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This Election

Today I dropped off my PA voter registration form. I'd previously been registered to vote in FL, and voted by absentee ballot in the last presidential election.

I don't care much for politics, and I never really have. I understand the importance of being involved in the decision-making. I had a lot more free time in 2004, so I took the time to educate myself a little bit beyond what people said and what commercials I'd seen (admittedly few, given the power of TiVo…).

This time around, I haven't really had the time or opportunity to do the research. Perhaps this post will kick that off for me - I have a month. I do think it's interesting that we're either going to have a black president or a woman vice president.

I don't care about Palin or Biden. The vice presidency doesn't seem to matter much at all, though I realize Cheney may have changed that. And even if the VP matters, they're not going to go against the express desires of the President, so for me it comes down to the two men: McCain and Obama.

Historically, I've sided with Republicans. I don't care for the heavy religious angle they seem to apply to everything, and I support Roe vs. Wade, stem-cell research, and a few other things, but I side with Republicans when it comes to smaller government, gun control, and the "family" as a unit. I couldn't care less if gay people want to marry each other and I think more should be done to separate church and state.

I'd register as a Libertarian except then I'd not really get to vote in the primary elections - and I'm a bit leery of the extreme Libertarians who want almost no government. Given the paragraph above, it really sounds like I'm a Democrat. The Republican Party has completely failed at the "smaller government" deal.

My wife is similarly conflicted. Her family's fairly staunchly Republican (and religious), and teachers tend to vote for Democrats. No Child Left Behind is an absolute, horrid disaster.

And yet I still can't get behind Barack Obama. I couldn't care less about his race - just as I didn't care about Hillary's gender1 - but the man doesn't seem to say very much. He has plans, but I've never really heard anything concrete about them. He's for "change" - but any Democrat coming in after W's eight-year term would bring "change" to the White House. What kinds of change? What goals does he have? Will we be within two years of having cars that run without any gasoline at all after his second term in office?

Perhaps I've just missed the specifics, but I watched the debate, and while McCain seemed to be more specific, Obama seemed vague. He's a great speaker, and no doubt a lot of people have rallied around that, but while Bill Clinton possessed similar skills, I always felt he was talking about an actual plan, not just a vague concept.

I voted for Bush in the last election, or rather, I voted against John Kerry. He did not strike me as the kind of guy I wanted leading this country - which is saying alot given my low opinion of George W. Bush. My opinion of W has since sunk, along with the rest of the country, to all-new lows, though, and that's a knock on John McCain. However, I do think he's realized the errors of the Bush administration - whether out of necessity or actual philosophical disagreement I don't care - and will not behave as Bush has the past eight years.

So right now, I find myself squarely caught in the middle. I'm not so much asking for help here, but I do welcome any comments you might have. This post was written extemporaneously, but I think it captures the central parts of my current feelings on this election. I'll be doing more research going forward, and your comments may help to steer that research.

Footnotes

  1. Beyond thinking that it would be interesting to have a woman president all of a sudden when none had even really run before.

32 Responses to "This Election"

  1. Well, do you want to vote for "the winner?" If not, than vote for who you believe in, even if that person is a write-in candidate. There are more than two parties in this election.

  2. joshpaul said on October 3, 2008:

    There are more than two parties in this election.

    Though I think one vote is awfully meaningless, that doesn't mean I care to waste it. Given how meaningless one vote is, I won't be "sending a message" by voting for someone else, and I doubt I'll find much media coverage of any other candidates to make an accurate assessment anyway.

  3. I fail to see how you're "wasting your vote," unless you want to (potentially) vote for the "winner." Otherwise, why wouldn't you *try* to elect someone you believe in? I think that by voting for someone you *don't* believe in, you're wasting your vote. Granted, that's just my view of it.

  4. Admittedly I'm biased, because I've been an Obama supporter since before he was a candidate.

    I don't believe either candidate has done a good job speaking about their specific plans. A lot of this has to do with the media, sound bites, and the way modern presidential campaigns are run, and it's unfortunate.

    However, Obama has MUCH MUCH more detailed policies on his website. There is a veritable wealth of information on his specific ideas, goals, and stances available there.

    I recommend starting with his "Blueprint for Change" and then checking out specific issue pages that interest you.

    Personally, I'm very impressed with his technology policy. McCain offers almost no substance in his plan, while Barack Obama has a detailed tech policy with some of the smartest advisers in the country who have helped him craft it.

  5. Good thoughts. I wish we had a candidate--Republican or Democrat--who would work to curtail wasteful spending, cut the size and scope of the federal government, and speak meaningfully to the illegal alien issue.

    I would be absolutely delighted to see the average citizen more engaged in the process. We need less federal and more local control. So I'm in favor of a humble federal government and a return to our constitutional roots. "We the people…"

    The most critical issue we face may be a financial calamity. The federal government expands with impunity and the American people can shoulder it for only so long. Sooner or later its going to crash in on us.

    Neither McCain nor Obama meaningfully address these issues. With talk of socialized health care and overt expansion of government Obama scares me more than McCain.

  6. joshpaul said on October 3, 2008:

    I think that by voting for someone you *don't* believe in, you're wasting your vote.

    Josh, with all due respect, go ahead and try to find the part where I said I don't believe in the two candidates who have more than a one in a billion chance of being elected. The general theme is that I don't yet know which I support, if either, and that I'm starting to do some research.

    Furthermore, "trying" something you know will result in failure is, to me, pretty pointless and perhaps even incredibly stupid.

  7. Jeff,

    John McCain plans to continue the policies of George W. Bush who has expanded the federal government more than any other president in history.

    Obama's plan is not socialized health care, no matter how many times right wingers repeat that line. In fact, his major disagreement with Hillary in the debates was over their health care plans, precisely because it didn't socialize the whole system like Hillary's plan.

    Check out http://origin.barackobama.com/issues/healthcare/ for more about his health care plan.

  8. In our (crappy) two-party system, voting for McCain sends the signal that a party can hold absolute power for many years and totally screw up in the worst possible way, yet retain the most important office in the land by making the same promises again with a different candidate.

    If it helps, think of a vote for Obama as punitive. Regardless of what you think of him, it's a signal to the other party that there are repercussions for screwing the country up this badly. This is voting at its most crude, but it's still better than (repeatedly) rewarding failure.

  9. I didn't state that you didn't believe in either candidate. I stated that "I think that by voting for someone you *don't* believe in, you're wasting your vote." If you believe in the candidate you vote for, then you've exercised your right. Washington warned about the perils of "parties."

    As for being stupid for trying something that will result in failure, I think it all depends on what's the end goal. I'm certain you've heard stories of a person lifting a car in order to save someone's life. Under normal circumstances that feat would certainly result in failure, yet the person tried anyway...stupid? Maybe. Maybe not.

  10. Ben said on October 3, 2008:

    Jeff,

    John McCain plans to continue the policies of George W. Bush who has expanded the federal government more than any other president in history.

    Obama's plan is not socialized health care, no matter how many times right wingers repeat that line. In fact, his major disagreement with Hillary in the debates was over their health care plans, precisely because it didn't socialize the whole system like Hillary's plan.

    Ben, I tend to agree with you about McCain. He likely will expand the scope of government. It ticks me off that both Bush (who ran on a small government platform) and the house and senate have expanded government.

    I'll be taking some time to read the materials you've included from the horse's mouth. Thanks.

    John said on October 3, 2008:

    In our (crappy) two-party system, voting for McCain sends the signal that a party can hold absolute power for many years and totally screw up in the worst possible way, yet retain the most important office in the land by making the same promises again with a different candidate.

    If it helps, think of a vote for Obama as punitive. Regardless of what you think of him, it's a signal to the other party that there are repercussions for screwing the country up this badly. This is voting at its most crude, but it's still better than (repeatedly) rewarding failure.

    I'll likely be picking the best of the worst in November. I want to vote for not against. Nevertheless, no one on this ticket will scale federal government back in sufficient measure.

  11. Google's own Peter Norvig lays out the issues pretty well: http://norvig.com/election-faq.html

  12. Erik,

    You're honesty is nice to hear. I happen to be an Obama supporter, so I know that you can find DETAILED information about his plans and policies at http://www.barackobama.com/issues/

    McCain seems to have a similar area of his site at http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/

    I actually used to like McCain but I can't stomach the guy anymore. If I were you, read where they stand on the issues and then see which one seems more presidential to you (temperment, communication skills, intelligence, etc).

  13. flash video of McCain's Des Moines Register Interview truly interesting is his comment at 56:50 note the time is elapsing and starts at 57:?? something so it's ~30 seconds in.

  14. Unfortunately, the mainstream media focuses more on soundbites and silliness rather than on issues. This has caused a shift in the types of things which are discussed in speeches, at least the ones which are shown on TV. (The speeches in front of small crowds, which aren't often shown on TV tend to be much more interesting. You can sometimes find these on youtube and such.)
    As others have pointed out, it's worth looking at the Issues section of Barack Obama's website. He really does provide a lot of detail on his plans.
    You can get his plan as one big PDF (The Blueprint for Change) or you can read about individual issues in HTML on the website.

  15. Dave H said on October 3, 2008:

    flash video of McCain's Des Moines Register Interview

    I'm not terribly interested in quick soundbites that may or may not include someone mis-speaking. Please don't stoop to that sort of level.

  16. Erik,

    I agree that it's hard to find hard facts from the mainstream news. They tend to focus more on personalities than policies. I've been able to find more substance from occasional detailed news pieces.

    Here's one from NPR on the differences in health care plans: A Partisan Divide On Health Care Reform.

    Here's a link about his tech policy. Notable items are pro-network neutrality, and to open wireless spectrum for competition: Obama technology policy.

    In general, Larry Lessig's site is a good resource for information on Obama and technology... 20 minutes or so on why I am 4Barack ... and McCain and technology... Me on McCain on Technology

    Lastly, here's a very concrete chart comparing the candidates tax plans: Tax Plans (that’s one for you, nineteen for me).

    I apologize that I don't have more McCain material but I hope this is helpful nonetheless.

  17. Michael Bishop said on October 3, 2008:

    Here's a link about his tech policy. Notable items are pro-network neutrality, and to open wireless spectrum for competition.

    And yet, in an episode of Buzz Out Loud, they pointed out that an entire section on Net Neutrality was recently removed from Obama's site. Not that BOL is what I'd call an weighty political arena, but still…

    And to be fair, the one video is from February and shows Lessig's choice of Obama over Clinton.

  18. Where to start? If you want details on Obama's policies, Ben's posted the links. He wasn't all that sharp in the first debate, but 5 minutes isn't going to let you cover too many details no matter how concisely you speak. I'd recommend watching his acceptance speech. It was more substantive than a lot of his previous speeches with regard to policy details and did a good job of outlining his positions. And since you brought up Kerry, I was very impressed with his speech, as well. You might be surprised.

    You should think about the vice president. It is the most significant decision a presidential candidate makes and it provides our best insight into how a candidate would make decisions as president. I think it is very significant that McCain made his choice after talking to Sarah Palin for 20 minutes (!) and apparently little to no vetting. And that he believes she is qualified to be president. And how much they have both lied and continued to lie about her record (see Bridge to Nowhere). I think that tells you a lot.

    I'd also recommend you look at how each has run their campaigns. A presidential campaign is a huge enterprise covering hundreds or thousands of employees and dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars. How a candidate manages all of that is a great indicator of how they'll manage the office of the president. And most candidates bring a substantial part of their campaign staff with them to the White House, so the people you see around them now are likely the same people you'll be seeing for four years.

    There's some quick thoughts for you. I'm sure I'll think of something else.

  19. I have checked out the candidate web sites, looked at voting records and various articles, and have pretty much concluded that I cannot countenance McCain/Palin in the White House.

    Best as I can tell, the Obama energy policy is more focussed on renewable energy than the McCain policy. McCain is pushing for more natural gas, more coal, more drilling, which makes sense if you do not see renewable energy as critical. To McCain's credit, he does support a cap and trade system too. Given the current petro stocks, and the rising petro needs in India and China, it seems wise to invest heavily renewable, energy sources. Based on the '10% renewable' and the specific dollar amounts given, Obama seems a better choice for me.

    I am likely one of those who would be unable to get non-group health insurance were companies to drop it as a benefit; I somehow doubt that McCain/Palin are going to force insurance companies to cover me at a reasonable price.

    I do like the republican gun control stance more, but that is getting to be the only point of similarity. Sad for someone who voted republican in most of the prior elections.

    I also have too many gay friends who wish the civil rights presently associated only with hetero married couples to support the Republican ticket. I do not care what a same-sex union is called, but I very much care that their rights are protected. I found Palin's stance discouraging, and on McCain's site, he says: "The family represents the foundation of Western Civilization and civil society and John McCain believes the institution of marriage is a union between one man and one woman." It is pretty clear what he thinks of same sex unions.

    Finally, I have a daughter. I will vote to protect her reproductive rights. From the McCain site: "However, the reversal of Roe v. Wade represents only one step in the long path toward ending abortion." Palin has made her beliefs clear too. Neither of them would appoint supreme court justices that I could stomach. I accept their faiths and the decisions they compel, but I do not want a theocrat in charge here.

    Obama may not be perfect, but he seems to be a better choice for me this time around.

  20. Many people I know have said they would not vote for anyone that voted for the "No Banker Left Behind" bail out. Since Obama and McCain voted for it, it would seem the third party candidates will be getting a good look over this year. Here in Ohio there are 8 candidates to choose from. If you only watched TV you would think our democracy was only one party better then socialist countries...

    Anyways, here are the big third party players:

    Ralph Nader/Independant:
    http://www.votenader.org/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Nader

    Bob Barr/Liberitarian Party:
    http://www.bobbarr2008.com/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Barr

    Chuck Baldwin/Constitution Party:
    http://www.baldwin08.com/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Baldwin

    Cynthia McKinney/Green Party:
    http://votetruth08.com/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynthia_McKinney

  21. Politics, religion and kitten-juggling: Three things that elicit strong reactions…

    Here's my distilled view of the two contenders, based on following things pretty closely and talking to a lot of people on both sides of the fence:

    Obama: Much sharper politician than anyone realizes, given the cool demeanor. He came out of the bare knuckles Chicago political scene, and knows how to be disciplined and win. Cases in point: holding off Hillary Clinton by going to a four-corners offense in the primaries, and how he's letting McCain implode. True, his opaqueness is frustrating given that he burst on the scene with such rhetoric and flourish. But I sense he'd govern the way he's campaigning, but surrounding himself with smart people, charting a course and working the plan. After the idiocy of the last eight years (or 10, counting the last two of the Clinton regime), I like it.

    McCain: Had GW Bush not slimeballed him out of the nomination in 2000, I'd have voted for him over Gore in a heartbeat. Alas, that candidate seems to be gone. Many of his positions have changed since then, all of them moving hard toward the right side of the Republican party. Abortion, immigration, health care… he's trying to play to the right wing instead of playing to his strength and instincts. After waiting eight years for his one last shot, he's taking some stands that he wouldn't have back in 2000. If he wins, will he magically revert to the "old" McCain? And if he did, what would it say about him that he sold us a bill of goods to win? I actually like that he tries to make surprise, "maverick" decisions. Too bad for him that some of them, like "suspending" his campaign and picking Sarah Palin as his veep nominee, have been unmitigated turds.

    I'm going Obama for two big reasons. First, the U.S. needs to shore up its partnerships with foreign allies. Electing McCain sends the wrong message in this regard. Second, McCain would surely nominate conservative judges if/when another Supreme Court seat comes up. That would upset the balance of the judicial branch for decades.

    Is Obama perfect? Is McCain awful? Nope and nope. But to me, it's a pretty easy choice. I certainly respect opposing opinions, but have yet to hear a compelling argument.

  22. It's not wasting your vote to support a third party. It's not wasting your vote to vote for someone who doesn't have a chance at winning. The reason to support third party candidates is to show the support for those candidates so that our two party system can be eliminated and actually have more parties. If we keep saying, "Well, I hate that I have to pick between two people" and keep picking between two people, we will never progress beyond two candidates.

    People forget Perot, a third party candidate. Many people didn't vote for him because "he didn't have a chance." But in polling, he did have a chance to win if people who said they would vote for him if they felt he could win actually did!

    Vote your heart. Encourage everyone else to do the same. It's the only way we can get beyond our two party system.

  23. Erik J. Barzeski said on October 3, 2008:

    I'm not terribly interested in quick soundbites that may or may not include someone mis-speaking. Please don't stoop to that sort of level.

    That's just it. I'm not so sure that it isn't what he really means. I mean there is a reason why Barry Goldwater disliked and distrusted John McCain.

  24. Erik J. Barzeski said on October 3, 2008:

    And yet, in an episode of Buzz Out Loud, they pointed out that an entire section on Net Neutrality was recently removed from Obama's site. Not that BOL is what I'd call an weighty political arena, but still…

    That made Slashdot. Someone mailed the campaign and got the reply that the position on net neutrality hasn't changed (and is apparently borne out in a full policy PDF that can be downloaded), but the text has been rewritten to cover more general issues.

  25. Jesper said on October 4, 2008:

    That made Slashdot. Someone mailed the campaign and got the reply that the position on net neutrality hasn't changed (and is apparently borne out in a full policy PDF that can be downloaded), but the text has been rewritten to cover more general issues.

    "Barack Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet."

    http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/issues/technology/Fact_Sheet_Innovation_and_Technology.pdf

    If you're ever looking for more information on an issue than the main issue page shows you, near the bottom of every page you should find a PDF link to the full plan which usually adds a nice bit of detail.

  26. "What kinds of change? What goals does he have?"

    As others have already suggested, I highly recommend you find some time to have a quick read of his plans for various issues on his campaign site, as they're really pretty thorough, especially the aforementioned PDF versions usually linked to at the end.

    Oh, and as I'm somewhat of an energy geek, in terms of:

    "Will we be within two years of having cars that run without any gasoline at all after his second term in office?"

    You're actually there today to some degree with vehicles like the Telsa Roadster and the Chevy Volt (late 2010), as well as the Aptera and the like on the way, but in terms of making them much more mainstream, Obama is a big advanced vehicle fan, and backs it up with some pretty solid policy.

    Improved fuel economy standards along with helping to develop the next generation of (sustainable) biofuels aside, he aims to get 1 million plug-in vehicles on the road *before* the end of his second term in office (2015), providing a $7,000 tax credit for the purchase of such vehicles, conversion tax credits, loan guarantees to help US automakers retool to build them, alongside a specific focus on R&D in terms of advanced battery technology.

    He's also committed to convert the entire White House fleet to plug-ins as security permits, and that half of all cars purchased by the federal government will be plug-in hybrids or all-electric by 2012.

    Just in case you're wondering whether the US grid can handle these million plug-ins, the short answer is that it definitely can. The long answer is that using existing unused night time idle generation alone, the US grid can support more than 40% of US vehicles (cars, pickup trucks, SUVs and vans) as plug-in vehicles today. Since there are more than 200 million cars, pickup trucks, SUVs and vans in the US, Obama's 1 million initial target should work just fine.

    I'd talk about emissions, about how Obama's cap & trade plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and engage with the international community to really tackle global warming wipes the floor with McCain's, and how Obama's energy plan should reduce US oil consumption by more than current imports from the Middle East and Venezuela combined, only this comment is probably long enough as it is :wink:.

    http://www.barackobama.com/issues/energy
    http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/factsheet_energy_speech_080308.pdf
    http://www.eere.energy.gov/vehiclesandfuels/avta/pdfs/phev/pratt_phev_workshop.pdf
    http://www.pnl.gov/energy/eed/etd/pdfs/phev_feasibility_analysis_combined.pdf

  27. Obama's technology policy convinced me, too.

    I enjoy his speeches, which help to illustrate what he stands for, and his site really completes the picture.

  28. Again regarding the campaigns themselves, McCain's campaign has decided they will lose if voters look at the issues. Instead, they are going to launch "a newly aggressive assault on Sen. Barack Obama's character". They have shifted virtually all of their ad spending to attack ads. Whereas over 50% of Obama's ads don't even mention McCain. Bill Clinton said something 4 years ago that got some play earlier in the year and bears repeating now:
    "If one candidate is trying to scare you, and the other one is trying to make you think; if one candidate's appealing to your fears, and the other one's appealing to your hopes; you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope.''

  29. Okay, one more, and this is the best one yet:
    Go to Hulu and watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Just for the month of October. It is a quick, painless way to keep up with what is going on and does a far better job than going and reading blogs for the equivalent amount of time. In fact, as multiple studies have shown, it will keep you better informed than spending more time watching any "real" news program or even listening to NPR. If you want to make it even more efficient, than skip the interviews at the end, which cuts them down to around 15 minutes each. In fact, I'd recommend you go back and watch the past couple of weeks, as well. Between that and reading the policy positions of both candidates as linked above, I think you'll have all the information you need to make as well-informed a choice as you can.

  30. I'm kinda interested to see what you think about the debate last night (though it lacked the oomph I was expecting).

    And I really hope you do vote. PA is a swing state and all voices must be heard!

  31. pjsnyc said on October 8, 2008:

    I'm kinda interested to see what you think about the debate last night (though it lacked the oomph I was expecting).

    Debates have always struck me as pretty silly. A whole bunch of rhetoric and bullshitting, and very little fact. I watched the first 30 minutes and will watch the rest later when I have the time, but I don't give it much weight either way nor do I care who "wins" it.

  32. [...] I said in my last post on this election, I am undecided. That's saying a lot consider I tend to align with what have historically been more [...]


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