So there's an election coming up. Now, I have a political science degree and consider myself knowledgeable about such things as why we have an electoral college (basically, to keep certain votes from counting as much as others) and the two-part Democratic primary in Texas (Democrats in Texas had no opposition for about a hundred years and got real bored) and whether or not it's racist to expect people to have a photo ID and be able to read in order to vote (answer depends on whether or not you can read and/or have a photo ID).
So as sort of an expert I can comfortably say that there's not much new under the sun when it comes to presidential politics. Generally, carefully groomed and scripted candidates slog it out in the primaries and the guy with the best hair and the richest wife wins, then it's on to the national elections in which the one who can scare voters the most comes away with the victory.
But this election is pretty interesting. Of course much of it is politics as usual - candidates trying to reassure centrists and moderates that they are not wild-eyed radicals, while at the same time assuring their party base (whether that's the Religious Right Against Curing Disease or Gays and Lesbians Against Drilling in ANWR) that they are just wild-eyed and radical enough. The exception here is that the two candidates are guys that I .. actually... like.
I think John McCain is an American hero. Even though he's using it as a shield-all against character questions now, the guy spent five years as a POW in Viet Nam. He was abused and tortured. And he had a chance to get out (his father was an Admiral) and didn't because he wouldn't abandon his comrades. Yeah the guy went nuts when he got home, ran around on his wife, and married a young rich woman. And he has that thing on his neck I can't stop staring at. But the guy has a pair of brass cojones that you have to respect. He knows what's important, he knows what war is about, and he's actually pretty funny - watch him on Letterman, he's on like every week. On the downside, I think he's pigheaded, hot-tempered, and perfectly comfortable with the "Lone Ranger" foreign policy decisions that have been so disastrous for the current administration.
Barack Obama I don't know so well. There's no denying he's handsome, smart, and tremendously charismatic. How else could a one-term senator from Illinois end up as a presidential candidate? I've liked what I've seen and read in interviews - I think he could truly be called a "Man of the World" in that he has lived all over the world, is bi-racial, and understands the cultures and perspectives of many different races and religions. He understands that we will never - NEVER - get the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq to hold hands and sing Kum Ba Ya and it's stupid to try. He seems to have common sense - a quality that it is impossible to rate too highly - and a willingness to learn and listen. I think the reason that he's the first viable candidate of color is that he's not just a "candidate of color", like Jesse Jackson, for whom everything begins and ends with White People Should Apologize and Give Us Money. He's truly a man for the 21st Century, in which lines of race and color have become so blurred that most intelligent people give them little to no consideration at all. Now for the downside - an almost laughable lack of knowledge or experience of national, much less international, politics.
And - my uncomfortable suspicion that his charisma and likability are about all there is. It's easy to trumpet for change but much harder to make it happen, and he has yet to really enumerate how all this glamorous reform is going to happen.
I am not willing to make an endorsement in this election (sorry, all of y'all who are just waiting for me to tell you what to do). My personal political views are Libertarian - I think the government should stay the hell out of things that are not its business and that people should be able to live their lives as they want as long as they are not hurting anybody, and that people who work hard to earn a living should not have to give part of their incomes to support people who choose not to. I think it is the responsibility of the government to protect citizens from each other, but not from themselves. So to my mind, McCain is way too conservative socially - anti-choice, anti-stem cell research, anti-telling teenagers that condoms will keep them from getting pregnant. And Obama is way too liberal fiscally - every time he opens his mouth I can hear my taxes go up, to finance more help for people who refuse to help themselves. But the truth is that the President does not have all that much influence on government policy - that has a lot more to do with who's the majority in Congress - but there are a few things the president affects directly - military actions and Supreme Court justices.
I have voted a straight Republican ticket in every state and national election since 1996, but this year I am probably going to vote for Obama because of two important issues. One - Iraq. We never should have gone in and we should get out. It turns out that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator because that was the only way to maintain order in that backwards hellhole, and nobody can drag them out of the Dark Ages before they're ready to go. So unless we're going to carpet bomb the whole miserable country and then take their oil, we should just get out before one more American son dies for no damned reason at all. Two - the Religious Right. We could be looking at as many as four new Supreme Court justices in the next eight years, and I do not want anachronistic fundamentalist judges taking away what's left of our Constitutional freedom of religion - or from religion, in our case. In a perfect world abortion would never happen but in this world it's a sad necessity, especially for rape and incest victims and certain medical cases. It is an absurdity and a crime that in the year 2008 public schools' only approved sex education curriculum is "keep your pants on". And the very idea that public schools have to remind 12th-grade AP Biology students that "evolution is just a theory". The stranglehold that people like James Dobson and Pat Buchanan have on American public policy is absolutely ludicrous, and it's only getting worse and more dangerous. As the world gets smaller and more connected, religious tolerance is more necessary and we must all take our blinders off and realize that being an American means understanding that you can't legislate truth or morality.
So... there's my two cents. I have a lot more to say about religion, prejudice, and why sensible people are so eager to be misled, but it's after midnight and I have to get up early. More soon on vice-presidential selections and whether McCain's desperate bid for "Female-Americans" will work or not.