Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fear and Loathing in the 2012 Election

Once again it is time to rant about the cesspool that is American politics. I am sure to lose sleep for the next month worrying about what may happen. As of today, FiveThirtyEight has things looking better than they could be, but the direction has been unpleasant since the debate on Wednesday.

I, of course, support Obama and the Democrats. They are moderately acceptable, whereas I have a passionate hatred of the Republicans. And yes, that level of partisanship leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe I am too much of a radical with no hope of understanding the average American voter. Admittedly I have a hard time relaxing and not worrying under normal circumstances. But my level of loathing the opposing side is not that uncommon in America these days, given what I see in the news. I cannot say that is anything new, my personal participation in American politics only goes back ten years, but to see the negative effects this has had on American today, you have to look no further than the deadlock in Congress over the last two years. Despite this, the best advice I can give is to fight harder and crush the other side.

My desires for American politics are many. I want a reduction in the income inequality that has been dramatically increasing the last several decades in America. Increase investment in our infrastructure, education and scientific research. Improve the disaster that is the American health care system, though I think Obamacare is a step in the right direction; I would prefer something with the simplicity of a single-payer system. I want to reform intellectual property law and protect net neutrality. We need stronger competition law and financial reform. Reduce corporate welfare. End the drug war. Repeal Citizens United and actively work to get money out of politics. Advance women's and gay rights. Increase protection for whistle-blowers. Allow an easier path for immigration. Abolish the TSA. Decrease the size of the armed forces. Close Guantanamo, abide by the Geneva Convention, and provide similar basic protections of human rights. Make far, far stronger environmental protections. And yes, what is most on people's minds these days, lower the unemployment rate, improve economic growth and reduce the national debt.

That is only a brief outline of what I want in America. On many of those issues, the Democrats are significantly better than the Republicans. With many of them, neither side pays any attention. One might even be able to convince me that the Republicans are better for a few of those. I would like to see better arguments and empirical evidence for what policies will accomplish them.

Yet before I could get to arguments, it would be difficult to bring myself to listen to the Republican Party. I admit that this is problematic. Unfortunately their pandering to anti-science, young-earth creationists and other religious bigots, the racists and homophobes, those who would drag women's rights back forty years, and all those other disgusting dregs of America leaves a hideous taste in my mouth. Beyond the general greed, stupidity and shortsightedness I see in both parties, it is the regressive discrimination tainting the Republican Party that is the root source of my partisan vitriol. Beyond that I see the Republicans as liars and hypocrites who would happily lock down the legislature in order to prevent anything positive from happening to this country that might make the next election harm them. They are actively working to disenfranchise voters. I do not feel they can be trusted.

At some of these extremes, I might be showing shades of the irrational exhibited on other side of the fence by people who listen to Rush Limbaugh. Many of those right-wingers have fears similar to mine, as much trouble as I have understanding them. And so I worry that I have simply been riled up by political theater, driven to hate the other side for the sake of my vote and money. I am not saying that I would vote Republican, but what I am saying is that there are other fights that I have become distracted from. We should actually look at why we are horribly hyper-partisan and fight desperately over some issues while ignoring so many others. Why there is relatively little middle ground on the issues we do fight over. I do not know if we are actually more divided and partisan than we have been in the past, but I do know that we should have higher standards.

There are a number of theories for what might be dividing us so: the Big Sort, the Filter Bubble, the corruption of money in politics, distortions in our electoral process caused by gerrymandering, the Electoral College, and first-past-the-post voting systems. With some of the more direct political issues listed above, we could fix them with relatively simple laws and would not even require constitutional amendments. Despite that, the state of the American political system does not give me much optimism that I will live to see any of those issues resolved. I can hope that some exogenous societal or technological change can help advance the system. In the meantime, I will be donating money, making phone calls and possibly knocking on doors. Good luck to us.

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