"Sports, politics and religion are the three passions of the badly educated." So wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. Not sure I agree with that but I understand where he's coming from. I have, at various times in my life, been keenly passionate about one or all three. In this day and age, it's almost irresponsible to be indifferent to politics. As for sports, I've never been a "team" kinda guy. Never saw the sense in it. Tom Wolfe writes of the senselessness of rooting for team sports (professional, that is) in his wonderful book I Am Charlotte Simmons. And religion. Well, religion is one of those things where once it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, it's there forever. Personally, I had the great misfortune of working with The Salvation Army and enduring their nefarious right-wing, literalist policies for several years, so I'm still, all these years later, angry and bitter about that. Conservative Christian zealousness nauseates me.
I have never been coy about the fact that I'm a very liberal democrat. At the same time there are liberal policies encouraged and endorsed by our present administration that leave me cold. Socially, I'm far more conservative than I let on. I read once that any thinking man would be foolish to be a republican when he's young and even more foolish to be a democrat after he turns forty.
Welfare is one issue that irks me. Anyone who's lived in a large city and seen the myriad ways it has been abused over the years can identify with that. There are families on the south side of Chicago that are fourth and fifth generation welfare recipients. The children are taught from an early age not to get a job but how to finesse the welfare system over a lifetime. The mere thought of actually getting a job is unimaginable to them.
It's not an easy issue, this liberal versus conservative stuff. The choices of either come with heavy baggage. Liberalism, like many political platforms, is fair and morally defensable on paper, but in application rarely works entirely. On the other hand, conservative policies fail to take into account actual grass roots governmental responibilities. The truth is, our nation has become far too large and complex for any one train of thought to be completely unassailable. For example, Roosevelt's New Deal may have worked for the country as a whole and may have been the exact pill we needed to swallow in 1933, but today it is just another example of giving a village fish when it would be more prudent to teach them how to fish.
All of this was on my mind last night as Angie and I watched a fascinating film called Recount, about the 2000 election between Gore and Bush. It's an unapoligetically partisan movie outlining the evils of Bush's campaign and their legal shenanigans as they used the Supreme Court of The United States of America to quite literaly 'steal' the election. At one point Angie said as I muttered and cursed under my breath, "Well, it's true that every single hand recount in Florida never once had Gore ahead." I was astonished. I said, "They never ALLOWED a recount of all the votes, that's why!" In the end the Supreme Court ruled that the recount must be stopped immediately and then took several days to decide their verdict and finally said now there's not enough time to do the recount. Then they went on to say that this decision regarding election laws was only applicable to THIS ONE ELECTION. Never before in the history of that august body has such a disclaimer been made about a decision. And, as well all know, Gore won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College due to Florida's refusal to do the recount. In the final analysis, it was just a huge cluster fuck.
In the film and arguably in real life, then Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris comes out looking the biggest culprit, the most wanton evil-dooer, when all is said and done. Her depiction in the film borders on outright libel. Incredibly, she went on to become a U.S. Congresswoman from Florida, as mind-boggling as that is. Time and again she steadfastly refused to let the recounts continue, far exceeding her legal authority. Weeks of valuable time were lost due to her obstructions. But she is not entirely to blame. Joe Leiberman weighed in at one crucial point, undoubtedly looking to jockey for position for his own presidential run in 2004, to discontinue the voting. Blame can be placed on many a doorstep.
One has to wonder where our country would be today had Gore won the election. Would we be embroiled in Afghanistan today? Would we have sent ground troops to Iraq? Would the senseless killing of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the Mideast have occurred? Would the economy be as fragile as it is today? I don't know. Maybe.
Ultimately, the biggest problem I and many others, republicans, too, had with George W. Bush was not so much his military decisions, but his clear lack of intellectual capacity to actually be President. One has only to watch any one of his many press conferences to realize he's simply a dumb guy. I do not write that with any satisfaction. It's only a fact. W. just isn't too smart. Never was. Yes, Bill Clinton certainly had his moral drawbacks as the leader of the free world. But he was also one of a handful of the smartest guys ever to sit in the oval office. It's useless to rehash his sexual peccadillos at this point in time, but I think it safe to say most of us could care less about his infidelities as a man as opposed to his blazingly intelligent decisions as a president.
I admit to some strong reservations about Barack Obama in the oval office. I was living in Chicago, his home base, when he was elected. There, as in many other cities in the country, the election became all about race. The race card was played insufferably. To his credit, then Senator Obama, tried desperately to downplay that aspect of the election, but the African-American population refused to let him do so. I can only attest to my observations in Chicago, but I honestly think had he lost to John McCain there would have been a massive and uncontrollable riot in that city. It would have made the Watts Riots look like a peaceful protest in comparison. I abhored that. I was ashamed of that city.
Churchill said something akin to the idea that democracy is the worst system of government on earth until one looked at the others. That was sort of how I felt in Chicago on the eve of the 2008 presidential election.
At the end of the day, I still count myself a liberal democrat. After a lot of anguished thought, I have come to the conclusion that as a voter I have no choice but to vote for the platform, not the man. I have no input as to how a man will actually govern once elected. I can only trust the platform. If I don't encourage and vote for my ideas I am essentially participating in a Miss Universe Pageant. My ideas are all I have. I am left no option but to vote for what I think is right, rather than what I think might occur. It is what the founding fathers wanted. To cast my vote for a man because he's tall or has a fine head of hair or because he's black or because he's handsome or because he's an eloquent speaker is utter foolishness. A recipe for disaster. But to vote for a man because he says he wants to do something I believe in, well, that's the ball game. That's the litmus test. That's the only thing I have to consider once I'm in the secrecy of the voting booth.
A little off mesage here today, as they say. But I was laying in bed for a long time last night thinking of this film. My parents were die-hard republicans. Angie's parents are die-hard republicans. Some of my closest friends are die-hard republicans. Sometimes, depending on the mood in which I"m caught, I am a die-hard republican. The problem is, for me anyway, is that I keep coming back to what is right and what is obviously wrong. That's why I adhere to this whole 'vote for the idea' thing. That's all I can do. That's all any of us can do. That's why this system of government is the worst in the world, until we look at all the others. That's why we live in the most fair unfair country on earth.
See you tomorrow.