The Middle

Yesterday I voted for John Kasich and Bernie Sanders. In a way it felt like heresy to participate in both the Republican and Democratic caucuses on the same day, in spite of there being no rule against it. And it felt crazy because the two candidates are so insanely different. But I felt it was the best I could do to use my teeny-tiny little bit of influence to nudge our country in the best direction(s) available.

I don’t identify particularly with either party. I see good ideas and bad ideas on both sides, noble people and selfish people on both sides. I’ve never voted a “party line” ticket. Having a little (D) or (R) by your name doesn’t make you good or bad, competent or incompetent, honest or dishonest. Both parties have their virtues; both parties have their misguided idealisms; both parties have their Faustian bargains.

The fact that this country is so strongly divided between the two parties makes the middle an uncomfortable place. And it’s weird because, contrary to popular opinion, the people at the Republican caucuses and the people at the Democratic caucuses aren’t all that different. The two parties do present different visions for America, but their members are all Americans. So why is there so much vitriol? Why do the two sides seem to be running farther and farther to the extremes rather than finding some kind of common ground?

I guess I’ve been part of the problem with my intense anti-Trumpery. But I hope you see it’s because I am convinced that he represents a true danger to our country, to constitutional government itself. I despise his ideas. But I don’t think voting for Trump makes you a bad person. My difficulty in understanding why people would vote for him must be an indication only of my own ignorance of other people’s lives and priorities.

Whether you like him or not (and I actually don’t know that much about him), the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, gave a speech today that I loved. I feel like the vision of politics he described makes room for a “middle”. He emphasizes the exchange of ideas over the clash of identities. It’s idealistic. Maybe it’s unrealistic. But I also think it’s the only sane way forward for our deeply divided nation. Here’s the video plus my favorite passage:

Ideas, passionately promoted and put to the test—that’s what politics can be. That’s what our country can be. It can be a confident America, where we have a basic faith in politics and leaders. It can be a place where we’ve earned that faith. All of us as leaders can hold ourselves to the highest standards of integrity and decency. Instead of playing to your anxieties, we can appeal to your aspirations. Instead of playing the identity politics of “our base” and “their base,” we unite people around ideas and principles. And instead of being timid, we go bold.

We don’t resort to scaring you, we dare to inspire you. We don’t just oppose someone or something. We propose a clear and compelling alternative. And when we do that, we don’t just win the argument. We don’t just win your support. We win your enthusiasm. We win hearts and minds. We win a mandate to do what needs to be done to protect the American Idea.

In a confident America, we also have a basic faith in one another. We question each other’s ideas—vigorously—but we don’t question each other’s motives. If someone has a bad idea, we don’t think they’re a bad person. We just think they have a bad idea. People with different ideas are not traitors. They are not our enemies. They are our neighbors, our coworkers, our fellow citizens. Sometimes they’re our friends. Sometimes they’re even our own flesh and blood, right? We all know someone we love who disagrees with us politically, or votes differently.

But in a confident America, we aren’t afraid to disagree with each other. We don’t lock ourselves in an echo chamber, where we take comfort in the dogmas and opinions we already hold. We don’t shut down on people—and we don’t shut people down. If someone has a bad idea, we tell them why our idea is better. We don’t insult them into agreeing with us. We try to persuade them. We test their assumptions. And while we’re at it, we test our own assumptions too.

I’m certainly not going to stand here and tell you I have always met this standard. There was a time when I would talk about a difference between “makers” and “takers” in our country, referring to people who accepted government benefits. But as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized I was wrong. “Takers” wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, just trying to take care of her family. Most people don’t want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong. I shouldn’t castigate a large group of Americans to make a point.

So I stopped thinking about it that way—and talking about it that way. But I didn’t come out and say all this to be politically correct. I was just wrong. And of course, there are still going to be times when I say things I wish I hadn’t. There are still going to be times when I follow the wrong impulse.

Governing ourselves was never meant to be easy. This has always been a tough business. And when passions flair, ugliness is sometimes inevitable. But we shouldn’t accept ugliness as the norm. We should demand better from ourselves and from one another. We should think about the great leaders that have bestowed upon us the opportunity to live the American Idea. We should honor their legacy. We should build that more confident America….

That’s the thing about politics. We think of it in terms of this vote or that election. But it can be so much more than that. Politics can be a battle of ideas, not insults. It can be about solutions. It can be about making a difference. It can be about always striving to do better. That’s what it can be and what it should be. This is the system our Founders envisioned. It’s messy. It’s complicated. It’s infuriating at times. And it’s a beautiful thing too.

Make Donald Drumpf Again

Dear America,
Vote no to Donald Trump. We’re better than this. There are other, better ways. He’s far from who he claims to be, and even further from who we need leading and representing this country. Please, I beg you, vote no.

If you’re not sure why I care so much about this, here’s a good summary. Warning: the language and humor is a bit rough (not for kids), but it’s an amazing explanation of Trump’s deceit:

The Josh Hansen Review of 2016 Iowa Victory Speeches; or, Anguish of the Political Independent

I just watched the Iowa “victory” speeches of Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio. Here are my notes on the themes struck by the candidates, and how their speeches came across to me, an idiosyncratic nonpartisan who isn’t anybody’s target audience.

Everybody

Everybody seems to agree on a few things. All or almost all of the candidates either did say or could have said the following:

  • “The country is in crisis.”
  • “Power should reside in the people.”
  • “My [defeated] opponents in our party are wonderful people who fought a good fight.”
  • “My opponents in the other party are devious and divisive.”

Sanders

The Bernie Sanders speech was vigorous and interesting.

  • Punching bag: wealthy businessmen, Koch bros, etc.
  • Against campaign finance corruption; proud of not having SuperPAC
  • Says healthcare is a right, not a privilege (without qualification)
  • Says public colleges and universities should be tuition-free; pay for it using tax on Wall Street speculation
  • $15 minimum wage
  • Rails against wealth inequality, says will do something about it but does not specify
  • Says he needs the help of a “political revolution”
  • 2.3 million donors, average donation of $27
  • Climate change
  • Mentions of unions: 0

Cruz

Ted Cruz‘s speech was boring. He thanked each and every supporter and volunteer and endorser, his mom, his cousin, his dad. Then a long thing about Ronald Reagan. Then a list of conservative issues. Not an ideas speech but a long-winded consolidating support speech.

  • Punching bag: Washington establishment in both parties; “the Washington cartel”; “a corrupt class that enriches itself and leaves behind the working men and women of this country”
  • Mentions of Constitution: 4
  • Mentions of God: 3
  • Mentions of prayer: 2
  • Scripture quotations: 1
  • Mentions of Ronald Reagan: 5 (yes, Reagan is invoked more often than God)
  • Lengthy disquisitions on Ronald Reagan: 1
  • “it’s morning”; “morning is coming” (an implicit Reagan reference)
  • Obligatory but insubstantial mentions of conservative causes: free markets, Judeo-Christian values, Obamacare repeal, 2nd Amendment, Israel, limited government, economic growth, military strength, life, marriage, religious liberty
  • 800,000 donors, average donation of $67
  • Stop immigration amnesty, secure borders, end sanctuary cities
  • National security, “radical Islamic terrorism”, ISIS
  • @TheMilitary: rules of engagement have been wrong, immoral, and will end under me. (Sounds like Nixon re: Vietnam)
  • @LawEnforcement: no more being demonized
  • Margaret Thatcher reference re: socialism

Clinton

Hillary Clinton‘s speech was ho-hum. She did the “victory” speech she was obligated to do. The most interesting idea was that the Democratic party faces a choice about what it stands for, with her and Sanders representing two distinct paths.

  • We’re deciding what the Democratic party stands for [choosing between her and Sanders]
  • I’m a progressive
  • Mentions reformers against the status quo
  • More good-paying jobs, raise incomes
  • Finish the job of universal healthcare coverage
  • Combat climate change
  • Education system work for every one of our children
  • Make college affordable, reduce student debt
  • Protect rights: women’s, gay, voting, immigrant, workers’
  • “Common sense gun safety measures” against the gun lobby
  • “Determined to push forward on the great goals and values that unite us as Americans”
  • Mentions of God: 1

Trump

Donald Trump was unfocused but mercifully short.

  • So happy, nobody thought we could do this well, thanks to my family, etc.
  • “We’re at 28 points ahead” in New Hampshire
  • Trump at his humblest: “I think we’re going to be proclaiming victory, I hope.”
  • Boasts of soundly beating whoever the Democrats pick

Rubio

Marco Rubio came across as energetic and passionate.

  • “For months they told us… we had no chance.” Not old enough, etc. “They told me… that I needed to wait in line.”
  • “Everything that makes this nation great is hanging in the balance.”
  • Mentions of God: 4
  • Mentions of Constitution: 2
  • Mentions of Reagan: 0
  • 2nd Amendment
  • Says we need to rebuild the military (as if it were too small)
  • 2016 is a referendum on our identity as a nation. If Sanders/Clinton win, we’ll be a great nation in decline.
  • Obamacare, executive orders, military decline, liberal justices in supreme court
  • Hillary Clinton: is disqualified because of classified info in private email server; because she lied to armed forces (a jab at her Benghazi testimony?)
  • We’ll grow the conservative movement
  • People living paycheck-to-paycheck, students with debt, families trying to raise children with values
  • Defeat Clinton/Sanders/whoever
  • American Declaration of Independence, rights come from Creator not government
  • Rubio’s immigrant parents helped him see what was special about America. This isn’t just my story, it’s our story, it’s America’s story.
  • America isn’t special by accident; each generation sacrificed to make things better off; it’s our turn to do the same; when I’m elected, we will do our part
  • What history will say about us: we remembered who we were, confronted our problems, expanded the American dream, because we did what needed to be done. A new American century.
  • I’ll be back as our nominee.

Conclusion

The two candidates that felt like they actually cared about the substance of their campaigns were Sanders and Rubio. The others felt like they were just checking boxes by listing off hot-button issues that excite their supporters. Or they were just maintaining their existing overbearing, bombastic persona (Trump).

Assuming these distillations from the Iowa caucus speeches represent the priorities of each candidate accurately, I feel deeply torn about the visions of the future presented. Within the strange bundling of issues known as the left and the likewise weird concoction of issues known as the right are many excellent ideas. The critical importance of our founding document, the Constitution. The importance of mitigating what appears to be human-caused climate change. The dangers of a sprawling federal bureaucracy that consumes increasingly much of our economic output. The peril to social cohesion presented by extreme inequality of wealth and income. The vital contributions to our country made by immigrants, but the problems posed by our current disorderly immigration policy as well. These are all things I can get behind.

But my personal political platform as represented by this list is a hand-picked splice of select parts of numerous candidates’ platforms. There is no party that represents me. Not even close. To get the good things offered by either party would require me to accept their numerous unpalatable positions: the Republicans’ obsession with the military and irresponsibly bellicose foreign policy; Sanders’ disregard for the massive tax increases necessary to support his expanded social programs, and the distorting influence of single-payer health systems; Republicans’ deification of Ronald Reagan; both parties not caring enough about our $20 trillion debt to dare speak truth to the American people about it; xenophobia; pharisaic invocation of religion for what feel like purely political purposes; capture by the gun lobby; capture by the unions; capture by the business lobby. So much nonsense.

The anguish of the political independent is that nobody speaks for them. And yet we must decide, we must game out, we must estimate which of all the evils best represents our interests. At times it feels like an impossible task.