COMMENTARY: Whelp, here we are. It reminds me of that joke: An entitled criminal and an inflammatory bully slam the door in the face of an amiable grandfatherly socialist as they walk into a bar…
Oh wait? That’s not how it goes? Is it because I forgot to add that there’s a New Mexican sitting in the bar claiming he’s all about fiscal rectitude and legalized marijuana?
What an awful state of affairs, right? You’re absolved for thinking that, but before you panic, let’s consider a few things.
Does it matter who the U.S. president is in your daily life?
How many of you have ever met a U.S. president? I have, and I’m sure some of you have, but I’m equally sure that most of you haven’t. How is my life different from having met a few? Well, I have some posed, signed pictures to hang on the wall, but other than that, it’d be hard for me to come up with much to say about it in terms of life-changing effects.
That you likely haven’t says a lot about how important a U.S. president is in your daily life — as in, not very. Further, unless you work for the federal government (thank you Mr. President for announcing on Dec. 5 that we were getting Dec. 26 off too!) or you’re in the military subject to participating in military actions, it’s even less than that.
It’s now President Obama’s last year in office; regardless of your opinion about him or his performance, what are the things that he has done that have directly affected you? Not tangentially, but directly — where your life changed in some tangible way?
I’ve only got two things: getting that day after Christmas in 2014 as a bonus holiday, and Obamacare. The first is positive and the second is incredibly negative. True story: If you don’t qualify for a subsidized policy on the exchange, it’s akin to paying something for nothing, and don’t we all love doing that!
Now I’m not saying that who will be the next leader of the free world is unimportant — nor am I saying that you shouldn’t care — but I am saying that to you, whoever is president likely matters a whole lot less than whomever your community leaders, your state representatives, your governor, and your congressional representatives all are. These are the office holders who have more influence to help or hurt you directly.
And yet, the way our electoral cycle works, presidential election years are motivating. Voters who ordinarily express no political preferences come out of the woodwork with very definitive and inflexible points of view. Federal office holders fret over coattails since these are the years more people vote. The media scrutinize or talk amongst themselves as if their opinions were news — yes, I’m looking at you Fox & Friends.
And we all fall into line thinking that if our candidate doesn’t win, then the world will end and we’ll have to move to Canada.
Another reason we get whipped into a frenzy over presidential elections is our desire to be able to identify with the candidate, as if we are saying something intrinsic about our own character by whom we support. Isn’t the president the face of the nation? How can we be likeable if our candidate isn’t?
Or if you won’t have a beer with that candidate, what happens to that after-work drink with your co-worker who supports her?
A necessary tug-of-war game
While it does feel like a strange presidential election year, I’m not terribly verklempt because I’m not confident that who wins will affect me enough that it matters. And here’s why: In my humble, or perhaps not so, opinion, if you’re a Republican, it’d behoove you to be grateful for the Democrats — and vice-versa.
You perhaps already know I’m touchy about those who can’t explain why they are a “D” or an “R” — or choose “I” to avoid being tainted by whiffs of socialism or ridiculous bathroom laws instead of taking a principled stand in a way that might cause a party platform to change. This is because I’m a creature of ideology and decision rules. I believe things for a reason, and I understand events in terms of rational choices and re-running my decision calculus when I happen across new data.
Sparing you didactic political theory lectures and multiple citations, roughly, conservatism is things like: Plato had a point that is still relevant today; government really is a Leviathan that does not generally have our best interests at heart and thus needs checks on its power; limited government does not mean no government, it means a government that provides public goods, deals with other countries, stays out of personal matters, and resolves market failures; and, if the Leviathan ventures into the land of regulation, the goal is to create equality of opportunity and allow citizens to rise and fall as the result of their own efforts.
In contrast, liberalism (aka progressivism, not classical liberalism because that’s actually conservatism — confused yet?) assumes that prior cultural and philosophical thinking cannot be trusted given that every day we are shown the fruits of our folly (e.g. slavery, prejudice, sexism); government is a force for good that resolves conflicts and raises all boats regardless of the tide; government having a say-so (i.e. regulation) about every activity is to protect us, not to control or to harm us; and, where all legislative efforts hew to a desire to protect citizens from themselves and each other in a bid for equality of outcome.
Or maybe you don’t quite agree with my nutshell descriptions. After all, Republicans were recently embroiled in bathroom law tomfoolery. Seriously Republican Partiers, don’t we think that our government should not be legislating personal behavior?
Evidently to my chagrin, it appears that we Republicans will go for invasive social laws whenever we can cast women or kids as victims. That seems to be the decision rule — and while I may be a victim on occasion, I’m confident it’s not purely because of my gender.
And it’s why I’m grateful for Democrats. Truly, I see our political system as a tug-of-war game. Republicans lined up along the rope across the mud pit from a line of Democrats holding the other side. Each side is straining back and forth to keep the other side honest.
Democrats are preventing Republicans from being too hard on folks in their desire to focus on opportunity, and Republicans are preventing Democrats from saying equality only exists if everyone has exactly the same (or enough as deemed by… the Leviathan?).
Regardless of how you characterize it, what happens if one side abandons its cause? Everyone falls down and into the mud. In other words, each side needs the other to keep both from going off the deep end.
That’s all well and good, but who really votes ideologically anyway? Isn’t it really all about cake?
When I was in 6th grade, my class held a mock election for that year’s gubernatorial race. The candidates were a Republican (who won, then became the state university president, and is now a U.S. senator who won’t respond to my emails) and a Democrat (who lost and was subsequently convicted for bank fraud foreshadowing the Lincoln savings and loan scandal) (i.e. clues to figure out what state and when).
But we were just 12, we didn’t know any of that, and we were just supporting who our parents were. In fact, I recall our debate issue was about that very important government service of filling roadway potholes in a timely manner. Given an even number of students, none of whom were shy about declaring their support publicly, it meant the election should have ended in a tie.
Until the day itself, where one party’s candidate squeaked by with just one vote. But how? It didn’t take long to find the turncoat. And when I asked why she had changed her vote, she — looking at me as if I were an idiot — said, “Because they had cake.”
Evidently, the victor’s side had indeed handed out slices of chocolate cake in return for a verified vote for their candidate.
However, whichever side you’re on — whether it’s ideology or cake you care about — I beg you to consider three things.
Firstly, question what you hear — especially when it’s saying one side is the devil. Everyone in Hollywood is a liberal? Maybe not.
President Obama gets accolades for saying, “That’s how democracy works. So you’ve got to be committed to participating not just if you get immediate gratification, but you got to be a citizen full-time, all the time.” He said it at a university commencement speech. But Justice Clarence Thomas, at a different commencement speech given the same week, said, “At the risk of understating what is necessary to preserve liberty in our form of government, I think more and more that it depends on good citizens, discharging their daily duties in their daily obligations.”
Switch the quotes, and I don’t think anyone would notice.
Secondly, cake. We all like it. We all want and get some. There is no moral high ground here.
And last but not least, and in fact this may be the most important: A presidential win is not a mandate to run roughshod over the other side. That’s really what democracy means: The losers still exist, still have rights, still have representation, and you cannot grind them into the dust until they cease to exist forevermore.
Hate guns, and your gun-hating candidate wins? The Second Amendment still stands. Think welfare programs encourage people to give up looking for work and stay “on the dole?” If so, the solution still isn’t to be inhumane and offer no safety net to the poor.
As for cake? Whoever wins, you’ll get about the same amount regardless of who is in the White House and who the majority parties are in Congress.
Go ahead and passionately support a candidate for president. I would never gainsay political passion. But being passionate for a candidate doesn’t need to mean vitriol and a desire to wipe the floor with the other side.
Elisabeth Miller is a seasoned communications and government relations expert whose guidance has been relied on by public, private and government organizations alike. She holds a Ph.D. in political science from Claremont Graduate University. Her areas of expertise are issue/crisis management, immigration law, and border issues. Most recently, she was a diplomat with the U.S. State Department serving in Ciudad Juárez. Currently she serves New Mexico as a citizen member of the N.M. Law Enforcement Academy Board. She moved to Las Cruces in 2015 when her husband opened Miller Guns & Ammo.