advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about economics, politics, and more... 

Saturday, July 19, 2008

On Imperfect Choices, Or, Jesus Ain't Running

A question has come across my inbox today, and as I am wont to do I began to answer my email friend (who I’ve known, by the way, since we both posted on the John Edwards blog). More or less 100 words into the reply it occurred to me that this was a question best answered in front of a larger audience.

The question? My friend is having trouble committing to Obama.

Why? I’m paraphrasing, but it would be fair to say that the sudden emergence of Obama’s “handlers” was a factor...and although it’s not in the note, I suspect the fact that Obama has “tacked to the center” recently on various issues is part of the problem as well.

It’s a great question...and in an effort to provide a great answer I’m going to offer a few words of my own—and then I thought we might reach back a bit into history and see if there might be something we can learn.

Having come to the metaphorical tee and taken the first shot, let’s head down the fairway and see where that ball might be...and where we can get it to go.

Our good friends at Democracy for America have been running “Night School” for those seeking to learn about the campaign process from the inside, and just a couple nights ago we held a training on “The Political Mind”, with George Lakoff leading the discussion.

Professor Lakoff talked about how to frame a discussion; and I’m going to see if I can apply some of what I learned in the response I offer here.

The question “should I vote for Obama, despite his imperfections?” which is the question I was asked, does not correctly frame the allow me to offer a question from an alternative “framing”:

The real question you have to ask is which of the two candidates that might actually win—McCain or Obama—is less flawed than the other?

There will be no perfect candidates—now or ever...and waiting for the perfect candidate to support is guaranteed to lead to disillusionment every time.

To put it bluntly: Jesus ain’t running...and absent any other Deities appearing on the electoral horizon, perfection seems unattainable.

Between McCain and Obama, the choice gets quite simple.

McCain talks about military tactics, Obama talks about military strategy.

Obama talks about the ecomony, McCain talks about how his economic spokesman, Phil Gramm, the guy who wrote McCain’s economic policy, doesn’t speak for him on the economy.

For more McCain...issues...or, issues...or, ummm, issues, or just the fact that he, for some reason, hates Martin Luther King Day, check the Web.

Now for a bit of encouraging history.

We elected a President once before who was far from the President he became—a pro-business candidate who did not support the abolition of slavery, but instead a compromise leading to the gradual phase-out of the practice...something that was already occurring in the North.

“...You suggest that in political action now, you and I would differ. I suppose we would; not quite as much, however, as you may think. You know I dislike slavery; and you fully admit the abstract wrong of it. So far there is no cause of difference. But you say that sooner than yield your legal right to the slave -- especially at the bidding of those who are not themselves interested, you would see the Union dissolved. I am not aware that any one is bidding you to yield that right; very certainly I am not. I leave that matter entirely to yourself.

I also acknowledge your rights and my obligations, under the constitution, in regard to your slaves. I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet. In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio, there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continued torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border. It is hardly fair for you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the Constitution and the Union...”

--From a letter to Joshua Speed, August 24, 1855

And there was division from those in his own Party who were not inclined to make deals on the moral issues he was willing to make compromises upon:

“In the interior of the country, the cities as well as the rural districts, I found the people much more unanimous. The panic has not been felt so severely there, and the political feelings of the people are less controlled by mercenary motives. While some politicians in the large cities were somewhat inclined to smooth the difficulty over by a compromise, the Republican masses in the country are just as strongly and uncompromisingly opposed to anything that would look in the least like a lowering of the Republican standard.

I was in western New York when Thurlow Weeds compromise articles came out and when it was rumored that Seward was preparing to make a compromise speech. The feeling was very intense every where, Thurlow Weed's propositions were generally condemned, and I have heard the most conservative and moderate Republicans say, that Seward could not yield a single inch of ground without destroying himself and forfeiting forever the confidence of his friends.

What I have seen and heard, not only in New York, but in Pennsylvania and New England also, forces the conviction upon my mind, that every serious attempt on the part of the Republicans in Congress, to patch up a compromise by yielding a single one of the principles of the Chicago platform, will inevitably result in the immediate disruption of the Republican party. It turns out again what I have observed quite frequently, that as far as courage and consistency are concerned, the rank and file are far ahead of their leaders.”

--From a letter written by Carl Schurz, December 18, 1860

This candidate wanted a bi-partisan Administration...and that wasn’t making the Party faithful happy, either:

“...We have now a still higher issue -- a higher duty -- the preservation of the Republic itself! We must not "back down" -- we can make no compromise with traitors, but we can, and I think we must now, as we did in 1854-5, ignore all other issues for the time being, and invite the co-operation of men of all parties in putting down treason. The enemies of the Republic appear to be fearfully numerous, and to prevent accessions to their ranks, the friends of the Union must evrywhere become united.

To accomplish this, I beg respectfully to suggest, whether it may not be necessary to organize the administration different from what your friends, under other circumstances would have expected -- to exclude men, however worthy or prominent, who would be objectionable to the friends of the Union in other parties?

In Ohio, I am quite sure that no man would be more [accessable?] in this view, than Thomas Ewing. All parties regard him as by far most able man in the State. For the firmness and courage exhibited by him in cabinet of President Taylor, he is admired, and would be trusted by all reasonable anti slavery men. I have been intimately accquainted with him for many years, and am satisfied that upon all important public questions, his opinions do not differ from yours. While it is true that he has not professed to be a Republican, I know that he has...acted with no other party -- has voted for Republicans or not voted at all...”

--From a letter written by Thomas C. Jones, December 24, 1860

And from that highly controversial candidacy, we got Abraham Lincoln.

So what am I trying to say?

Politics is a process made up of humans.
All humans are flawed.
Therefore, we will never have a perfect candidate.
We will have to settle.

In choosing between McCain and Obama, ask yourself: who is going to be your best candidate...who is more likely to get you to the place you want to be on the issues that matter to you—and just like the SATs, there may not be a perfectly correct answer...instead, you may have to choose the “most correct answer”.


Compassionate Badger said...

as a side note, Jesus for President is a pretty good book.

still, i appreciate you addressing the topic of imperfect choices.

nice job,

fake consultant said...

thanks for the kind words, and i'd also recommend jesus' general, who are today discussing options for the self-defense of "fetus-americans."

Dr.John said...

So which one should I vote for?

fake consultant said...

...who should you vote for?

i don't know that it's as easy as that.

i think the war is killing us, both as a foreign policy issue, and as an economic problem.

my guess is that obama will be out of iraq with 50% or more of the force, and most of the remainder going to afghanistan within 12-15 least that would work if he planned to have troops in place for the summer '10 "fighting season". (i don't think he can withdraw more than 50,000 in '09, based on 1 brigade a month.)

mccain is supportive of permanent bases in iraq, a la korea or germany or japan. i don't think that's smart, and i don't think we can afford it.

i like obama better on "soft" issues, such as racism, which has been a problem for mccain.

until now the advantage to obama has been that he was more trustworthy, and that's the tough call for some voters now.

mccain has had a long history of being on the opposite side of his own positions (he doesn't even vote for his own bills, for god's sakes...)

that gives the advantage to obama, still--minus one major foul--and absent any new information, i'm choosing obama as less flawed than mccain.