Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Choice

There's a fascinating book from 2004 called "What's the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives won the Heart of America" by Thomas Frank that explores the irony of how middle class, blue collar Kansas became a solid red state, consistently voting for conservative policies that are contrary to its own best economic interests. By using such "hot-button" issues like gay marriage and terrorism and abortion, the Republican Party was able to capture the hearts of Americans who didn't stand to benefit economically from fiscal policies aimed to appease the wealthy.

As this momentous election draws to a close, I find myself in the same position, only for opposite reasons. My wife and I are both physicians. Our combined income will put us in that subset of wage earners who will have to pay the piper with an Obama victory. You know, because we're "rich" and have to "spread the wealth". Even though we didn't start to make anything until we were in our thirties and have a mortgage and owe close to $300,000 in school loans and reimbursements are tumbling and the threat of malpractice always looms, we're the "lucky ones". That's the perception. There's not much I can do to change it. So why on earth would I consider voting for the candidate who aims to take more money out of my pocket and spread it around throughout various aspects of an expanded byzantine federal bureaucracy?

By nature, I have conservative leanings. I believe in individual responsibility. I believe that individuals need to be held accountable for their actions. I believe that increased government involvement in our daily lives leads to stagnation, complacency, and mediocrity. There's a reason this country has led the world economically, politically, and morally for the past one hundred years. Free markets and free exchange of ideas leads to an environment conducive to innovation and creativity. Granted, such a system is susceptible to greed and intransigence but for every Ivan Boesky or James Cayne, there are a hundred more like Bill Gates and Steven Jobs and Sergey Brin. Government intrusion in the form of higher taxes and increased regulation may help to "spread the wealth" but at the cost of hindering risk taking and innovation.

That being said, the Republican Party, ostensibly the steward of conservative principles, has lost it's identity. The past 8 years has witnessed a party hijacked by a fringe contingent of righteously indignant social crusaders. Somehow, the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt became the party of Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum and Karl Rove. Politics trumped policy. Instead of proposing reality based solutions to the nation's ills, they resorted to meaningless, abstract, somewhat menacing (in an Orwellian way) stock phrases like "country first" and "patriotism". Extraneous right wing causes like gay marriage and gun control issues assumed a prominence in Republican discourse above more substantive concerns. Republican support for the Medicare reimbursement reduction this summer further alienated the party from a reliable ally in physicians.

The Bush administration, moreover, has been an unqualified cataclysm. An ill-advised war prosecuted under false pretenses and conducted with an ineptitude of historic proportions. The prodigal expenditure of American moral authority and international influence through arrogant unilateralism and third world torture tactics at Guantanomo. The Katrina disaster and the delayed, inadequate response. And now, the financial crash on Wall Street, with the inevitable trickle down effect to Main St. George W. Bush has clearly demonstrated that he is a man who lacks intellectual vigor and curiosity. Under his watch, the country has gone from being the unquestioned hegemonic leader of a post-cold war world to an isolated pariah, marginalized in the world's eyes by the failures and embarassment of financial ruin and the debacle of Iraq. His claim to fame was national security. But Afghanistan is spiralling out of control and the Taliban lurks, waiting to pounce on the power vacuum developing in nuclear armed Pakistan. Are we really safer than we were 8 years ago?

Now I like John McCain. But I liked him a whole lot more in 2000. He was the independent, moderate Republican back then. The Straight Talk express. But that campaign was sabotaged by unsavory, deceitful insinuations made during the North Carolina primary by the Bush apparatchiks. The McCain of 2008 is now 72 years old. He made a move to the right, assuaging the Christian Coalition of Ralph Reed and Jerry Falwell. His thinking on issues such as the economy and national security seem very regimented and partisan. I don't sense that McCain, for all his personal valor and strength of character, is much of a consensus builder anymore. And the ludicrous selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate has to be one of the more short-sighted and cynical moves by a candidate for the Presidency in the history of American politics. Her bumbling performances over the past 6 weeks raise serious doubts about McCain's decision making and judgement.

Barack Obama leads this race confortably with less than a week left. He's going to be our next president. But he will ascend to that position despite having a resume thinner than pretty much anyone else who's ever run for the high office. He has no experience in an executive capacity. He is the junior senator from Illinois who has passed no legislation of note. Who has proven to be one of the most liberal voters in the Senate. Who slithered his way through the Chicago political machine unscathed, betraying allies along the way and doing absolutely nothing to clean up one of the most corrupt political establishments in the country. Barack Obama the factual man is extremely unimpressive. His record is sparse. Based on the facts, all we can predict is that he will raise our taxes and implement policies to increase government intrusion into our lives. His campaign is built on vague promises and empty appeals. Change, he says. What's going to change? And how?

And this is the essense of the election. Obama the man has become irrelevant. Obama the concept, however, has swept into the hearts and souls of this country and has attained an unstoppable momentum. This country is hungry for something fresh. The anticipation of his anunciation is a palpable thing. There is an energy and lifeforce to his campaign that is solely lacking from McCain's. He is youthful and a first rate intellect. He presents himself as a man who is guided by reason and fairness. His thinking is refreshingly non-dogmatic. His nuanced reply to the Reverend Wright controversey this summer was one of the most impressive things I've read from a politician in my lifetime. There is a curiosity and intellectual humbleness to Obama that we have not seen from a President in a long time. For some reason, I don't see Obama approaching the Presidency with a strict liberal "agenda". For some reason, I can see him paradoxically acting more moderately than everything in his history would suggest. If he wins as resoundingly as is predicted, I'm willing to give him that chance. The question remains though: are these reassuring qualities by themselves predictive of a successful Obama Presidency?

I still haven't made up my mind. A part of me thinks that maybe it would be a good thing for McCain to lose. Perhaps a resounding defeat would send a message to the Republican Party loud and clear that we have truly entered a new era. Out of the shambles of defeat, hopefully the party could regroup and find itself again. Voting for Obama would be an act of insanity for me, financially. But it's kind of like rooting for your favorite team to lose when the season is already lost, because a worse record will net you a better draft pick. The Cleveland Cavaliers pretty much tanked the 2002 season. The following year, they chose a local kid named Lebron James with the first pick in the draft.

Obama will be inaugurated with a clear majority, an unquestioned mandate to govern, and a legislative branch accomodating to his liberal stances. Time will tell. After all, 2012 is only 4 years away....


Anonymous said...

McCains gonna pull it out, 285 to 253. The post-election riots will be interesting.

Andrew_M_Garland said...

There is no Republican or Democratic party in the sense that there is consistent funding and guidance based on principle. Both parties are loose coalitions of individuals who have taken positions on the political spectrum. There is no central entity to "send a message" to.

This was unfortunately shown by the continued spending excesses of the Republicans in power from 2000-2006. But, the spending plans of the Democrats have been wildly greater, only held in check by a Republican minority. The current financial crisis was created by MASSIVE borrowing within Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (during the last two Democratic controlled years) and purchases of bad loans by them, with blind-eye oversight by the House Financial Affairs Committee. See "We Guarantee It" if you want more on this.

Much of the disaster of Katrina was produced by Democratic and local politics in New Orleans. Local commissions built casinos with funds that were supposed to re-engineer and strengthen the levees. Local disaster planning was ignored by a one-party local government. The FEMA agency had not been set up to be a first responder.

Consider that the government is not a single entity either. Bush has not been outspoken about the problems in government, but is not responsible for everything merely because he sits at the top spot. Congress has specialized in taking no responsibility for its actions, instead blaming everything on whoever is President.

So, don't vote to send a message. Vote for the person who has the most consistency and who has operated with the most support for a less intrusive government. Otherwise, you will be poor and regulated. A one-payer system is a one-employer system.

Anonymous said...

Excellent commentary buckeye and spot on. I voted for McCain back when he running for senatorial re-election. I have often thought there were two excellent candidates in the 2000 primaries. Bill Bradley and John McCain. Instead we were left to choose between tweedle dee and tweedle dum. If McCain had won the republican primary (and election) I highly doubt the Iraq debacle would have occured. Inspite of his current support for the war, McCain knows well that Saddam was toothless between the nofly zones. McCain had to sell his soul to the far right to get the nomination. The problem he faces is that his moronic predessor has screwed things up so badly the republican brand name is in the dumps. "Liberal" Bill Clinton was indeed orders of magnitude more fiscally conservative than Bush. Throw in meaningless signs like "Country First". Do those Einstein's really think that ANY AMERICAN wouldn't feel the same way? Patriotism is not party specific. Also, throw in the idiotic choice of a VP who sounds like an fool every time she opens her mouth. Just last week she was making fun of "fruit fly research". Jeez, any 10th student who has had a biology class knows that drosophila is the main animal model in the sudy of genetics. Multiple Nobel prizes have been awarded related to this work. This woman is an close minded, anti-science nutcase. If the election was between the John McCain of 2000 (and a real VP candidate not that fool) and Obama without a f*&$ed up country it would be a tough choice. Otherwise it isn't. Yes, buckeye you and I will pay more, but frankly there are some things more important than our paycheck.

Anonymous said...

good post. obama should run away with the election with mccains handling of things. people voting for mccain seem to either be voting for the mccain of old, or are of the far right mentality. oh, and garland, single payer doesnt mean single employer. the money can come from one source and be distributed to private for profit or non-profit clinics and hospitals.

Resident Anesthesiologist Guy (RAG) said...

Feel almost the same way about this. I believe that either way this country has some more troubles ahead that are going to change it forever - whether that be race riots with an Obama loss or economic downturn for years and years to come with a win - we're not going to see much improvement, but we'll see change for sure.

Andrew_M_Garland said...

To Anonymous,

When the government is the single payer, it will dictate uniform rules through a medical bureaucracy. It is in that sense thet there will be only one medical employer.

This is already happening, as reported at M.D.O.D

Private medical care will become unpatriotic.

Anonymous said...

Too bad the Lebron James of 2012 is shaping up to be none other than Sarah Palin. I'm already calling her win in Iowa.

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunately, a contest of the lesser of two evils. I am a Republican that has become dissappointed with the latest antics of the party. McCain's (and I also was a supporter of McCain in 2000) choice of Sarah Palin is to say the least, a slap in the face to any moderates left in the party. I do hope this election will shake up the GOP, so that the pandering to the far right will cease and the party will get back on track.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post-For me the biggest disappointment is that of all of the potential candidates for either party-these four are perceived to be the best.
Buckeye, if Obama wins I think you should prepare to become a W-2 worker-the days of autonomy for physicians will be numbered. If he loses, you will most likely not get much sleep for a week as you deal with waves of trauma associated with the riots that are likely to follow.

A troika of Obama/Pelosi and Reid, will be a disaster exceeding Katrina-btw, I don't believe Bush could have gone into NO without an invite or request from the Governor.

A very good friend of mine who happens to be a Nun once pointed out to me the value of electing an old Pope-they don't have enough time to screw things up!

Finally, I think it odd that the Democrats control both Houses and have the ability to override any Presidential veto -yet they don't-happy to blame everything on the President.

Anonymous said...

Actually tom the dems don't have the supermajority to override a Bush veto.
PS: Your bias is obvious "trioka" Jeez are you going to bring up Obama's five years plan next.

Anonymous said...

Excellent perspective.

I took some comfort in an article in the paper over the weekend pointing out that many of the newly elected Democrats will be coming from former Republican slots that are still rather conservative. So they can't run full-hog towards the left and expect to remain there in two years.

I think it's likely that Sarah Palin will not be a major player in 4 years. I've always felt that she may be looking to Uncle Ted's seat in the Senate. Probably that's a safe place for her. After all there are 99 other votes to outweigh her there.

One hope I have is that Obama doesn't dismantle "No Child". I really do believe that we consign generations to miserable lives when we don't give them the tools to navigate in the modern world, and that means basics like reading and writing.

mark's tails said...

Buckeye, as an Ohioan myself, and coming to this post a little late, I think you hit the nail on the head. I may have liberal leanings but am just left of center and am fiscally conservative. Many elections I used to say that I was voting for the lesser of two evils, but not this election. Despite the rhetoric I believe Obama to be a moderate liberal and a fiscal conservative, now I can only hope and pray he lives up to his potential and holds on to those values.