05 January 2008

The Audacity and Pomposity of Politics...

UPDATE: I found this great quiz on USA TODAY. Try it. Did the results surprise you?

I have a confession: I am a closet political junkie. MSNBC (Tim Russert and Keith Olbermann) and CNN (Anderson Cooper) are my Dealers. Courtesy of their reportage, I have been taking hits of Barack Obama, John Edwards, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Rudy Guiliani. Things haven't become so bad that I've been driven to try Hilary Clinton - I mean, I'm not in a "dark" place and that would be the equivalent of "hitting bottom" as far as I'm concerned.

So I've been Googling because I need information. I guess I consider myself a political independent but I've always had Republican leanings, though our present President has pretty much left a bad taste in my mouth with regard for republicans, although I like to think of myself as an open-minded sort. I stood in the rain for almost three hours on a cold November day in 2000, soaking wet but determined to cast my vote in order to elevate George to an office he's turned into a complete disarray. I broke up with George W. Bush several years ago and nearly lost interest in all things political. However, the occasion of the Iowa Caucuses have become my personal excuse for a recent political relapse.

Admittedly and with no apologies, I have absolutely no love for Hilary Clinton. As disappointed as I am with GWB, I can't imagine the pain of having to see her facade or hear her shrill voice pinging from my television set for the next four years. Though I went into the Iowa Caucus coverage knowing next to nothing about Barack Obama, and feeling no affection for John Edwards, I found myself cheering anyone who could unseat her from her self-appointed throne as the implied Democratic front-runner. Whatever Obama or Edwards did or did not represent, it had to be better than anything Hilary could offer and I was more than pleased to watch her uneasily try and pull it together in what was anything but a conciliatory speech Thursday Night after the results of the Iowa Caucus were declared. I detest her. I would cast a write-in vote for her husband before I would ever cast a vote for her, and I have absolutely no respect for him, but the guy is nothing if not charismatic. I find her a few steps below the calibration of repulsive.

But it's odd to find myself cheering on candidates that I know so very little about, and it is because of this that I have been burning up my keyboard in search of answers. I mean, if I'm going to wish success for someone, I'd like to know a little something about them. I would hate to be questioned about my support for candidate X or Y and offer up my reasoning as being, "Well, X or Y isn't Hilary Clinton, and that's good enough for me!". How insane and illogical would that be? I'm not comfortable with that at all. I need information. Facts. A rap sheet. I want answers. I want to see a platform rather than platitudes. Like many Americans, I find myself undecided and confused. I don't care at all what party banner they campaign beneath, or whether they are "red and yellow, black and white". I don't want to know the "spin". I want the truth and that seems to be a very difficult item to unearth and disseminate. Centrifugal force is handy in a research lab, but I honestly think it should be banned in politics.

Does anyone know where the off-switch is on the centrifuge?

Thanks Arianna Huffington, but I don't quite consider you the source of a deep well-spring of truth. You're a marketing maven, but hardly what I'm looking for in terms of breaking news and/or compelling debate. Plus, well, if you must know, your accent reminds me of nails on a blackboard.

Tip O'Neill once said that "all politics is local", and perhaps at one time it was, but that had to be "pre-Internet". In this age of real-time information and real-time MISinformation, it strikes me that "all politics is spin". Spin makes me disgruntled, disoriented and dizzy. I don't want spin, I want the truth. I wonder where it's hiding and I wonder what it is?

It appears as if this is a daunting task, this fact-finding stuff. I have two aquariums in my home and even though the water can look crystal clear, I can sometimes tell that all is not well in the watery world my fish inhabit. For instance, if I notice the smallest change in behavior or note a lack of enthusiasm when food is introduced, I am instantly reminded to examine "the facts". I note the temperature, I check to see if the filter cartridges are spent and need replaced and if both of these vitals check out and yet, for some reason, my fish are acting "fishy", I test the water with strips that report the true condition of what looks like perfectly balanced water and, many times, I am chagrined to discover that the clarity of the water disguises a dangerous shift in pH, or that my fish are finning around in an ammonia soup, too many nitrites, or that my precious black mollies are on the verge of an icky "ick"epidemic because I was trusting that the sparkling appearance of their home meant all was well in their world. After I apply several "litmus tests", only then can I truly decipher the habitability of their aqua-habitat and the true quality of their life. Of course, after I read the results and determine the ranges that need to be adjusted in order to ensure a return to homeostasis, my fish return to the business of being happy fish and behaving as fish are supposed to behave.

Were it so easy in the larger (s)tank of politics. What IS the litmus test? Where can I find those test strips? What's the true nature of the brand of "clarity" being broadcast from this convoluted cacophony of contenders? Who can I trust? Who's hiding something? Which one is speaking out of both sides of his/her mouth and how can I rely on any word that any of these people are saying?

Take the case of charming, "aw shucks" Mike Huckabee. I watched and listened to a round table discussion comprised of Tim Russert (who I unabashedly respect), Andrea Mitchell (covers Hilary Clinton's 'campaign' and who looks tired and so 'over it'), David Gregory (covers Huckabee's campaign and wearing Prada boots), and NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd. I listened as David Gregory was outlining the facts (as he saw them) on Huckabee and most of them were positive and endearing even. And then reporter Chuck Todd said something along the lines of, "but have you not heard what the people inside of Arkansas say about the guy? What his former constituents truly think of him?". Right along with David Gregory, I felt my mood shift. Huh? What? A dark side to Mike Huckabee? I need to know about that. What is being alluded to here that I need to know?

More googling. More wikipedia. More questions. There was that nasty incident with his son, David, ten years ago when his son was somehow implicated in participating in the hanging of a stray dog as he was involved with some activity having to do with the Boy Scouts. I found an article in Newsweek: "A Son's Past Could Come Back to Bite Huckabee". Geez, as if the photo on that site of his son isn't enough to scare you and make you wonder if Mike Huckabee might have married his first cousin, after you get past that, the facts of the story are unsavory and uncovers a situation that involves animal cruelty and the subsequent firing of an Arkansas State employee because he didn't hide the facts very well. What do Arkansans know about Mike Huckabee from first-hand experience that I should know and why do I care that Chuck Norris is grinning broadly behind the candidate as he makes his glowing acceptance speech in Iowa Thursday Night? I don't care that Chuck Norris is backing Mike Huckabee and quite frankly I couldn't help but wonder if there was the "veiled" threat of a roundhouse kick if I choose not to vote for Gov. Huckabee. I really don't care for violence.

What about the candidate's spouses? Do they matter and should they be a factor in the race? Theoretically, I believe the answer is no, but we don't live in "theory". We live in reality and the reality is I need to find something positive about a candidate's spouse. Who's going to have the most profound effect on a future president? His or her cabinet? Get real. The influence will emanate from the person they begin and end each day with and there's no point in pretending otherwise. Judith Nathan Guiliani's face and plastic smile make my skin crawl. She has "other woman" written all over her and she could be the most kind and wonderful person in the world, but that's not what she projects to me. Obama's wife, Michelle, appears poised, intelligent and almost reluctant to be in the spotlight and I like that. Cindy McCain appears as if her face got frozen in a plastic surgery procedure gone awry. Ms. Huckabee looks a little matronly and like some of my elementary school teachers...the ones I recall as being terribly boring.

Bill Clinton is, well, Bill Clinton. I'm sure he would be gracious and entertaining, but I definitely wouldn't feel comfortable if he "watched over" the staff when Hilary was away on presidential business. Let's face it, he's got the brains, the looks, the charisma and the double-coated teflon and she's got...well, she's got to find something else to do. I'm sure she has a personality, but it just doesn't connect very well with "real" America. Do you ever watch her and just get the feeling that she's doing everything she can NOT to explode when she's crossed or contradicted and can you imagine what a mess that might be? I conjure this image of an automaton, with twisted steel springs and nuts and bolts shooting in all kinds of directions...a lot like a dirty bomb.

I'm confused. I'm slightly cynical and maybe I feel a little jaded by it all, but I also understand that I need to be engaged in it because whoever wins the next presidential election could have a major impact on my life and the lives of the people I love and future people I will love (grandchildren). It's confounding, and I swear I am so sick of hearing the overuse of the new buzzword "Change". Hilary Clinton spent untold millions of dollars and hundreds of days in the State of Iowa over the past couple of years, and somehow, Friday Morning, she shares with a reporter how Iowa really doesn't have all that great of a record in predicting who will ultimately be the next president of the United States. Wow Hilary, why did you spend so many millions of dollars and vast quantities of your precious time trying to cajole people into casting a ballot for you? Were you bored? Not much going on in the Senate? At the very least, own your bad performance and sad showing. Just OWN it, already. [For more on the Clintons' proclivity and talent in playing the "blame game", read an article by Steven Adubato, Media Analyst with MSNBC.]

With all due (or undue) respect to Mitt Romney, I would be less than honest or forthright if I didn't admit that his Mormon background bothers me. I've read several books written on the subject of Mormanism and by people who have left it, ("Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer and "Leaving the Saints" by Martha Beck - just to name a couple), that it creates an undeniable discomfort within me to embrace a candidate that practices and believes in the tenets of that sect. Frankly, I'd be just as uncomfortable with a candidate who professed to be a Scientologist, or a follower of Santeria. I realize we're supposed to maintain a separation between church and state, but most of us do care about the beliefs and practices of those we elevate to lead the nation.

It can't be overlooked, in this vast murky tank of tumult, the effects of the "talking heads". As handsome as I believe Keith Olbermann is, or as interesting as I find Tim Russert to be, there are times when I'm convinced the media is just another cog in the political machinery. I like Tom Brokaw and I even share the same birthdate with the guy (though not the same year!), but I don't really care what "his" opinions might be. The most elusive quantity in this election season seems to be the ability to find information without an opinion attached. Pure truth. The opportunity to examine unspun facts and form an opinion based solely on "just the facts". If you think I'm taking the so-called "liberal media" to task, don't even get me started on Fox News' Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity. They send my annoyance indices into the triple digits, according to my latest polling resorts.

Presently, I'm looking closely into Barack Obama. I'm reading anything that looks credible to try and get an idea into who this man is and what makes him tick. He certainly has a great education, an impressive wife and two cute kids. I'm only slightly annoyed that he's one year younger than me, but I certainly wouldn't let that become a deal breaker in terms of affecting my decision to cast a vote for a candidate. I suppose it's just an interesting moment to consider that at 47, I am now one year older than one of the candidates running for president of the United States. You know, like the first time you visit a doctor and are deflated to realize he's younger than you are. I hate reminders that I'm getting older because I swear I'm not.

I know this is a very ticklish and sensitive topic to write about, but I'm not coming out for anyone at this point and what I'm wondering is, how do any of us get to the core of the candidates? It's a shameful sham. As for me, I'm going to keep googling and searching and watching and wondering.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to believe in someone without having to figure out who represents the lesser of all evils? Is that still possible? Well, with the current offerings, I have my doubts. It seems to require a great deal of digging to find out which candidate is least likely to jerk us around, lie to us, raise our taxes and usurp our futures the most painfully. Instead of considering which person to vote FOR, I almost feel as if what I'm really trying to uncover is who to vote AGAINST. I know our system of government wasn't set up to work this way, but sadly I feel that it has become just that.

Barack Obama wrote a book entitled, "The Audacity of Hope". In reviewing and learning more about the current cast of characters running for office, it's not the audacity of hope that piques my curiosity as much as the elusive and fragile quality of it's existence. Politically speaking, anyway.

"American REALLY needs you, Harry Truman. Harry, could you please come home?"