Hillary for President

In the late weeks of the 2004 Presidential campaign, I observed that America’s problems were being aggravated by the “echo chamber effect”: people’s tendency to talk only with people who think pretty much the same as them.

So I decided that what the world really, really needed was for me to express some of my opinions. I began writing email columns and sending them out to people whose email addresses I knew. Eventually I set up an online blog and began posting those articles; they’re still there.

That was over three years ago, and the calendar has turned over a few times. We’re nearing the end of the most hotly-contested Presidential primaries in recent memory. For the first time in many years, the office is wide open: no incumbent President is available to run, no Vice President is running, and both parties have been having very interesting primaries. A few months ago, many fretted that Ohio would be irrelevant in the primaries; now it appears that we will have a meaningful role to play at least in the Democratic primary.

And in the meantime, the campaign of Barack Obama has brought into the political process a lot of people who previously stayed away. The primaries have stimulated a lot more excitement than we’ve seen before, and even in polite society, people are talking about about politics and religion. I’m not sure that the echo chamber is gone, but it’s become less fashionable.

And so – later than I would have liked – I’ll be posting some political thoughts here. Unlike my 2004 and 2006 postings, this is an actual, honest-to-goodness blog, written with real, modern blogging software: so I can invite readers to post their own thoughts and reactions here as well.

Let’s get started. I have come to the conclusion that when I fill out by ballot for the March 4 primary, I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton. In the columns ahead, I’ll try to explain why I’ll be doing that, and why I think other voters in the Democratic primary should do the same.

And that’s enough for now. The heavy lifting starts in the next column.

Ten Day Wonder

Today, without intending to, I joined the many voters casting the dreaded “provisional ballot” in today’s election. I’m told that this means my vote won’t be counted for ten days; I guess that’s all right, just so long as it counts.

Recent changes in election law have created “no-fault” absentee voting, in which voters can cast absentee ballots without giving a reason. Following a mistake-plagued May primary election, our Board of Elections encouraged Cuyahoga County voters to cast absentee votes rather than wait until Election Day to vote.

So Lynn applied for an absentee ballot, received it, and sent it in well before Election Day. I sent in my own application on October 28, which should have allowed plenty of time for the Board of Elections to mail me my absentee ballot. But legal challenges to Ohio’s voter ID law drew conflicting court rulings, causing election boards to hold onto their absentee ballots for several days to find out whether they needed to put stickers on the envelopes.

The legal decision was finally made on Wednesday, and my absentee ballot arrived on Saturday. By that time the only certain way to make sure my ballot got to the Board of Elections on time was to drop it off, so I figured I might as well wait and vote at our polling place.

I headed over there early this morning, only to learn that once you apply for an absentee ballot the only way you can vote at the polling place is by provisional ballot. Two other voters were filling out provisional ballots while I completed mine, so clearly my experience wasn’t too unusual.

If they are going to encourage voters to vote absentee, I think election officials ought to make it clear that doing so locks voters out from conventional voting. But overall, the experience wasn’t bad. The young poll worker handling provisional ballots was a bit tentative, but it was only 7:30, so I guess that’s not too surprising. I just wish I had waited around to make sure he signed the envelope containing my ballot!

God, guns, and gays

On Tuesday, The Plain Dealer reported on a press conference in which a group of ministers (who use an organizational name but claim they are speaking as individuals) voiced their endorsement of Ken Blackwell for governor. Interested in seeing the original article? Try this link. I sent the following letter to the editor, but so far The Plain Dealer hasn’t shown any indication that they will print it. I figure I’ll publish it here.

Predictions that Kenneth Blackwell’s campaign would focus on “God, guns, and gays” received further confirmation Tuesday in Ted Wendling’s article “Ministers Back Blackwell, Challenge IRS.”

The article quotes Donald Tobin, an OSU expert on tax-exempt organizations, as saying that the ministers spoke as individuals; yet it also identifies them as a a group calling themselves “Clergy for Blackwell.” No one disputes people’s right to form groups: like freedom of religion, freedom of association is protected in the American Constitution. But when they act in concert, specifically attempting to influence their congregations by implying that the Blackwell candidacy is blessed, no one should interpret their speech as individual.

This curious non-group “coalition” of people “speaking as individuals” would remind us all that the candidates’ positions on “abortion, same-sex marriage and placement of the Ten Commandments in public buildings” differ. These are serious issues; but does any thinking Ohioan believe that they have anything to do with Ohio’s present decline and imperiled future?

Mr. Blackwell is quoted as saying that “the flip side of a theocracy is not the secular state. The flip side of a theocracy is religous liberty.” What he conveniently forgets is that centuries of successful experience at home and bitter observation abroad have demonstrated that a secular state is the best protector of religious liberties.

In Matthew’s gospel (22:21), Jesus tells us to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” If we were electing a pastor-in-chief, the clergy’s statements–and The Plain Dealer‘s decision to give them prominent display–might make sense. As it is, we are electing a governor; and the governor’s mansion belongs to Caesar.

Electing a believer to live there is a good idea; electing someone who manipulates believers is not.

A Good Night for All of Us

(Note: Voting on Friday, May 5, Ohio Education Association Representative Assembly delegates elected Jim Timlin as OEA’s Secretary-Treasurer and re-elected Marsh Buckley as a National Education Association Director from Ohio. Both men are members of northeastern Ohio locals and the North Eastern Ohio Education Association.)

Voting results for the recent elections hadn’t even been officially announced last week when a friend from outside NEOEA congratulated me on the election results. “It’s a good night for you and your colleagues,” he told me.

I knew what he meant, of course. Candidates don’t win offices in the state’s largest public employee union without effective planning and leadership. Both candidates had good campaign plans, and NEOEA leaders did an effective job of making sure that NEOEA delegates voted. My friend was congratulating me on an outcome that my elected leaders had worked toward, and which I had supported (off hours, of couse) as a retired volunteer. My friend meant the compliment well, and I accepted it as graciously as I could; but he had it wrong.

The election of Jim and re-election of Marsh were a triumph for NEOEA only if they were the right choices for OEA. If somehow they prove to be the wrong choices for OEA over the next three years, northeastern Ohio members will suffer just as much as our colleagues throughout the rest of the state. Not that I expect that to happen: I’m sure they’ll serve well and make all of us proud. But my point is simple: NEOEA doesn’t win unless OEA wins.

There are those throughout OEA who fear NEOEA because our wealth and size create power. (More on that in another column some other time.) NEOEA’s delegation is the largest among OEA’s district associations, but it’s a highly diverse, independent-minded group. Since the ballot is secret, just holding onto the base is a challenge for most NEOEA candidates. And since we don’t have anywhere near a majority of the delegate votes, a candidate from NEOEA has to both energize his or her base and earn votes from other parts of the state. Both Jim and Marsh did that.

The point? Our candidates didn’t win because of NEOEA’s size and wealth. They won because they were strong candidates who ran good campaigns. The May 5 election wasn’t a victory of NEOEA over the rest of the state; it was a victory for all of us and for public education in Ohio.

Reform Ohio

Originally posted November 6, 2005:

In a little less than 36 hours, polls will open in Ohio, and voters will begin to give their decision about a set of proposals called collectively “Reform Ohio Now” (RON). There are other important issues, of course: Cleveland voters will choose a mayor, and in the community where I live, voters will fill most of the seats on the board of education. And yet Issues 2 through 5 represent the most far-reaching decision to be made in this state this year.
What set the stage for RON is six years of unchecked one-party rule. Ohio is a fairly evenly-balanced state, but Republicans achieved total control of state government several years ago. They used that control to solidify their political advantages. They reapportioned legislative districts to guarantee Republican majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. They “reformed” campaign finance by quadrupling the individual contribution limit and limiting the political involvement of union members. And Ohio elections are supervised by a Republican Secretary of State who is an announced candidate for governor in the 2006 election.

The four issues address these problems.

  • Issue 2 makes absentee voting easier.
  • Issue 3 rolls back individual contribution limits.
  • Issue 4 puts reapportionment in the hands of a bipartisan panel.
  • Issue 5 puts elections in the hands of a bipartisan elections authority.

I am not convinced that these proposals are perfect, and I am not convinced that they are the only solution to these problems. I am convinced that they are the best solution available to us at this time.

Republican one-party rule has been so abused—a convicted governor, a state investment scandal, allegations of influence peddling, the continuing embarrassment of an unconstitutional system of school funding—that Democrats, despite their habitual campaign incompetence, may capture several top state offices in 2006. Without passage of Issues 2 through 5, Democrats in 2010 may be in a position to gerrymander the state their way. One or two legislative elections could give this evenly-balanced state a one-party rule in which the same kinds of abuses are practiced by a different party. RON would impact Republican rule now, but it would limit Democratic governments in the future.

So it’s easy to see why RON has been opposed by most Republicans and ignored by many Democrats. Support for RON comes not from parties but from unions, including the Ohio Education Association, and a wide variety of nonpartisan organizations.

That in turn explains why we’re not seeing many ads in favor of the issues: the Reform Ohio Now campaign is poorly funded. In contrast, the opposition is well-funded, and includes the most strident Republican allies: right-wing religious groups, business groups, and gun-rights supporters. They’ve been able to put together a slick, misleading media campaign that may sink all four issues.

As it’s sometimes pointed out, “what goes around comes around.” Even without RON, Ohio’s political life is likely to change. Whether that change will be managed for the common good or whether it will take the form of cyclical partisan power shifts will largely be determined by whether RON passes or fails.

I believe that these four issues represent a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change a system that promotes abuse and corruption. I’m voting for Issues 2-5, and I hope you will too. It’s an uphill battle, but it’s worth the climb.

An Immoral Majority?

Originally posted on Monday, May 23, 2005:

As I write this, news reports are indicating that the Senate will probably vote this week on a scheme to prevent the “filibustering” of judicial appointments. I think this so-called “nuclear option” is immoral, un-American, and unwise. I’ve written both of my Senators to let them know that opinion, and I’d encourage others to do the same. Here’s why. 1) It’s immoral. The type of procedure that we call “parliamentary” has many forms, including that used in the Senate. Parliamentary procedure has evolved as a system for balancing the rights of the majority against those of minorities. Parliamentary procedure protects the rights of the minority by providing that certain actions require a “supermajority” vote: that is, a vote larger than a simple majority. Examples of actions that require supermajorities are suspending rules and closing debate, In an ordinary organization, cutting off debate requires a two-thirds supermajority; in the Senate, the rule is more lenient: it requires only sixty votes. Thus, in an ordinary society, a minority of one-third is protected; in the Senate, a minority has to have at least 40 votes to get that protection. While the specifics differ, in both cases the rule protects the rights of a minority of the members. What is really tyrannical is how the Senate majority proposes to end filibusters. Since the minority is sizable, the majority can’t pass a suspension of the rules. So what they propose to do (a point which gets little attention) is to use a parliamentary provision by which a simple majority can uphold a chairperson’s ruling. If they decide to pursue this course, a member of the majority will raise a parliamentary point and argue that the filibuster of judicial candidates is unconstitutional; the President of the Senate will rule that the point is correct; the minority will appeal the decision of the chair; and the majority will sustain that decision. In other words, the majority will cut the rights of the minority by using a vote which requires only a simple majority. 2) It’s un-American. In its simplest terms, “democracy” simply means a rule by the people, and that’s generally interpreted as a rule by the majority. In fact, American democracy is far more complicated than that: the Constitution provided for the sharing of power among distinct, often competitive institutions, and the Bill of Rights was provided largely to guarantee that minorities would be protected against oppression. In countries around the world, we see the real difficulty of exporting our form of democracy. It turns out that disarming dictators, conducting elections, and empowering winners is the easy part. The real challenges have been to convince newly empowered majorities to value–not just tolerate–diversity and to find ways to protect it. Our success in this has been the great good fortune of the American experiment, but it has proved harder to export than simple majority rule. In this respect, the behavior of the Senate majority isn’t unlike that of ideological majorities in emerging democracies. I suspect that one reason the Bush administration has been so surprised at the difficulty of establishing an American-style democracy in Iraq is that neoconservatives and their theocratic brethren don’t grasp, don’t value, and didn’t provide for this second component of “American-style” democracy. 3) It’s unwise. The Senate has always been the place that moderates the more extreme tendencies of the House of Representatives–a characteristic which it shares with the “upper houses” of other bicameral legislatures in individual states and in other countries. The American Senate has long been a place where teamwork and compromise are valued more than they are in the House. If the majority-passed reinterpretation of rules is employed by this Senate in this case, then the tactic will be used again, and in connection with other issues. The Senate will forever become more like the House in its style, regardless of its partisan composition. At my core, I believe that people get the government they deserve. Americans elected a one-party government in November. Since January, the Democratic minorities in both houses have used stalling tactics in an effort to mitigate the more extreme ideas of the Republican majorities. In doing so, they protect voters from the consequences of their decisions, and they look obstructionist while doing it. The nuclear option might force impotent Congressional minorities to focus on articulating their message while the majorities give Americans what they voted for. That wouldn’t be all bad: voters would learn the consequences of their decisions. Right-wing extremists would have their way for a while. Generally, extremist agendas of both the right and the left aren’t sustainable. I believe that the present right-wing plan would eventually be exposed as a fraud. The pendulum would swing and a new majority would emerge. Neoconservatives and theocrats would hide out like postwar French collaborators. This would undoubtedly be a great victory for someone, somewhere; but the price would be too high. The nuclear option and the political climate it engendered would have institutionalized bitter ideological differences and hardened the cultural chasm between red and blue states. We would risk losing public education, social security, large chunks of the environment, and precious individual liberties. Ideologically-driven junk science would make us a worldwide laughingstock. Workers’ rights would disappear, the divide between rich and poor would increase, and inner cities would become even more dangerous. If this scenario seems as bleak to you as it does to me, consider contacting your Senators. For readers in Ohio, the links to Senators DeWine and Voinovich appear below.

Another Election Day

Originally posted on Tuesday, April 5, 2005:

As November’s Election Day approached, spurred on largely by a growing frustration with the abysmal state of political discourse, I began writing a series of weblogs, posting them on my Web site and emailing them to a number of friends. Today is another election day of sorts, but only for some on my original mailing list: ballots for positions on the State Teachers Retirement System Board were mailed on Saturday, April 2, and are now beginning to arrive, kicking off an elections process that will continue until May 2.

It would be hard to overestimate the importance of the State Teachers Retirement System in many of our lives. For those whose principal retirement income comes from STRS, that agency is critical to our future comfort and prosperity. Yet there was a time when most of us, active and retired, thought we could safely ignore STRS business: it was a given that our retirement was in good hands and that we were far better off than those poor souls outside education who had to depend on Social Security for their retired well-being. We could ignore the periodic reports from STRS; we could vote or not vote in the periodic elections for positions on the STRS Board. We could treat the retirement system with benign neglect.

The economic recession of the early nineties showed us that our neglect was hardly benign. As STRS assets plummeted, the System’s contribution to members’ health insurance costs declined as well; and retirees who had become accustomed to a thirteenth check each year found that they couldn’t rely on that annual bonus. Dissatisfaction, discontent, and anger replaced complacency.

In most respects, the interests of retired teachers are the same, no matter whether they retired as union members or management, and regardless of their organizational affiliations while active. But there are some legitimate differences. One such difference concerns the role that administrators, especially superintendents, play in lobbying for legislative change: many observers assume that active superintendents are more sensitive to employer interests and more willing than classroom teachers to push the contribution burden to employees rather than employers. The differences continue after retirement: once retired, administrators are far more able to negotiate customized, lucrative rehiring arrangements with boards of education. Therefore, they may have rather different interests from classroom teachers in the areas of health care and retire-rehire rights.

All of these conflicting interests are crystalized when examining the role of competing organizations. The vast majority of classroom teachers belong to either the Ohio Education Association or the Ohio Federation of Teachers. Ideally, OEA and OFT would have figured out a way to divide the available contributing-member and retired-member seats between them and present a unified front, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Among retired teachers, the situation becomes even murkier. In addition to the retired memberships of OEA, OFT, and administrator organizations, the Ohio Retired Teachers Association (ORTA), which includes members of them all, has often been an important player among retired teachers. OEA dwarfs ORTA and is better-financed, but seems to have been singularly unsuccessful in organizing its retired members. ORTA aggressively and effectively recruits membership among retired teachers, and has a statewide network of county organizations offering periodic meetings and activities. By contrast, OEA-R has no statewide network and offers few activities for the rank-and-file members who do join. Any doubts about OEA’s vulnerability were dispelled in 2001 when the late Marilyn Cross, a respected OEA Past President, lost an election for a retired position on the STRS Board.

In the present STRS Board elections, five candidates are vying for two retired seats. OEA is recommending David Speas; ORTA has recommended David Speas and L. Neil Johnson; and OFT is supporting Jeff Chapman and Teresa M. Green. The fifth candidate is supported only by a group I haven’t mentioned yet: CORE, the “Concerned Ohio Retired Educators.”

CORE came to prominence several years ago when Chillicothe Superintendent Dennis Leone began making charges that STRS was misusing funds. As retirees lost the thirteenth check and paid more for their health care, Dr. Leone was welcomed as a hero by many who were looking for scapegoats. While some STRS practices may have been ill-advised, they constituted far less than 1% of the losses suffered by STRS investments in the economic downturn of the early nineties. But after OEA waffled in supporting its members serving on the STRS Board, Leone and CORE went into attack mode, defeating Eugene Norris, an incumbent contributing member of the STRS Board and member of OEA, in a 2004 election in which fewer than one in five voters bothered to cast a ballot.

Dr. Leone is retired now and a candidate for one of the retired vacancies on the STRS Board. Having lost a retiree seat to an ORTA-endorsed candidate in 2001 and a contributing-member seat to a CORE-endorsed candidate in 2004, OEA faces the possibility that STRS voters will once again elect a member whose main qualification is that he’s not OEA.

I had never met either Dr. Leone or Mr. Speas until recently, when I attended a CORE meeting in Summit County. In response to questions, Mr. Speas provided substantive answers and avoided simplistic solutions; I was impressed by his grasp of a wide variety of issues and his apparent good judgment. By contrast, Dr. Leone showed little knowledge of STRS business outside a few main themes: pampering of STRS staff; excessive capital and operating expenses; luxurious travel by Board members; and OEA domination of the system. In fact, he referred almost exclusively to past grievances that continue to play well with CORE members (like the insensitivity of the past STRS Executive Director and the opulence of a now five-year-old building).

So once my ballot arrives in the mail, for whom will I vote?

I was tempted to cast only one vote, for David Speas: the idea of “bullet voting” is to give one vote to the candidate you care most about and not give anyone else a vote that could bring that person’s total over that of your main candidate. But I believe that Mr. Speas is almost certain to be elected: the dual endorsements of ORTA and even a wounded OEA should translate into victory. If I’m right, my second vote won’t threaten him, and I’m reluctant to let others choose the other winner for me. I read Dr. Leone as a demagogue and an opportunist, and I believe that he would be a divisive force on the STRS Board. I’ve concluded that L. Neil Johnson’s ORTA endorsement gives him the best chance of defeating Dr. Leone; so even though I haven’t met him or the other two candidates, that’s enough reason for me to give him my second vote.

When this election is over, we will have about four years to prepare for the next. That’s four years to contemplate how things could be different and to move in that direction. OEA can start by providing appropriate staff support for its retired organization. It can continue by funding expenses for OEA-R leadership to attend STRS Board meetings, speak on behalf of retired members, and report back to OEA. It can consider how to develop a system in which it continues a meaningful, valuable relationship with members after they retire. It can explore a relationship with OFT which respects the legitimate interests of both organizations and presents a united front. With luck, with this election, OEA can stop the bleeding and learn how to fight a better fight another day.

Election Day 2004

Originally posted on Tuesday, November 2, 2004:

I arrived at our community library this morning to find a line of people extending beyond the polling place to the doors of the library itself. What has typically taken a few minutes took about a half hour. People’s spirits were high, partly because after today we won’t have to hear any campaign ads for a while, and partly because it is so refreshing to see people so eager to vote. All of us in line this morning felt that it was a good problem to have.

Here in Ohio, and in many other “swing states” as well, we’ve been hearing campaign ads for six months. It would be tempting to think of today as the day that all ends; but it won’t, of course. Lots of observers expect challenges and recounts to delay our knowing the final results for weeks; but it’s the nature of America to be a work in progress. Even if we were to have no electoral challenges, and even if one candidate were to win in a walk, this Election Day would end with unfinished business.

I have received overwhelmingly positive responses from the readers of this little series of essays, including those who have disagreed with some of my conclusions. Their support encourages me to take some time today to address the challenges we will continue to face after we know today’s outcome.

First: we need to address the very real “culture war” that exists in this country. Let’s hope that the renewed interest this election has seen will reduce the “echo chamber” effect in politics, in which people speak only to those who already hold the same beliefs while those views become more and more extreme.

Second: between this election and the next, we will need to communicate with our public officials. Sometimes we forget that electing the right people is only the first step: that we have a responsibility to keep after them once they are elected so that they will know what we want them to do. Thanks to the Internet, it is easier to stay in touch with public officials now than it has ever been before; likewise, it’s easier to see which ones are responsive and which ones aren’t.

Third: we should all rejoice at the renewed interest in participation in democracy. The scandalously low turnout in some past elections robbed their outcomes of legitimacy and encouraged more voter apathy. Perhaps this year’s events reflect a real change in the quality of our political life.

Fourth: we will still have negative campaigning. Negative campaigning keeps good people from running for office; it uses up campaign funds that could be used to explore real issues; and it contributes to voter cynicism and apathy by perpetuating the myth that “they’re all alike.” But it’s been around nearly as long as our democracy because, unfortunately, it works.

Fifth: we need more candidates. Close to half the positions on my ballot this morning were uncontested; I think that’s unfortunate. Over the years I’ve run for public, party, and organizational office, I’ve found candidacy to be challenging but rewarding; even losing is educational. I hope that this year’s elections will stimulate a resurgence of interest in public office, particularly among younger citizens.

I am always hopeful–not confident, just hopeful–about democracy’s ability to correct itself. Institutions seldom make progress in a straight line, so that corrective function works slowly. Maybe, years from now, we will look back at 2004 and realize that it was indeed the most important election in our lifetime: not just because of the issues and the candidates, but because it called forth the passion and commitment of people on all sides and reminded us once again of the blessings that we share as Americans.

When a Man Loves a Woman

Originally posted Thursday, October 28, 2004:

Someone has decided that marriage needs defense. It’s rather nice that so many people care enough about marriage to defend it, but at the same time it’s a bit disturbing that so many married people feel it needs defending. Anyway, a number of people have decided that marriage must be defended against the threat posed by same-sex couples who might want to get married.

Personally, I’ve always used the term “marriage” to refer to the union between one man and one woman. Men and women are so different that marriage is really a sort of miracle. And it provides an important sign by showing that love can overcome even those differences: no wonder religions generally regard marriage as a sign of God’s love for us. So I’ll confess that it bothers me a bit that same-sex couples want to use the same term to describe their version of a life-long union; part of me thinks that they should find their own word for it.

But the self-assigned defenders of marriage aren’t concerned about terminology; they oppose anybody except one man and one woman having access to a legally-recognized, committed union. Apparently they think that they are somehow hurt by the happiness of a same-sex couple.

Despite my own reservations, I’ve come to the conclusion that linguistic niceties pale in comparison with the intolerance displayed by the religious right. Like censors who think they can make choices for others, “defense of marriage” proponents seem to feel qualified to decide who will relate to whom and how.

They’ve come up with two varieties of these proposals. The first is a proposed amendment to the US Constitution. Since the Constitution is mute on marriage, and since courts have ruled that the decision of whom to marry is a private matter, the religious right has decided that the only way to dictate who gets to clean whose socks is to amend the Constitution. Since it’s generally regarded as an impossible proposal, it’s really a nonissue; but that doesn’t keep right-wing candidates from using it to pander to the fears of social conservatives.

Here in Ohio, the second attack is a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution. Unlike the federal proposal, this one actually has a chance to pass, and that makes it more dangerous. The Ohio proposal, Issue 1 on this year’s ballot, consists of two sentences. The first defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman; Ohio law already does that, so this part of the amendment is superfluous.

The second sentence, however, carries its real payload: “This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effect of marriage.” It would deny not only civil unions but parental, survivorship, and visitation rights to all except traditionally-married couples.

I believe in marriage. It bothers me to see so many children born to single parents, and it bothers me even more to see what appears to be a rash of celebrities producing children without first providing for them by making the commitment that marriage requires. But passing Issue 1 won’t defend marriage. What it will do, if passed, is to make Ohio even less attractive as a residence or an employer than it already is.

Because it appeals to the teachings of some religions–and also because intolerance has plenty of advocates in Ohio–Issue 1 has organized support. Polls indicate that it has a fair chance of passing. As far as I can tell, the opposition isn’t organized; but on their own, most mainstream labor, employer, and civic groups in Ohio have decided to oppose Issue 1. Virtually all Democratic public officials oppose it, along with most Republican public officials.

No matter whom you support in the other races, take the opportunity on November 2 to vote against intolerance. If you’re an Ohio voter, vote against Issue 1.

Tax and Spend

Originally posted Thursday, October 28, 2004:

You always know that a Republican candidate has run out of things to say about his opponent–it doesn’t matter whether it’s another Republican in a primary election or a Democrat in a final election–when he calls the opponent a “tax and spend liberal.” These are the magic incantation of Republican politics, and they’re supposed to make voters avoid the epithet’s target like radioactive waste.

The epithet can be used in other grammatical constructions: “All Senator Snort has done in office is tax and spend”; “For the past four (two, six) years, he’s been over there in Washington (Columbus, City Hall), taxing and spending your hard-earned dollars.” It’s the ketchup of political invective–it goes on anything. “Tax and spend” is a magical incantation; no epithet thought up by Democrats has quite the same mojo.

At the same time, it’s a little silly. After all, the unique and defining characteristic of government is that it taxes; nobody else can do that. And once you’ve taxed people, you pretty much have to spend the revenues on something; taxpayers tend to rebel when governments just collect their money and store it in warehouses.

So let’s be clear, what governments do is “tax and spend.” Without taxing and spending, you don’t have a government. Liberals and conservatives both do it; Republicans and Democrats both do it. President Bush has done it, and John Kerry will do it once he’s elected.

I bring this up because we use political labels far too often. Right and left, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, pro-choice and pro-life–part of our handicap in state and national politics today is the overuse of simplistic labels. (Fortunately, the labels are harder to use in municipal politics, so they’ve never really caught on there.)

(Digression alert: personal reference coming.)

A few friends have noted that I seem to be exceptionally motivated in this campaign, and they’re right: I haven’t been this excited about a presidential election since forty years ago, when as a high school student I was doing volunteer work for the campaign of . . . Barry Goldwater. (This is when the reader says, “Barry Goldwater? Wasn’t he that conservative Republican senator from Arizona, somewhere to the right of Vlad the Impaler? How does this joker support John Kerry, that tax-and-spend liberal?” But Hillary Clinton started political life as a Goldwater Republican too: that’s why she and I are so tight.)

Well, my candidate now is quite different from my candidate then; politics have changed, and so has our country. But now as then, I am disturbed and frightened at the direction in which our country is going. My own political odyssey over those years has taught me a disrespect for political labels.

(Personal reference over; reading can safely continue here.)

The notion that you can sum up a person’s political beliefs in a simple label is ludicrously simplistic. In general, liberals are supposed to favor governmental interventions to correct societal problems; conservatives are supposed to favor economic policies that increase profits. Liberals are supposed to help the poor; conservatives are supposed to protect the rich. Both, of course, claim to be the savior of the middle class. But of course, there are social, economic, foreign policy, and civil rights liberals and conservatives; trying to track one’s beliefs in all four seems unfulfilling.

The most common break between the two philosophies concerns the role of government in private enterprise: since resources have to be allocated somehow, liberals favor government involvement in that allocation, while conservatives favor leaving it up to private business and markets. Like most idealogues, both liberals and conservatives take their philosophies on faith with very little empirical evidence; neither one has very good data to support its own pure ideology.

Ordinary people distrust ideology instinctively; but ordinary people aren’t the ones who make campaign donations. So in order to be nominated, most candidates have to persuade their own parties that they have the right beliefs, while simultaneously convincing those same supporters that they can appeal just enough to moderates to get their votes and be elected.

So, in this campaign, as Bush campaign ads trot out that tired “liberal” epithet, what should undecided voters do? I believe they would do well to realize that classic American liberalism is essentially dead. Most Democrats accepted Bill Clinton’s declaration that “the era of big government is over,” and liberals recognize just as much as conservatives that a strong defense is essential to our security.

I respect conservatism: it’s is a proud and honorable political ideology that values responsibility, individual initiative, and self-reliance. What I don’t accept is fake conservatism, and today’s conservatives, including the President, are mostly fakes. Passing debt onto our children isn’t good financial policy; inadequately staffing and supplying our military isn’t good defense; and pushing difficult economic decisions like Social Security reform into future administrations isn’t good planning.

Ignore the labels, especially when candidates use them against each other.