Election day. I’ve had a lot of requests from people who want to know how I’m going to vote. Before I started blogging, my reply to that was usually a variation on “None of your business”, but then I got into the sideline of telling people my opinions on things every working day. So that answer won’t do.
But what answer will, this year? My political leanings are, I think, fairly clear to anyone who’s read this blog for a while. Economically, I’m a capitalist, for sure. I believe that wealth can most certainly be created, most effectively through human creativity. I would prefer that people be allowed to keep as much of the fruits of their labors as possible, to do with as they wish. I’m a free-trader as well. Tariffs and subsidies do not make me happy. I believe in Adam Smith’s invisible hand, and in comparative advantage, which is why I continue to defend outsourcing even as it takes away jobs in my own industry, in my own country. I think that Schumpeter was right about creative destruction, but he never said it was fun.
In public and social policy, I believe that there should be strong, enforced laws at the limits of behavior – but I try to set those limits fairly wide, out at the “as long as you’re not harming anyone else” line. I think that inside that boundary people should be allowed to do as they damned well please, even if the results don’t please me much. Often, they don’t – but my tastes are not a matter of law. I’m not religious at all, so I feel no need to enforce what I might see as God’s will on anyone. My first (but not sole) requirement for my tolerance of someone else’s religious beliefs is whether they can stand me not sharing them. Not everyone can.
And as for elections, well, I have a low opinion of politicians in general. I realize that this is unfair to the elected officials who are genuinely hard-working public servants, but those people are rather thin on the ground. Ah, politics: watching the game played while growing up in Arkansas did me a lot of good. And studying history has given me no reason to think the game has ever changed. Why should it? Human nature hasn’t. (Any political scheme that proposes to change that should cause you to flee at all speed). No, people are what they are, and the best of them simply don’t go into politics, as a rule.
So, in a President, I’m not looking for charisma or charm – in fact, I rather fear both qualities. I’d like to see enough eloquence to keep someone out of the laughingstock category, but no more, if possible. In general, I’m not looking for someone whose appeal is based on looking good on TV. (Unfortunately for my opinions, our current system for picking presidents largely values the opposites of all these). As for intelligence, I’m looking for someone smart enough to pick advisors who are smarter and more capable than they are themselves. But feeling so smart that you think you’re actually on top of what’s going on is a recipe for disaster. No one at that level is master of events, or really even of their own fate.
All this said, I can’t say that I’m very thrilled with the prospect of either presidential candidate this year – nor is this the first election during which I’ve had that feeling. My economic preferences would tend to make me more Republican – but our current Republican president has spent money like pouring water on the ground, so what does that avail me? I agree with McCain more than Obama on foreign policy, but his statements on the current economic mess have been, to my mind, disgraceful. But then again, Obama’s have been disgraceful, too, as far as I’m concerned. Of course, one has to get elected, and to get elected one has to run around spouting all kinds of nonsense. I learned from my father to watch their hands, not their mouths: actions over words. But McCain’s actions are hard to predict, and as for Obama, someone who came up through Chicago politics is probably capable of things that would even raise the eyebrows of a guy from Arkansas.
I find no comfort further down the ticket. Sarah Palin has not shown herself, to my mind, as qualified to be president. I appreciate the fact that many didn’t think that Harry Truman was, either, and I realize that we’ve gone through several periods where the VP would probably have been disastrous if called on to serve (think Spiro Agnew, John Nance Garner). But no, while I understand the political reasons why McCain chose Palin, I think the choice reflects poorly on him in a larger sense. But on the other side of the ballot, Joe Biden often seems to me like the worst sort of blowhard hack, the walking embodiment of almost everything I can’t stand about national politicians. (Charles Schumer narrowly takes my prize in that category, in case you’re wondering). No, choosing Biden tells me nothing good about Obama.
I think it would do the Republicans a lot of good to be thoroughly out of power for a while, although the thought of Sarah Palin as a rising star in the party is not encouraging. But I think that having the Presidency and both houses of Congress will tend to bring out the worst in the Democrats. What to do? Whatever I do, it’s mostly going to be an exercise for my own conscience. I now live in Massachusetts; Obama will take this state even if an asteroid hits. Back in 1992, I spent so long in the polling booth that people were rattling the door as if it were a public restroom. Bush (Sr.), Bill Clinton, Ross Perot – I kept looking at the names, and finally realized that I couldn’t vote for any of them (admittedly, it took the least time for me to eliminate Perot). I finally voted Libertarian, in the serene hope and confidence that they would not win. But I'm not sure I can run that trick on myself again this year. . .
Update: this is why I generally don't write about politics - this post was no fun to write, and it's probably not much fun to read, either. Be assured that I'm not planningn to take the blog in this direction more than once every few years - the internet is full of political opinions, and doesn't need any more from me. Back to science tomorrow, I promise!