Letting some of it trickle out while trying to soak it all in

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Obligatory presidential debate post

It's hard to really listen to both sides in a presidential debate if you strongly sympathize with one contender from the beginning. But if you can suspend your preference (if only for two minutes), while the debate won't likely change your vote, it might change your life.

In the debate last night I tried to sit in the middle and feel the wind. In this zen state, detached from what I've been taught to think about big or small government, the lukewarm reasoning washed over my tired mind like a jet in a hot-tub. About a minute into the response of either candidate I could feel a deep-down shift as the hodgepodge of technically true treatise gelled and got traction. It's like the "key change" moment in a Country song after the third verse or the rest before the hook of a good Pop song--it gives you shivers.

"That's right, I don't want a 'trickle-down' federal solution. My grass wants roots!"
"Interesting, we do need a balanced approach. He's just too extreme."

High level politicians use language like a canoe paddle, quietly slipping it into your mind to push you forward and change your direction.

In last week's New Yorker, Jill Lepore's article The Lie Factory told the story of the first political consulting firm, Campaigns Inc, in 1933. Among other things, they defeated Upton Sinclair (socialist writer gone Democratic politician) when he ran for governor of California. Campaigns Inc also helped turn public opinion against Harry Truman's public health care plan. Before the smear campaign, nine out of ten voters supported the plan. After their ads, four out of five opposed it. Lepore quotes Clem Whitaker, co-founder of Campaigns Inc,

"The more you have to explain, the more difficult it is to win support. . . . Words that lean on the mind are no good, they must dent it. . . . A wall goes up when you try to make Mr. and Mrs. Average American Citizen work or think."

So back to the leaning and denting of last night's debate. To be honest, I loved it. It was like after preparing both the "for" and "against" cases in high school debate class. You know more about the issue and are less confident of your opinion. One of the problems in finding the best route forward is the surplus of data, polls, and statistics. There are so many real patterns in our complex socio-economic system that multiple cogent but mutually exclusive lines of reasoning can be developed. The system is too big to be understood all at once, and piecemeal analysis almost always misleads. Pair this with the fact that we, Mr. and Mrs. American Citizen, inherent most of our opinions from our parents and base most of the rest on sound bites and talking points, and you've got a strange flavor of democracy.

My Jr. High journalism teacher and family friend Lisa often quoted Mencken, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple . . . and wrong."

To my surprise, at an hour of nodding along with both candidates I actually felt a little bit excited about whoever is president next. Surely some of this is because of too much canoe paddle in the brain, but maybe some of it is high school debate wisdom. I like the iPhone in Obama and the Blackberry in Romney. I like the Stake President in Romney and the law professor in Obama. I like that Obama is Black. I like that Romney is Mormon.

At the end of the day, I see energy and climate change as the most pressing issues facing our country and the world so I will vote for Obama. Also Romney's "Avenger's" style position on ramping up military spending turns me off. So there we have it. I will vote, you will vote, and a couple other people will vote and the person who gets the most might become president.


  1. These posts make me miss being friends with you.

  2. You vote for Obama, I vote for Romney. That means we'll have to have a third kid so all their votes will tip the scales. Is my math right?

    1. You're assuming our kids will vote split like us. You're much better looking but I am a lot taller. I bet they'll go with me. ;)

  3. Have you seen the documentary "Cool It"? I haven't ever really had an opinion on climate change before but that documentary helped. Documentaries are like the news, only their lies are more interesting and usually have an animation to explain some of them. But the point the guy makes is that what we are currently doing is ineffective and we could do better for less money. Anyway, 'Merica. Ron Paul 4 Life.

  4. i'll vote for obama as well, for the reasons you state (especially concerning the environment) plus the differences between the two on health care, on taxes on the very wealthy, and on the role of government, including student loans and PBS.

    the extreme positions romney took during the primaries (on immigration, for instance) that he is now rolling back, just as he earlier rolled back the liberal positions he took when running for governor, make me distrust him profoundly. that's not my version of a principled Mormon.

    you, on the other hand, have my vote as principled and Mormon and a fine debater.

  5. Could we settle this by figuring out who can kill the most Nazi zombies?

    1. I do like the idea of a skills-based competition. What if they did best of three with American Gladiators, Nazi Zombies, and Four Square? Or maybe ballroom dancing?

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  7. Ben,
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