First of all, I want to apologize for not posting more about Hurricane Sandy. My family was spared the blackouts, flooding and buffeting winds suffered by my fellow New Yorkers in Lower Manhattan, and I didn’t know what I could add by talking about how my bourgeois life was only marginally disrupted. (We had no daycare for a few days, and since we were sufficiently gridded, my wife and I had to take up the slack of our work colleagues without electricity.) I have pictures of downed trees on the Upper East Side, but the havoc wreaked on other places such as the New Jersey Shore and the Rockaways make my tiny slice of hell seem far too miniscule.
It occurred to me lately that I could still be of help by linking people to the various volunteer organizations. I probably esteemed my blog too little to think I could help, but I realize every link inspires somebody.
I gave socks, blankets and water to this organization: https://www.wepay.com/donations/in-good-company-hospitality-relief-fund. You can also give through Occupy Sandy. (https://www.wepay.com/donations/occupy-sandy-cleanup-volunteers). Here is another Occupy Sandy page where you can donate or volunteer to help those whose lives have been upended by the storm, whose houses were mauled and who are still going without heat and water as the temperature drops.
The other thing I’m thinking about today, of course, is the election. I was hoping that we were not going to have a close race. That was not simply because I am arrogant about my candidate’s superiority, but because America has remained polarized. When the political center dissolves, it removes an important counterbalance to rigid ideology and partisanship for its own sake, to partisans acting according to the rules of game theory (when they believe everything their side tells them and reject the other side, even when the other side says things that are manifestly true).
There are a lot of last-minute articles hitting the Web that can make you sick if you’re a Barack Obama supporter: in the key state of Ohio, a Republican secretary of state, Jon Husted, has made a last-minute change in the voting rules for provisional ballots that could disenfranchise likely Obama voters and maybe even swing this swing state, this after already shortening early voting hours to make sure that the poll sites were crowded, uncomfortable and foreboding. He’s also installed mysterious new software patches for voting tabulation machines very late in the race.
Meanwhile, a story about the once-distressed auto parts maker Delphi Automotive by Greg Palast in The Nation suggests that Mitt Romney was likely reaping millions off the auto bailout (through a key distressed debt investment) at the same time he criticized the rescue, making cold-hearted comments to the Republican faithful that HE would have let Detroit die without help–rot for its sins of bad management and union hegemony.
All of which Republicans might respond to with a blithe: “So what?” Who cares if Ohio wants to make it tougher for footloose voters and penalize them for their own ballot goofs (even if that particular strategy runs contrary to Ohio law). Isn’t voter fraud a real concern? Aren’t we talking about a bunch of “homeless illiterate winos”? (My friend’s phrase.) But given that some reports say some 40,000 provisional ballots were tossed out in Ohio in 2008, I’d say that’s a lot of winos, even for Ohio, and if it’s true, the state is long overdue for its own Burning Man festival.
They might even say, “So what” to the news about Romney’s investment. After all, doesn’t it prove he’s still a nimble businessman? Mitt made all the money. But it was Barack Obama who gave it away. If Obama is so great why did he not make sure Delphi wouldn’t send jobs to China, gut pensions and basically enrich the vultures who took it over. …
And while we’re at it, they ask, why am I touting Barack Obama in the first place, a man who has kept intact the most loathsome aspects of George Bush’s foreign policy, including a beefed up droning program that can now target American citizens, and foreign civilians, including women and children? How could I support this man? Don’t I have a child?
And they would be right to ask. In many ways, Barack Obama has let me down. But I’m also old enough to know that that’s part of a politician’s job. I have to shrug and insist that Barack Obama’s droning program is not actually targeted at civilians, but at people actually planning bombings and issuing hits on Americans from safe within the bosom of factious countries like Pakistan. I find the outcome loathsome, but not the intent. And Mitt Romney would not change this. In fact, I am sure that Romney, as a foreign policy neophyte, would come under the sway of the same neocons who gave us the Iraq War and make Iran his main issue.
The political process has never been about making infantile demands that a candidate go out and get you what you want. It’s about asking that your views are represented and, when the candidate is narrowed to a choice of two from 300 million, it’s then up to you, the voter to do some work: reconcile your own beliefs, some of which are likely unrealistic and extreme, to those of the body politic. The world can’t be the way you idealize it. If it could be, and you could dictate its terms constantly, you would turn into Adolph Hitler more quickly than you realize, even if you started out as a hippie Rousseauian. Remember what Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips said: “You cannot know yourself and what you’d really do with all your power.” It’s important to politics, ethics and the world that you, voter, not get everything you want.
Some of my liberal friends take solace in what Barack Obama has done. He got a famously difficult health care law passed that removed health insurers’ ability to turn away those with pre-existing conditions. He helped save the auto industry. He finally took care of Osama bin Laden, picking up a massive political obligation abandoned by his feckless predecessor. He also went against the tide of loony right and left to save the financial services industry. Sure, it gave ammunition to all naysayers that he made the rich richer with your tax money and rewarded risky Wall Street behavior with your cash. This is true. It’s also true, as far as it goes, to say John Lennon was a criminal, because if you are given to insanely insular, black and white thinking, that’s a true statement. What Michael Moore, Glenn Beck, Mitt Romney and nobody else will say out loud, because it’s uncool, is that a failed banking system would have plunged our country into a nightmare of depression, privation, mass unemployment and crime. This is not an opinion. It is fact. The economic meltdown was a systemic failure where risk was passed around and shared promiscuously by everybody, and the malaise, had it not been stopped, would have ravaged all parts of the body the way septic shock works in a human body, shutting down organs one by one. This chaos would have disproportionately ravaged the poor, not the rich. The Occupy Wall Street Cassandras want to know why Wall Street didn’t suffer in the recession. As I’ve said before, they ignore the fact that there used to be bank called Lehman Brothers that was allowed to die by George Bush and company because of that very same idealism the downtown lefties claim as their own: The bankers must fail. Yet Lehman’s collapse alone caused much of the panic in the markets, the collapse of stock prices, the wiping out of value, and the eventual decimation of jobs.
By March of 2009, the stock market had bounced back and the recession eventually ended. That left unemployment to tackle. Again, there is something that nobody in the press will say, and the candidates won’t try to articulate, maybe because it sounds too clinical or patronizing. But employment is a lagging indicator. I’ll say that again, because nobody understands it. In the process that is recovery, freight orders pick up first. Small companies take the lead before larger ones do. Companies clean house to boost their stock prices, laying everyone off. When they boost share price, they spend capital first on technology, and when orders come back, they start looking for staff again. For the past 30 years, they have sent much of this staffing need overseas at first. They have a global labor force to choose from now that is much cheaper than the U.S. worker because for years this labor force was locked behind logistical barriers and iron curtains. When things pick up, jobs in America come back online.
This process has become slower in the last 30 years as more work goes overseas. And guess what: There is nothing a Barack Obama or a Mitt Romney can do about it–except hire more government employees, which there is no political will for. When Barack Obama’s enemies gripe that he can’t blame George Bush for his problems anymore, you need give only one answer: “Yes he can, because our high unemployment is still the result of somebody else’s recession and its lagging indicator unemployment. Again, that is not opinion. It is fact. For Barack Obama to make a dent directly would have been to do the thing nobody would let him do: expand government. A lot.
Then there is the other complaint. He should have cut taxes. I’ll stop with that argument here, because he did. What he didn’t cut he kept insanely low. None of you noticed and didn’t read. You don’t deserve any more time on this subject.
I guess when I pull the lever for Obama, it will not be as much for the man this time as I’m voting for the closest thing we have to rationality. I do not believe Mitt Romney is as uninformed, unsophisticated, or irrational as a lot of Republicans. I do not think, if he becomes president-elect tonight, that we’ll have on our hands somebody quite as embarrassing or incompetent as George Bush and Sarah Palin. I believe, though, that he has, whether he likes it or not, become the standard bearer for the worst of American thinking. Neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama is going to stop droning. Neither one is going to send anybody in the Wall Street scandal to jail. But the bad ideas and intentions still accrue to Romney’s side of the fence. The idea that Clinton era tax rates are now the devious plot of a socialist “anti-Colonialist,” the idea that global warming reports are a liberal plot, the idea that the only acceptable big government is an overbuilt military, the idea that schizophrenics must have guns to protect everybody’s Second Amendment rights, the idea that rapists must be allowed to see their sperm fructify a victim’s egg, the idea that cheap gasoline is somehow a natural right of Americans, the idea that higher taxes harm the rich at all–this is all garbage thinking that has to be cleaned out almost daily by the process of confrontation, dialectic and due diligence. People who think are constantly bombarded by those who have faith. I’m talking about faith of all sorts, whether it’s that there is a sky god watching over you personally or that a democracy is a self-cleaning oven and that a free market solves every problem by itself. These faiths are always carrion to proof and reason, but the faithful smile knowing that their faith, a priori faith, will never ever have to prove itself. It is both subject and predicate of a meaningless sentence.
If I concede that presidents actually do very little–that they rarely push buttons and that policies then pop out like Pop-Tarts, if I notice instead that they try to ride waves of idealism or discontent through the force of their charisma and personalities, then I feel pretty safe with this statement: Mitt Romney is a horrible presidential candidate. He’s thoughtless in his statements, tone deaf. He doesn’t know when to pick his battles. He doesn’t know the difference between sang froid and heartlessness, at least not when it comes to speaking to a large audience. He doesn’t know when to appear statesmanlike and when to pick a fight. All politicians lie. When Mitt Romney does it, somehow it seems even more opportunistic, crass, dirty and ham-fisted. He may or may not be a man of religious conviction, but one tends to notice not the trail of missionaries he’s left in his wake but all the people he’s fired. He brags about it, after all.
So I will, with a bit of a grudge, be voting for Barack Obama again. In tough times, when the arguments are stupid and miss the point, again, it’s nice to have a competent politician around.
Update: I did vote today, but it took a long time. The lines were full of voters from the areas ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. I also noticed that my election district had changed, which meant I wasted 20 minutes or so in the wrong line. If you are in doubt about where you are voting in New York, you can check out this site.
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