The political post

by Diane Duane

This was going to get written in the next week or so anyway, but something — a couple of somethings, actually — dropped into my “ask box” on Tumblr. and yesterday seemed the best time to deal with it. (Posting it here and at Facebook today for completeness’ sake.)

for the record anyone voting for Donald Trump is fucking hot flaming trash that needs to be sent to the fucking sun, but still, Clinton’s voter demographic should rethink their whole fucking pathetic liberal lives

That would then be my whole fucking pathetic liberal life we’re discussing, yes? Just so we’re clear. 🙂 Because I’m pretty sure I’m in the demographic.

I think the last time you shared a generalization of this kind with me regarding All Clinton Voters, most of my reply to you was:

1476021401tumblr_inline_oeq12cJjez1qz6pzq_500.gif

But you know what? That response was a bit abrupt (though valid). Let’s try this again. Specifically, I’ll lay out a few details about this Clinton voter’s political experience and how it maps onto this particular US election, and then we’ll see about the rethinking.

I’m sixty-four this year, and this will be my twelfth US general election: I’ve voted in every one since 1972. The first of those votes happened in New York, as I’m a native New Yorker, born in Manhattan. (This could doubtless be taken as an excuse to classify me in the absence of better data as a “New York kneejerk liberal.” To which the only response necessary is that the kneejerk is the body’s shorthand for a reflex response designed to save your life when you’re in danger.) Other votes happened in Pennsylvania and in California, where I’ve lived longer (in the US) than anywhere besides New York. My last US residence was in LA, so I now vote as a Californian.

As an Irish citizen I also have a quarter century’s living and voting experience in a country with multiple political parties that are to greater or lesser extents viable at the national level. To put it mildly, it’s interesting watching the parties’ relationships shift, watching coalition governments form and fall apart, watching new parties form and old ones die. I kind of wonder (casting an eye over the present political situation in the US) whether, with an eye to its present—I hope!—near-miss with ochlocracy, it’s up to coping with that kind of institutional instability in the immediate future. I also wonder whether I’d really enjoy the spectacle of a country going through the ructions of a three- or four-party general election for the first time, still wobbling on its training wheels, while it’s also got the power to traumatically destabilize the world economy. (Again.)

But right now these are hypotheticals. I understand that you’re eager for a choice that doesn’t involve either of the main parties, that you support a third-party candidate—and that you’re angry that they have no chance to win. What I know from watching the process close up over here for some years is that truly viable and effective third parties are only built slowly and over significant periods of time. I know this is frustrating, but it’s true. If by some bizarre alternate-universe airport-novel outcome either of the present third-party candidates could be elected President in the US, they would still be incapable of successfully governing because they have no legislative support whatsoever. To be of any use once elected—assuming such an outcome was possible with the present US system of governance (and the chilly mathematics of the situation say clearly why it’s not)—such a President would need a significant portion of the House and/or Senate backing them up. Then there could be horsetrading with the two major parties… but not a second before. (A few interesting articles on this here, here and here, though in each case you want to be alert to the axe each specific writer and organ has to grind.)

You want that working third choice? Then start now. Start downticket and start backing third-party senators and representatives. With any kind of luck, and with a ton of work and persistence, by the end of your lifetime it might happen in the US. If this election cycle invariably leaves you frustrated, well, that’s the way the cookie’s crumbled this time out. Better luck with your next election. And the one after that, and the one after that.

This has to be said too: Since (unlike on this side of the water, where national/general elections are triggered at irregular intervals by other circumstances) it would’ve been plain for some time to anyone who can count that (regardless of the personalities involved) there was going to be a general election this year, I hope you were already actively canvassing and fundraising for third parties a couple/few years ago! If you weren’t, that would make it look like you’ve been just sitting around and hoping that whatever happened in the primaries would by great good luck throw up a candidate you felt comfortable with. That’s not exactly the strongest position to be coming from when opinionating about the quality / lack of quality of other people’s political choices.

That said, I have no idea what your political life looks like except from what I see on your Tumblr: so let’s give you the benefit of the doubt for the moment and move on.

Here’s a useful image to consult before I get into particulars. Some nice person has composed this “quick comparison” chart, and as far as I can tell all the attributed positions are correct. (I am not going to add cites to this or anything that follows, as I have work to do today. Got doubts about anything? Google is your friend.)

comparison

 

As regards the candidates: I routinely cross party lines in my voting, guided by fairly ruthless pragmatism in my choices of who I want representing me. Yes, it would be wonderful if “is this a good person” could be the only issue in one’s voting, or even the major one. But it’s not. My concerns are: Can this person do the job? Can they do it well? What do they say they want to do? What are the odds they’ll be able to do it? Are the positions they hold that I don’t like sufficiently balanced by the ones I do? (Because successful politics, the kind that actually helps the electorate, is always, always the art of compromise.) Do they have sufficient political experience to manage themselves in their new position (assuming they’re not running for re-election) and avoid being negatively exploited by the other party / their own party? Do they have the fiber / the support to carry their intentions through? Will they be good for their country, both politically and economically? Will they be able to steer it successfully in its international relationships? Will they be able to give the country’s enemies serious second thoughts about messing with them / it? (And there are a lot of other things in the balance for me as well, but those should do to start with.)

On the majority of the above counts, for me, Clinton fills the bill. (And particularly on the last one. I can just see Vladimir Putin—who has been getting increasingly brazen and shameless lately—covering his face and going OH FUCK NO at the prospect of having to deal with a President who, as SecState, is already quite familiar with his nasty wily KGB personality and his sub-rosa machinations, has dealt with them up close and personal, and now has the power she needs to make his world significantly less comfortable. Nor do I have any truck with / time for the ridiculous “hawk” narrative that the Republicans have attempted to plaster Clinton with, or any of the rest of two decades’ worth of frustrated, sheerly misogynistic, spite-fuelled propaganda. In my opinion Clinton is and remains the best-prepared candidate for this job for many decades.)

Do not imagine that I think Clinton’s perfect. She’s not. But she is unquestionably the best of the electable people on offer this year. Additionally: I left NY too soon for her to be my own senator, but I know people who had problems and sought her office’s intervention, and she was personally helpful to them because they were her constituents and she was their senator and it was her job to be helpful. (In these days when half the Senate doesn’t appear to know what its job is, this is pretty refreshing.) And her work record in the Senate is eloquent enough for me as regards her persistence and effectiveness in getting legislation handled.

Now, to other issues. For me, experience really counts. Which is why none of the other candidates make even a blip on my radar. Trump has no experience in public office whatsoever, but even if he did, he’s also (as has been obvious for a long while, especially to a significant number of my fellow New Yorkers) not really all that good at being human. (Sudden thought. Could it be that simple—that he’s one of those zip-up aliens from Doctor Who? God, it would explain a lot. Maybe even the hair.) (Sorry… sometimes it’s hard to stay out of SF-writer mode.) Anyway, as for dumping his followers in the sun? Naah. They may yet see some other light. Him, though? Don’t tempt me. (…But then again, no.  I kind of like the sun. For me, consigning him to the endless dark outer cold has more appeal. I hear the region between Pluto’s orbit and the Oort Cloud is nice this time of year.)

Anyway. Stein is not an option for me either. Running for office is not the same as holding it; she has no actual experience in a political position of any kind… so from my point of view she’s already disqualified. But regardless of any position she may or may not be holding on the issues today, she’s already committed what is for me an unforgivable sin. She is a doctor who refuses to come down unequivocally in favor of vaccination. This means one of two things. (1) She either genuinely doesn’t believe in science or thinks somehow that you can cherrypick the bits of it that you like and ignore the others. This is a truly bizarre position for a doctor to take, but we’ve seen it before in the primaries in the form of at least one candidate who made it plain that being capable of brain surgery doesn’t necessarily imply that you’re otherwise rational. (A realization I had to come to grips with decades ago as a student nurse when scrubbing in on brain surgery during my med-surg rotation. Wow but some surgeons are weird.) Or—and this seems more likely to me— (2) She’s so mercenary in her vote-seeking that she’s unwilling to cleanly cut her ties to antivaxxers. For me, that’s worse in its way than not believing in science. It makes her a doctor gone rogue; a being who’s supposed to be saving lives, but is now playing politics with public-health science for her own purposes, and is therefore potentially destroying them. Her unsubstantiable mutterings about the putative influence of Big Pharma on vaccines don’t convince me in the slightest. Her repeated failure to disavow the antivax position without waffling leaves her blatantly in violation of her medical oaths, and by this failure she has irrevocably positioned herself beyond the Pale and beneath contempt.

Johnson comes off a shade better in experience terms, as he’s at least served as a state governor. But otherwise I’m left unimpressed. He wants to get rid of the minimum wage and do away with Social Security and dismantle Medicare? He wants lower taxes for the rich? He supports Citizens United? Really? Bzzt, wrong answers. (And what the hell was that thing he came out with about the Sun going out, the other week? Five billion years is a little too far down the road to kick the climate-change can! But this also speaks to his gifts [or sad lack of them] as a politician. Johnson should know by now that when you’re on the campaign trail, almost all jokes but the most harmless are off limits. And some are off limits whether you’re campaigning or not. Who remembers “In five minutes we bomb Russia”? As if this week we need any more illustrations of the dangers of the live microphone.)

So there you go; as regards the candidates I’ve said my piece. Now, with all this behind us:

You might feel tempted to suggest that I’m too old to have useful opinions in this climate—that I’m inherently part of “the establishment” and “part of the problem.” Were you to say as much, I’d be tempted to suggest—as gently as possible—that you spend a little more time making it plain to your followers in what ways you’re part of the solution. In service of that goal, you might want to consider taking a couple weeks off from the recreational substances your blog suggests you favor* while you do some serious Googling and find out how—and whether—your internal realities actually map usefully onto the external ones: and then lay out your findings for us in more than one- and two-sentence posts. Perhaps you’ve done so already? Then please point me toward it. Otherwise, if you find the time to get around to this, I’ll view the results with interest.

Finally: just a word about people “voting their consciences.” Most people do, but some do it far better than others. A good sign that you’re really voting your conscience is when you’re doing it not because it makes you feel better, but because you feel your vote is going to benefit the body politic as a whole, your countrymen as a whole, and not so much you and your feels.  Sometimes this means voting directly against your own inclinations or preferences. A sign of having truly voted your conscience is that doing so leaves you feeling bruised and uneasy and not particularly satisfied except at the intellectual level. You’re the only one who can tell us how this looks for you… assuming that you choose to.

Now I have a job to do, so (having already voted) I’m going to go do that. Meanwhile, thanks for the excuse to get this  written. And as a final thought: perhaps you’ll have a look at this post about the election and the younger voter, which comes (as a quote) from my old friend David Gerrold. It’s worth a read.

(And one note in closing to the folks who Tumblr-follow me: please don’t be filling up this guy’s inbox with stuff on my account. He’s got his own thinking to do. Let him get on with it in peace.)

*Disclaimer here: at one period in my post-college days I had access to unlimited amounts of marijuana, just for the asking. I smoked quite heavily for a while there until I suddenly realized that the resulting tension relief meant I was also being relieved of the tension that drove my urge to write. I immediately stopped using, and haven’t smoked weed since except for the occasional strictly social toke at a party—one hit, one fake inhale, pass it on. But anyone who thinks I don’t know how to get the best out of a bong should disabuse themselves of the idea tout suite. 🙂

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