Monday, February 4, 2008

Mixing hockey and politics #1

I'm sure, readers, that you recognize that the Blueland Chronicle doesn't do politics as a habit, even though the two current contributors are certainly interested in it while off the ice, so to speak. Since Super Tuesday falls tomorrow, and our own Peach State will be taking part, I think it's only fitting that we take some time to mull over the contenders for the Democratic and Republican Parties' nominations.

If the Blueland Chronicle were a serious newspaper and in the business of endorsing candidates, it would whole-heartedly support Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination and John McCain for the Republican nomination. I'll let T-Man explain Senator McCain's virtues; right now I'll tell you why I, M. Peacock, will be casting my vote for Barack tomorrow.

For one, he isn't Hillary Clinton. For my case against Hillary Clinton, I'll just reprint the letter I sent to the New York Times after reading their daft and confused endorsement of her:

To the New York Times Editors,
I am writing to express my confusion over your endorsement of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for Democratic Presidential nominee. I'm not confused over your decision to back Senator Clinton (though I disagree with it); rather, I'm puzzled by the language and notions you use to justify your endorsement.
You write that Senator Obama and Senator Clinton are essentially the same in wanting to change "America's role in the world, not just its image." You go on to link the two candidates in terms of their views on the war in Iraq, taxation, civil liberties, and curiously, you claim that they both promise "an end to the politics of division of George W. Bush and Karl Rove." This last claim is difficult to substantiate, I think. Senator Obama has consistently resisted the lure of Bush/Rove style politics, but the same cannot be said for the Clinton campaign. In the last few weeks the Clinton campaign (the primary mouthpiece of which seems to be the former President Bill Clinton) has aggressively distorted and mischaracterized Obama's record on the Iraq War and his view of recent political history. I'm sure there's no need to recount exactly what was said, but it should be obvious to any thinking person that the Clinton campaign has lied about some of Barack Obama's statements and policy positions. The Clintons also practice the Bush/Rove tactic of criticizing an opponent for non-existent weaknesses, often their own weaknesses, and they haven't gone far enough in disavowing the pernicious and slanderous mass emails that have been circulating recently accusing Senator Obama of being an Islamic extremist bent on destruction of the United States. The Clintons have also gone to great lengths to force identity politics into this election: 1) Hillary Clinton has painted herself as "the woman candidate" whose administration would be uniquely beneficial to American women, and 2) Bill Clinton has used racial innuendo against Obama in an attempt to portray him as "the black candidate" who is fit only to lead blacks and who is wholly unworthy of support from white people. Clinton has doubled his offense in this area by proceeding to suggest that it was Senator Obama, and not himself, who brought race and identity politics into this election. All of these tactics bear more than a passing resemblance to those used by Karl Rove and George W. Bush.
Later in your editorial, you write: "The sense of possibility, of a generational shift, rouses Mr. Obama's audiences and not just through rhetorical flourishes. He shows voters that he understands how much they hunger for a break with the Bush years, for leadership and vision and true bipartisanship. We hunger for that, too. But we need more specifics to go with his amorphous promise of a new governing majority, a clearer sense of how he would govern." This is worse than a mischaracterization or a distortion of Barack Obama's positions. It is one thing for people who gather their opinions second-hand, without spending too much effort in thought or research, to make this mistake. It is quite another for the newspaper that markets itself as America's "paper of record" to repeat a glib cliche without further investigation. It is lazy journalism. Even the most cursory glance at Obama's ideas and policies reveals that there is more to him than amorphous platitudes about "hope" and "change." Shame of you for repeating a lazy political cliche and presenting it as the conclusion of long and tough reasoning. Elsewhere, you write: "Mr. Obama talks more about the damage Mr. Bush has done to civil liberties, the rule of law and the balance of powers. Mrs. Clinton is equally dedicated to those issues, and more prepared for the Herculean task of figuring out exactly where, how and how often the government's powers have been misused — and what must now be done to set things right." How do you know that Senator Clinton will perform this "Heruclean task" and Senator Obama won't? And finally, you write: "As strongly as we back her candidacy, we urge Mrs. Clinton to take the lead in changing the tone of the campaign. It is not good for the country, the Democratic Party or for Mrs. Clinton, who is often tagged as divisive, in part because of bitter feeling about her husband's administration and the so-called permanent campaign. (Indeed, Bill Clinton's overheated comments are feeding those resentments, and could do long-term damage to her candidacy if he continues this way.)" Why back the Clinton campaign at all then? It's obvious that Bill Clinton has inserted himself into this race in an unconstitutional way; from many perspectives it looks like the nominee "Hillary Clinton" is actually a dual ticket. These dynastic politics are perhaps suited to feudal or autocratic societies or to banana republics. It is not becoming of the world's first non-monarchist constitutional republic. Why the New York Times would lend its venerable name and reputation to this style of politics is baffling to me. Judging from the tortured reasoning and bad faith of your endorsement, it seems like it might be to you too.

Mortimer Peacock
Now then. Does Senator Obama have any virtues to recommend him besides not being a Clinton? Yes indeed! It's de rigeur to talk about how likable a personality and how rousing an orator he is, and that is all true (and, to me, appealing; wouldn't it be nice to have a President that can actually speak and write English well?) but the thing I like most about him is his calm, reasonable, and thoughtful mind. In nearly every debate and interview I've seen, his answers to questions are nuanced and carefully thought out. This is probably a hold-over from his days as a professor of law at the University of Chicago (a place renowned for its conservative legal scholars, mind you). His slow, deliberate answers are depicted as evidence of not being able to think on his feet by the Clinton campaign, and if he's the nominee there's no doubt the Republicans will do the same thing. I think it's refresing that a candidate takes the time to work out his thoughts and give a coherent answer to a complex question rather than spout whatever readymade slogans the pollsters and consultants have put into his mouth. Obama is a smart, thoughtful guy with a history of learning quickly: he made up his mind to be a lawyer, did that, decided to be a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, did that, wanted to run for the Illinois state legislature, did that, and finally decided to run for the US Senate and Presidency. Like Alexander Hamilton, he seems to learn whatever his minds lights on with rare speed and comprehension. That assuages any doubts I have about his experience or his fitness for foreign policy. Speaking of foreign policy, another reason to vote for him is that if elected he would probably make Joe Biden Secretary of State. Biden's the most knowledgeable guy in Washingont when it comes to foreign affairs, so I think that would be a constructive development. One last characteristic of Obama that I really like: he tells people what they don't want to hear. He doesn't often pander to interest group audiences or flatter his listeners. He told a teacher's union that he thinks merit pay for teachers is a good idea, he told a Miami meeting of Cuban exiles that it might be wisest to lift the embargo against that benighted island, and he told Detroit autoworkers that their industry needed to raise fuel efficiency standards.
The Clintons and others have criticized Obama for not having enough specific, nitty-gritty policy positions. This is false. He has plenty of them.
Here's a list :
  • He supports network neutrality, which is vital to the survival of free flow of ideas and information on the Internet.
  • He opposes stupid and cruel mandatory minimum sentences, saying that they take too much discretion away from independent judges.
  • He opposed the Military Commissions Act. Nice of him to defend our ancient liberties, rights that go back to the Magna Carta.
  • He wants to expand health care coverage to everyone, but he has enough sense and respect for American history and tradition that he isn't going to coerce everyone into a single-payer health system overnight, a la Hillary.
  • He supports biofuels and energy independence.
  • He wants to reform/do away with the barbaric No Child Left Behind Act and actually, you know, let teachers teach and not tailor their lessons to filling in bubbles on standardized tests.
  • He's raised the possibility of instituting merit pay for teachers. A fine idea, I think. He gets extra points here for unveiling this idea in a speech to a teacher's union. The man has balls.

Well, this has been an awfully long post. I hope I haven't alienated any readers of this blog, but I felt I had to make a last-ditch case for Obama and against Clinton. As to the argument for McCain, take it away T-Man!

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