Another Political Fantasy

Apparently, I’ve been living in a fantasy world lately.  The fantasy that I want to share this time is quite unrealistic.  It is like hoping that we elect a wise unicorn to the presidency.  It simply cannot happen.  So, if I were getting paid to philosophize, I’d call this a thought experiment.  But, since no one is paying me, I’ll stick to fantasy.  It sounds more fun that way.

My current fantasy is for elections to be anonymous.  And I don’t mean the current secret ballot kind of anonymous.  I mean the candidates would remain anonymous.  Basically, anyone who wants to be president would submit their names to their parties.  The parties would each choose a candidate, but would not announce the name of the candidate.  If anyone disclosed the name of a candidate, that candidate would be disqualified and the snitch would be imprisoned for election tampering.  Then, each party’s candidate would write up a speech outlining their positions and governing philosophy.  The anonymous speeches would be sealed in envelopes randomly labeled A, B, C, D. . . (I would also limit the number of parties.  We don’t want a thousand candidates.  But I’m not sure what a good limit would be.)  The envelopes would be delivered to a prominent actor to be read publicly.  (I like the idea of Morgan Freeman reading them, but it should change with each election cycle.  Meryl Streep would do an excellent job as well.)  They should also be printed in the news and made available online.  There would be a two week period where people would discuss the speeches.  Then, each candidate would present another speech in the same way as before, but modified (if they so choose) to incorporate the feedback.

Election day would be two weeks after the second set of speeches is presented to the public.  People would go to the polls and vote for Candidate A, B, C or D based entirely on the content of the two speeches.  The one who receives the most votes wins and that person’s name is revealed and sworn in as president.  The losers could out themselves if they so choose, but nothing official would disclose their identities.  And, finally, to keep the system honest, the speeches would be considered binding contracts.  Congress and the courts would treat ignoring or contradicting the contents of the speeches that resulted in election to be an impeachable offense.

Clearly, this is fantasy because we’d have to chuck more than half the Constitution to make it happen.  But just think how great it would be.  The entire election cycle would be less than two months.  Everyone could be an informed and engaged voter just paying attention while a famous person speaks.  It would remove sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism, etc. as factors in the election since no one would know any of those things about the candidates.  Since the parties would pick their candidates, they would be a kind of filter.  We wouldn’t have to worry about nut-jobs like Trump that are despised by their own party.  It would break the current duopoly.  And it would completely remove likeability as a factor, since no one would know who was running.  And likeability might be the dumbest criteria for choosing a president there is.

I know it is a fantasy, but it is one worth indulging.  It takes some imagination, but get a transcript of some of the campaign speeches and read them in Morgan Freeman’s voice.  You might be surprised at what they have to say.  With many of the candidates being famous, everyone goes into the election knowing who they love and who they hate.  That’s a huge barrier to electing the best person for the job.  I wish we could find a realistic way of changing it.

One More Try

For some reason, many (not all) people are either unable or unwilling to see the sexism being directed at Hillary Clinton this primary season.  I know I’ve been going on about this, but I thought I’d give it one more try.  But, this time I’m going to go about it differently.  I’m going to provide a list, for those having difficulty avoiding sexism, of legitimate reasons not to vote for Clinton.

  1. If you are against women controlling their own reproductive freedom and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  You probably want a Republican.
  2. If you are anti-immigration, either because of wage depression or xenophobia, and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  All of the other candidates are better for you.
  3. If you believe that the gun industry (or any industry) should be protected by Congress from civil litigation and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  Again, all of the other candidates are better for you.
  4. If you are against universal pre-K, and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  You’re going to want a Republican in this election.
  5. If you are for massive amounts of debt for public colleges and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  The Republicans are better for you on this.
  6. If you want to keep tax rates as low or lower than they are now and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  The Republican candidates are much more likely to keep tax rates down.
  7. If you are against free trade agreements and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  All of the other candidates are against free trade.
  8. If you are against the Affordable Care Act, either because government should stay out of healthcare or because it doesn’t go far enough and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  The Republicans will help if you want government out of healthcare and Sanders is your man if idealism is that important.
  9. If you are a pacifist and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  Bernie Sanders or a third party candidate will be your best bet for pacifism.
  10. If you are against trying to mitigate the effects of global warming and this is an important or decisive issue for you, then don’t vote for Hillary Clinton.  The Republicans have this covered.

Obviously, this is not a complete list.  I just want to point out the important features of this list.  First, it sticks to actual issues and positions of the candidates.  Second, at no point does it assume that Clinton is nothing more than an extension of her husband.  Whatever you think of her, she is her own person with her own ideas and agency.  Third, it doesn’t play into any pre-existing stereotypes.  Let’s face it, when people try to make issues out of Clinton’s work, looks, decisiveness, income and shrillness (among other things) they are playing into those stereotypes.  I know this will raise hackles, but there is nothing you can say about Clinton in these areas that doesn’t also apply to all of the other candidates in this, and any other, election cycle.  Even Bernie Sanders is rich (certainly by my standards, and most regular people’s standards), has excepted compensation from institutions most people despise (The House of Representatives and Senate), fails to look presidential, yells a lot and has voted for things in the past (like the Crime Bill) that he now feels differently about.  Finally, I avoided talk of Clinton’s personality altogether.  This isn’t an election to decide who we’d like to hang out with.  And, I’d really like to think that people’s decision to not vote for Trump or Cruz or Sanders has nothing to do with their personalities because it shouldn’t.  The decision should be based solely on the issues.

And, just as a reminder, I know this list isn’t for everyone.  Many people have already made up their minds for non-sexist reasons.  Also, this shouldn’t be taken as advocating a vote for Clinton.  It is just to aid those of you who don’t want to vote for Clinton, but are struggling to find a non-sexist way to do that because I’m really sick of trying to navigate through the truly abhorrent mass of sexism every morning as I try to read the news.  I hope this helps.

Bernie and Donald

I’ve been seeing something baffling lately.  I don’t know if it’s widespread or if it’s just a quirk of my social media feeds, but I’ve been seeing a bunch of people saying that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the same.  I don’t mean to say that they have similarities (I’ll talk about those later).  They seem to be implying that they are virtually interchangeable candidates.  I wish I knew if these people are purposely trolling or if they really don’t understand.

Their case takes a couple of different, but related forms.  Sometimes it starts with the obvious Trump/Hitler comparisons.  Just take a Hitler speech and swap Jews for Muslims and Communists for Mexicans and you pretty much have a Trump speech.  Then, they say that the Nazis were the National Socialist Party and Sanders is a Democratic Socialist.  They point out that both Sanders and Hitler wanted universal healthcare and strong public transportation and think they’ve made their point.  Trump has something in common with Hitler and so does Sanders, so they must be the same.  The other form is to start with Sanders’ supposed socialism.  Then, they point out all of the socialist/leftist things that Trump has mentioned like single payer health care and avoiding military entanglements.  So, either Trump is an obvious fascist and Sanders is a fascist in disguise or Sanders is an obvious socialist and Trump is a socialist in disguise.  Either way, they are the same.

The big problem with this line of thought is that having things in common is not enough to make people the same.  Trump and Sanders are not even similar, except superficially.  They are both old, white men.  They agree on a couple of issues (maybe.  It’s almost impossible to know what Trump actually believes.).  But, Sanders has been a public servant for his entire adult life while Trump is a celebrity/businessman.  Sanders is consistent while Trump is mercurial.  Sanders is concerned for others while Trump is completely selfish.

Given that they are not even similar, let alone the same, why all of this talk about them both being fascist (or socialist)?  I think it has to do with the most important similarity that they have, they are both populists.  Populism is a funny thing.  It comes in many varieties.  Saying all populists are alike is like saying all pop music is alike (Hey, did you hear the new Kanye?  It sounds just like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”.).  Just knowing that any two people are populist politicians  doesn’t mean you know anything specific about their ideas or policies.  It just means that they are tapping into the people for their support as opposed to the establishment.

The really funny (or sad) thing is that populism is enough for a huge number of Americans.  They are angry and supporting a populist candidate, whichever populist candidate, seems to be their way of expressing that anger.  While I don’t think that Sanders and Trump have anything substantive in common, I do find it fascinating how much many of their supporters seem to have in common.