Saturday, October 30, 2010

Voter Apathy

I never got an absentee ballot this year; I take full responsibility for that. I'm kind of peeved at myself. I haven't missed an even-numbered election year since I turned eighteen.

I can take solace that Maine District 2 isn't exactly the epicenter of the 2010 midterms. We don't have a Senate race this year. Our Democratic Congressman, Mike Michaud, is going to cruise to another relatively easy re-election. I can't say I'm a big fan, but I would have voted for him anyway to do my part to keep the Republican landslide from being too big. It doesn't look like he'll need my help.

The big Maine news is the gubernatorial election, where our Democratic governor, John Baldacci, is retiring and Republican Paul LePage looks likely to replace him. I wouldn't be likely to vote for LePage, and I'm sure if I really looked I'd find some Republican boilerplate on his campaign website that I'd disapprove of. But LePage isn't not the kind of Republican who really offends me, and I've made my peace with the idea of him managing our state for the next four years.

So that's where I stand with voting this year. If LePage ends up winning by one vote I'll feel terrible, but otherwise I can't bring myself to care too much that I've wrecked my voting streak. And I'm the kind of person who checks FiveThirtyEight several times a day. Is something wrong with me?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Uninterrupted Pipeline

James Fallows is peeved, and rightly so. He had a post up about how 15 past winners of the Nobel Peace Prize had protested the continuing detention of 2010 winner Liu Xiaobo by writing an open letter to the G20 heads of state, and he asked why some previous Peace Prize laureates had failed to sign it -- Al Gore, for instance, and Nelson Mandela.

And very very quickly, about a bazillion people wrote him pointing out that Barack Obama, 2009 Peace Prize winner, had also failed to sign.

Now, it's true that he didn't sign, but as Fallows points out, it would have been rather odd if he had signed, as the letter is addressed to all G20 heads of state, and Obama is a G20 head of state. And Presidents of the United States don't generally go around signing open letters.

But what really bugs Fallows is that many of these letters imply - or say outright - that Obama had failed to condemn Liu's imprisonment at all. And this is simply not true, as 2 seconds on Google would show anyone who cared to look. He called on China to release Liu on the very day Liu won the prize.

Fallows calls this a "combination of ignorance, lack of curiosity, and certitude". Personally, I think it's the same mindset that causes people to:

- say made-up facts about some aspect of the world when making conversation at parties and other social events, when in some dark corner of their minds they must be aware that someone who actually knows something about the topic might be listening. Of course, if you correct them, you're being rude.

- spout complete nonsense to a reporter when interviewed at a political rally, and then give the reporter their real name, when in some way they must realize that if that quote gets published, then it's going to be linked to their name on the Internet forever and ever and ever until the Sun becomes a red giant and swallows up the Earth in several billion years. Of course, if they say the same thing to your face and you correct them, you're a pedantic nerd.

It's not that these people are ignorant or misinformed. All human beings are; that's not the point. It's that they believe in having a direct and unimpeded pipeline between their reptilian hindbrain and their mouth. Any odd thought that occurs to them and makes them feel good (for example, because it picks on a public figure they don't like) gets vocalized.

And who are you to hinder their freedom of expression? What, are you trying to censor them?

I'm not saying I agree with this mindset -- I'm just trying to describe how it looks to me.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

2010 Politics

Two bits of opinionizing on American politics in the year 2010:

1. The Tea Party.

A couple of years down the road, we're going to look back and see the Tea Party as a massively over-hyped phenomenon, enabled by the very same mainstream media that its more vocal members pretend to hate.

The Tea Party is not a political party. That's not a value judgement, it's a fact. The Tea Party is a brand, and it's a brand that nobody owns. You hear about "Tea Party-endorsed" candidates, but all that means is that they have the Palin or Angle seal of approval. I could run for Congress on a platform of increasing the national debt to one hundred trillion dollars and requiring all U.S. citizens to work for the federal government and I could call myself a Tea Party candidate. No one could stop me.

We're talking about a brand that covers such a varied group of individuals and beliefs that it's difficult to make sweeping statements about its followers. It seems to come down to a belief in lower taxes, less government spending, and smaller government. That's all. Say any more, get into immigration or cultural issues, and already you're painting with too broad a brush.

Now, I'm no Libertarian. Heck, I can think of lots of places where the government ought to be funneling more money. But let's be honest - there is nothing new in the core of the Tea Party platform. Their economic attitudes have been prevalent in American society for decades and will continue to be prevalent for decades more.

Frankly, I can respect people with right-wing economic views far more than I can respect people who think, if they don't like the President, it's mature and appropriate to imply he's really from Africa. Or people who like to pretend that liberals want to build a mosque right where the Twin Towers used to be.

The substance of the Tea Party is nothing new. It's a bunch of attitudes that have been in American politics for a long time, only re-packaged and with razzle-dazzle added. The substance isn't going anywhere, but I don't see the razzle-dazzle lasting long. The Tea Party brand might well be old news by 2012. Alternatively, I could see the Tea Party coalesce into something resembling a coherent political party in 2012 if the GOP nominates a Presidential candidate that the Tea Partiers deem unacceptable.

But either way, I think by 2020 we'll be looking back and seeing the Tea Party as a great big overrated pile of media-driven hype.

2. 2010 Elections.

In the House: The GOP will take over and hold a narrow majority. Speaker Pelosi will fall and Speaker Boehner will rise.

I might be wrong. FiveThirtyEight is currently giving the Democrats a 27% chance of holding onto the House. But if the Republicans do fail to take the House, it'll be the biggest failure of prognosticators since the 1948 Presidential election, and I will want to be a part of it.

In the Senate: The Democratic majority will survive in shrunken form. Possibly even 50-50. We'll probably have a different Majority Leader than Harry Reid. Reid's Senate seat may well survive the year (44% chance says FiveThirtyEight), but the Democrats are most likely going to call for his head.

Now, although I've had an eccentric habit of voting for Republican Congressional candidates in the past, I'm not at all a fan of the GOP of 2010, or the rhetoric its leaders are throwing about. But I've made my peace with the prospect of GOP control of at least one house of Congress. Deep within me there lurks a soulless, cold, calculating political junkie, reckoning the Democrats will be in a better position in 2012 if the GOP captures part or all of Congress in 2010 and find they have to put together a record they can run on. One nice thing about party politics is that any loss, no matter how catastrophic, can be spun as laying the groundwork for a win 2 or 4 years down the road.

Remember, it's all fun and games! The lives of real people in the real world won't be affected in any way by which party controls Congress, right?

I'm Back

It's a shame I haven't updated this thingy in months and months. I have no excuse. It's not like I went and got married or anything...