and Kansas have them outlawed?
                Why can’t states or even cities that want socialized medicine create their own socialized medicine system? At the same time, why does a place like Wyoming that hates the idea of Obamacare and socialized medicine be forced to swallow it? San Francisco could have a socialized medicine program that suits it, while Cheyenne could let the free-market reign. Are we so pompous that we have to force everyone, even those hundreds of miles away, live by the same economic and moral codes we do?
                The idea that one man, or 435 men in Washington DC can better make decisions for people in Duchesne, or St. Louis, or San Francisco is utterly ridiculous, let alone for all of them at the same time.
                Obama has been campaigning a lot on the idea of “community” which I agree is a very important topic. Indeed I long very much for the sense of community he sometimes talks about. The idea of helping out our neighbor and those around us inspires and motivates me. Yet my problem with the president (and indeed most national politicians) is that while talking about “community” their policies destroy community. Right now we know everything about our presidential candidates and watch them constantly on television, yet we do not even know what our neighbors think or why they think that way. Is that community? Is community making comments on CNN articles under a pseudonym? I have a proposal for real community. Real community policy would mean deciding what mattered to them as a community, as neighbors that actually see each other, not as some giant federal faceless blob.
There has been a rising tide of “living local” in many cities across the United States. That is buying local food, shopping at locally owned stores, and the like. At a book store recently I saw a sign that said “Live, Eat, Read Local” I agree there are many advantages to reading, eating, and living local. I have a mantra to add, “Live Local, Govern Local” Is it not time we take power away from those in Washington, and let Washingtonians decide for Washington and the Citizens of Austin decide for the city of Austin? Is it not time to truly live locally?
                If health care, education, abortion and gay rights were local issues, would we not pay more attention to our communities? If the school board had more control over what happened in our schools than Washington would we not find out who was running and get to know them? If our city council had more effect on whether or not Planned Parenthood was active in our city, would not more people get out and get to know their neighbors and campaign?  People in Utah would not have to go to Colorado to knock on doors and talk to people, they could do a novel thing and just go talk to their next door neighbor.
                Last year my city had a bond issue on the ballot that was important to my family. Less than 2000 votes were cast and the decision was decided by 5 votes. My family cast 5 votes (father, mother, sister, brother and I) and it could be said swung the election. What is more, we got to know more of our neighbors and their viewpoints as we discussed the bond issue with them.
                To me, that is community more than anything you will hear from the presidential campaigns this year. A community where we could decide together how our children were taught and whether to have socialized health care or not. As neighbors and community where we could be engaged in lively and open debate and not in comment wars on CNN and the Huffington Post.
                But this year, we are not knocking on our neighbors doors or asking them what they think about the issues. Instead we sit and watch a screen with two men of actually quite similar views as they shout insults at each other. We cast our vote for one of them who we likely agree with hardly more than we do the other one. Then we sit back and wait for this man and his 3.6 trillion dollar organization to respond to the needs of 312 million people. And Obama calls that community.
                The problem with this election is not that half of us will lose; it is that all of us will lose. It is that all of us except for the president and his closest friends and donors who will get the best positions in government will lose.
                And with it we will not only lose the election, but something more precious, a true sense of community.   


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Dang. I posted a comment, but it showed up twice. So I deleted one and both are gone.

    Basically, I said this was a great post! :)

    1. Thanks Melissa! I got your first comment and I agree with you. First on third-party candidates. I just wrote an article (to be posted soon, I am in the midst of blog rearranging, so check back soon!) on how, especially if you don't live in a swing state, the wasted vote is for one of the main two candidates. The vote that does something is for a third party. Next on role of federal government. Ideally it would be just as the constitution lays out, on things that don't have to do as much with our day to day lives. So yes military, foreign diplomacy, tariffs(which ideally speaking we wouldn't have), and of course coining money. That is not an exhaustive list, I probably missed some things but not much. It should be as bare bones as possible, but obviously would still need to do some essential functions.

  3. 100% agree. Awesome post. This was very well thought out and written (a breath of fresh air from my own posts which are usually quick and dirty). I noticed that you were staying very politically neutral. Is that because you are, in general, politically neutral? Or is it more that the purpose of this post wasn't to take side, other then on the issue of states rights? Either way, you played Switzerland very well (not that you needed to).

    1. No I am not politically neutral, I just wanted to focus on the issue at hand, limiting the power of the federal government. I think that would solve a lot more issues than fighting for my side. After all if you are fighting for your side it is like I am right, you are wrong. That never goes over well. But how about this, You are right (and then under my breath, but so am I!). So it isn't exactly like that, but needless to say I think this is something we can all get behind and benefit from. I guess sometimes being Switzerland is a good thing :). And thanks for your comments, hope all is well.