Monday, November 03, 2008

Final Thoughts on the Election

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, voting time is here.

Voting for Powell

At the start of the year I had decided that I would not get particularly deep into politics in this election. Throughout the year, when asked who I would vote for, I would answer, “Colin Powell.” In fact, I respect Powell, and would indeed have voted for him if he were running. Powell, as any who follow politics knows, endorsed Obama.

Admittedly, the issue that topped my list of political concerns this year was the makeup of the Supreme Court. On that issue, McCain lost my vote early by saying that he would appoint judges like Roberts and Alito. Effectively, he announced that he would follow President Bush’s policies, giving us more of the same. Still, I could not tell if he was just saying this to win votes, or if he actually meant it. I was willing to give McCain the benefit of the doubt – he would not do anything so potentially destructive.

The Vice Presidential Disaster

Then, McCain decided to prove that I was wrong about him. He picked Alaska Senator Sarah Palin to be his running mate. Palin had all of the worst qualities of George Bush – ignorance, arrogance, devotion to religious fictions about the future, a fondness for theocracy. Only, Palin is worse than Bush on all of these measures.

The prospect of adding 4 years of Palin onto an already disastrous 8 years of Bush meant that remaining neutral with respect to this election was not an option.

In my personal life, I typically follow the principle of avoiding discussion of politics and religion. I even violated that rule.

One of the effects of that is that, around me, when people spoke up they, too, spoke in defense of the Obama ticket and against the McCain ticket. I do not know if there were people in the same company who supported McCain but opted not to speak, or if McCain supporters were not present in the groups I spoke in. However, I am confident that my expressed opinion helped to solidify some people’s opinion in favor of Obama. I am pleased that I made the effort.

My opposition really is not to McCain per se. I consider (considered) McCain to be a wise person. However, I have to hold McCain responsible for the absolutely horrendous decision of putting Palin in line to be president. I had to ask, at that point, if McCain is willing to put the country (and the world) at that much risk, then he has to either be incompetent (which would make him a poor president), or ambivalent about the risk (which would make him a poor president). McCain created this situation. McCain needs to be judged accordingly.

Fortunately for the country (and the world) Palin did a poor job of hiding her ignorance and her incompetence.

Surprisingly, even with her often repeated and significant displays of ineptitude, there are people who still accept the prospect of her being President. She still draws bigger crows than McCain himself, and those crowds are filled with energetic and enthusiastic supporters.

Supporters of what?

What propositions would be true in a state of affairs in which Palin is president that would fulfill the desires of those people? How could they possibly think that this is a good idea?

“She is like us,” they say.

To anybody who says that . . . okay, imagine that you woke up tomorrow morning as President of the United States. Do you think that you could handle the job?

The idea that Palin should be president because she is “like me” to the person who makes such a claim speaks to an abhorrent level of arrogance and hubris – far above what we would find in a morally decent human being.

This is equivalent to thinking that one is qualified to perform brain surgery on a child because one watched a documentary on the subject on Discovery-Health a few months ago.

The arrogant people in this case are not just putting their own well-being at risk. They are willing to bet the well-being of the whole planet on the bet that, “I could do a better job in that position than anybody else – so much so that a person who is like me is the best candidate for the job.”

There are those of us who hold to a different set of standards when it comes to performing complex tasks. It is the standard of competence. If I need somebody to perform brain surgery on my child, I do not think that I am so highly qualified to do the job that I would pick the surgeon who is most like me. Rather, I would pick the surgeon with the best understanding of pediatric brain surgery – with knowledge, training, and skills that I do not have and that I am not in the process of acquiring.

If I had some property and sought to build a multi-story office complex there, I would not assume that I was the most competent engineer on the planet and seek the engineer that is most like me. I would seek the engineer who showed competence in engineering to do the job. – one who is very much not like me in those respects relevant to engineering a building.

By the way, competence does not imply experience. There are people who, unfortunately, get a great deal of experience doing something they are not very good at. They, in fact, get to demonstrate their lack of skill over and over again. The fact that Bush has 8 years of experience being President is not a mark in his favor. In those 8 years he has proved his incompetence – proved that the job is best handed over to somebody with less experience but a greater ability to do a decent job.

Experience does count, but mostly because it gives us evidence of competence or incompetence, not because it has value in its own right. Experience has given us even more evidence than we had 8 years ago of Bush’s incompetence. Hopefully, experience will give us 4 years from now evidence of Obama’s competence.

However, we have found some evidence of each candidate’s ability to organize and to lead people in the ways they ran their campaigns. On this measure, Obama has done a significantly better job of uniting people, motivating people, and organizing people than McCain has done. Perhaps we can expect that president Obama will also do a better job of uniting, motivating, and organizing a country than president McCain would have done.


I would like to think that Palin’s nomination produced one unexpected reaction for John McCain. She might have invigorated the ignorant theocrats of the Republican Party. However, I hope that I was not the only one with a respect for intelligence and reason in the white house who decided that enough was absolutely enough. We could not afford another 4 years of Bush Plus.

Seeing these results, it would be nice if the republicans adopted the view that this type of nomination was political suicide, and decided to adopt a new set of standards that does not include the view that foolishness and ignorance is a virtue.


Unknown said...

Wow, this whole post is ignorant. I suppose it shows that atheists are becoming more of a big tent and I suppose that's a good thing but the political ignorance demonstrated here is baffling.

You may want to check who Colin Powell endorsed. You may want to double-check your ignorant thought that McCain was lying when he said he'd make SC nominations the same as Bush.

Your whole post comes down to a criticism of McCain based almost exclusively on his selection of Sarah Palin. His policies, his support of the Bush doctrine and 90% of all Bush policies wasn't enough? They way he panders to the religious right?

I mean, at least you came to the proper conclusion, but seriously man, you need to start paying attention.

Burt Likko said...

While I'm not so critical as Randy, it is the case that Powell endorsed Obama. As for who would be better for atheists, as a group, I can't see either of the major party candidates doing much to reach out to Americans who do not believe in mythology, so I would suggest instead that atheists approach the election from a standpoint of which candidate would effect wiser policies in general.

Anonymous said...

Powell may have endorsed McCain during primary season (I don't remember), but, as other comments have already pointed out, he recently made very public statements that he supports Obama.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I am aware of the fact that Powell endorsed Obama and, furthermore, he did so substantially for the reasons that I gave here.

He endorsed Obama because, he said, he was concerned with who McCain would put on the Supreme Court, because Palin was not fit to be President, and because McCain's decision to pick Palin indicated a lack of judgment.

Powell is still somebody that I have a great deal of respect for and still somebody I would have voted for if he had decided to run.

I had hoped that McCain was lying when he said what type of judges he would support, but his choice of Palin as his vice presidential candidate did make me reconsider that hope. He did select somebody for that position unfit for the job.

And the claim that McCain supported Bush "90% of the time" is meaningless campaign rhetoric. A huge amount of the work that congress does is routine and, thus, gets passed with unanimous consent. Appointments are usually rubber stamped - even Democrats voted with Bush on >90% of his appointments.

Any researcher will tell you that a number tossed out by itself is meaningless. It needs to be compared to some type of control. What was the number for the average Democrat in this case? 88%?

Anonymous said...

Alonzo, you said in the post that Powell endorsed McCain....

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Gads! I hate it when my brain gets ahead of my fingers - typing one paragraph while my brain is drafting or anticipating the next.

Sorry about that, folks.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I think the Republican Party might be undergoing evaporative cooling right now - that's when all the sane people leave, and the only people left are the fanatics.

Hume's Ghost said...

Colin Powell will have to earn back my respect, or more precisely, my trust. Which is why I would not be able to vote for him ... he helped misleed this country into a disastrous war with Iraq, and he did it by treading upon his credibility at the UN.

Hume's Ghost said...

I would also add, however, that Powell and his aid Wilkerson were themselves tragets of deception by the CIA and the neocons within the administration.

There is a good summary of this in Fall of the House of Bush by Craig Unger.