Thursday, November 01, 2012

The 2014 Elections

A pool player will tell you, with each shot you take, to think about the shot that follows. Where the cue ball stops is nearly as important as getting the ball in the pocket.

So it is with elections. The 2014 elections have already started. If you care about how they turn out, it is past time to get started.

Though I have a particular interest in the American elections, these points are applicable to any democratic society.

One mistake I see a lot of people make is to assume that politicians have nearly unlimited power to change things.

One place I see this in complaints about what Obama has or has not accomplished. Obama may well lose this election. Still, irrational people with a weak grasp of reality condemn him for not taking actions that, in the real world, would have added nails to what is already a nearly shut political coffin.

Examples here range from failure to address climate change to a failure to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center and the use of drones against suspected terrorists (some of whom are American citizens).

The political reality of the situation can be illustrated by looking at the underwear bomber - Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab - who attempted to detonate a bomb he wore in his underwear while on a plane landing in Detroit on December 25, 2009.

Imagine the political implications if he had been successful.

Republicans would have immediately demanded investigations looking to find fault. They would have certainly found things that they could have spun into reason to condemn President Obama. They would interpreted events with an eye to getting Democrats removed from office and broadcast those interpretations on media that they control. They would have, in fact, succeeded in removing several Democrats from office and politically weakening those that remained. The very fact of 289 bodies at a cash site in Detroit would have guaranteed that.

In this investigation, any evidence that the Obama administration failed to pursue certain options out of respect for "rights" or morality or even respect for the Constitution would have been presented as a reason to remove Democrats from office. The argument would be that terrorists have no rights, and nothing in the Constitution should ever be interpreted as preventing the President from keeping Americans safe. The idea that the President, as commander in chief, is limitless in power would have seen a whole new life.

When the Republicans regained control of the government, they would have done so with a mandate to take new and bold steps in the war against terror."

The political reality is that, given the current attitudes of the American people and the structure of the media, the Office of President can only be held by a person willing to do whatever it takes - without respect to rights or morality or Constitutional limits - to prevent another terrorist attack on American soil. He will not be condemned for it - or criticized or removed from office for doing so. He will only be praised. The only question a rational voter can ask is, "What are the other qualities we want in a President that will ignore rights, morality, and the Constitution in preventing another terrorist attack?"

In all of this, rationality-deficient liberals insist on ignoring reality and, as usually happens when reality is ignored, make things worse.

In 2011, after political gridlock over raising the debt ceiling that significantly weakened the economy (itself a threat to the President), the National Defense Authorization Act was passed. It contained an amendment "affirming" that the President has the power to use the military to detain citizens suspected of involvement in terror. The President has no authority to veto individual amendments. Obama's only choice would have been to veto the entire Defense Authorization bill - which would have fed a growing political and economic chaos.

Obama did the responsible thing and signed the bill.

However, ultra liberals were quite vocal in condemning Obama for this, without even mentioning the names of those who supported and insistent on "affirming" these powers. In doing so, they politically weakened Obama and politically strengthened those who think that the ability to detain Americans indefinitely on the mere suspicion of a crime is a good thing.

Another case in point:

These rationality-deficient liberals also condemn Obama for not closing Quantanamo Bay.

On December 15, 2009, Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum closing the detention center and moving the prisoners to the United States. Congress then attached amendments to bills that would have been exceptionally costly for Obama to veto that restricted the use of federal funds for this plans - making it illegal for the President to close Guantanamo Bay. However, these liberals responded - not by condemning those who fought for this legislation, but by weaking the political status of those who would have opposed the legislation if they had the political standing to do so.

What thinking, rational people would be trying to do in the time between elections is to create a political environment in which politicians could then do the right thing and get credit for it. This means working to politically strengthen the politicians who are seeking to do the right thing, and weaken those who do the wrong thing. This is quite the opposite of the apparent liberal agenda of weakening those who would do the right thing if they could, and strengthening those who oppose what they claim to want to defend.

This requires taking the argument to the people themselves. It requires explaining to them effectively (and by "effectively" I mean seeking the expertise of professional communicators) about why these unlimited powers are not such a good idea. "Without safeguards, these powers that can be used to keep you safe from terrorists can also be used to keep powerful people with lots of money safe as they engage in all sorts of abuses against you and those you care about - effectively making you serfs within a corporate fiefdom, even to the point of being required to defend the lord's or lady's corporate castle if it should ever come under attack."

When the people condemn unlimited government power as a threat to their real-world security . . . when the people demand that steps be taken to avoid burdening our children and grandchildren under a mountain of debt in a planet suffering the ravages of human-induced climate change . . . when the people oppose torture and demand a fair trial for the accused . . . then politicians will do so as well. However, unless and until one changes the minds of the people, demanding that politicians in office ignore these political realities is just plain foolish.

The next elections have already started. Those elections will measure the political environment that determine who politicians who wish to stay in office must behave in order to keep their job. Molding that political environment means talking to friends, family, neighbors, participating in advertisements, and making contributions of time and effort that aim to influence the opinions, not of politicians, but of voters.

You have to go to the people - and not just the echo chamber of those who already agree with you. You have to reach those who are undecided, or who can be made undecided. This is how one will influence what happens in the next election.


noahluck said...

...where "rational" means "agrees with me" and "rationality" means "tendency to agree with me".

As opposed to, you know, trying to adopt true beliefs and efficiently pursue one's values. But that pesky meaning of rationality would completely undercut the argument.

Anonymous said...

Wow, way to ignore most of the things Obama has done in order to cherry-pick a tiny handful that make him out to be well-meaning but ineffectual instead of incompetent and ethically unspeakable.

Yes, yes, Obama is just a poor widdle ol' pwesident who can't disobey Congress, so we should be forgiving when he doesn't close Gitmo. Oh, except that he has regularly disobeyed Congress in the matter of sending troops overseas -- no authorization for our operations in Syria, Libya, Pakistan, or any of the new operations we've undertaken in Africa. Those are costing us $billions, but Obama doesn't care about that. He also doesn't, and this is an even more telling example, pardon Bradley Manning, even though (1) he unquestionably has the authority to do so, (2) Manning's treatment is costing us money, and (3) Obama explicitly said he wouldn't punish whistleblowers.

Face it: Obama is an evil man who uses Congressional disapproval as a threadbare excuse for his actions, and who only rarely does the right thing, and then only in cynical public relations moves. (For example, the whole gay rights thing. Right up until the very day of his big announcement he was directing members of the executive branch to argue in court in favor of DADT and the various other forms of legal discrimination.)

Yeah, okay, Romney is even worse. So what? Obama may be the lesser of two evils, but he's not lesser enough. We have reached a point where the Democratic Party is no longer worth supporting "to keep the other guys out", because in every practical respect they are "the other guys". If you support a Democrat or a Republican, you are supporting the same policies, it's just a question of whether there's a smiley face on the wrapper.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


It may be useful to note that the topic of this post was not "Obama's Greatness". It was about how to bring about effective change - which requires changing the political climate.

In addition, you do not bring up anything that I see as refuting my point. Pardoning Bradley Manning would be political suicide.

The gay marriage issue actually illustrates my point. Obama took a politically expedient position. What got him to change his mind on the issue of gay marriage is that the homosexual community wisely made it support for gay marriage politically viable.

Democratic and Republican political leaders are alike in this. They will both do what is politically viable. To change what they do, change what is politically viable.


I note that your comment lacks any substantive content.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

The accusation of cherry picking also does not work in the context of this argument.

The argument only requires illustrative examples. A person who wishes to discuss black swans only needs to provide examples of a few black swans. He does not need to defend the proposition that all - or even most - swans are black.

Accusing him of "cherry picking" because he pointed to two swans that happen to be black completely misinterprets the argument.

noahluck said...

Alonzo: Then you note wrongly.

mojo.rhythm said...

If the CEO of Exxon Mobil suddenly decided to halt all drilling and pursue clean energy, he would face massive backlash from shareholders demanding his head on a plate. He would almost certainly get fired, and probably replaced with a zealous, drill-happy lunatic hell-bent on fast-tracking the systematic destruction of the planet's ecosystem. But I would respect that CEO who took a stand. In fact, I would see him as a hero and a martyr.

mojo.rhythm said...

You argument might have some merit if all Obama did was carry on the status quo. But, in many respects, he has shifted the moral zeitgeist into uncharted territory. There is a difference between carrying out just enough atrocities to keep the Lunatics happy, and taking the initiative to jack up those atrocities to unforeseen levels. That requires explaining; no more goddamn buck-passing.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Your point about a hypothetical CEO of Exxon is true - and no different than the NAZI Guard defense.

"I did nothing wrong with being a NAZI guard because, if I had not done the job, they would have gotten somebody meaner than I."

As for the "status quo" argument, I disagree.

If there is a successful attack against the United States, then ANY evidence that Obama put "the rights of terrorists" above the lives of Americans would be political suicide. Our political climate these days is one in which it is not possible to "go to far" in the war on terror. But it will end one's political career to not go far enough.