I am pretty apolitical. I view government as a necessary evil. The political process seems horribly compromised, most politicians seem hopelessly compromised. The campaign ads make me barf. I will be happy when election season is over. Usually I just keep my head down during the season and try to keep my views to myself.
But Facebook has made me increasingly uncomfortable with that policy. I get a flood of political traffic in my timeline every day. Many of these postings espouse positions that I don’t agree with, and I worry that my silence implies my assent. And I feel like the “new normal” is to share your political views, and that perhaps this might even be a good thing, leading to more citizen participation in politics. So I am going to try to be a more involved participant, starting by explaining my vote for Obama in the presidential election.
In considering my vote, I take the long view. What is the impact of my vote on the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years — the remainder of my life, and the heart of my children’s life. The issues of the moment will pass — no one will remember the fine points of the debates this month. The exact marginal tax rate doesn’t matter that much, we have survived adequately as a nation with rates as low as 15% and as high as 90%. The foreign policy crises of the moment will be forgotten. What matters are the structural policy decisions we make that will create enduring change in our society.
For me, fairness and openness are at the heart of our society, the uncompromisable core. Do we treat everyone equally? Does everyone feel like they have a fair shot at the good things in life? Can we talk openly about our society and its problems without fear of reprisal? Can we be critical of our institutions and practices? Do we embrace the diversity in our society and the richness it brings? Does everyone feel valued, and is everyone engaged positively in building a better society? Is everyone’s voice heard? Do we have open processes to make changes in our society?
If we break openness and fairness in our society, then it is very hard to move on and work on any other set of issues. Without openness and fairness, people disengage in productive activities. They engage in civil disobedience or worse. The nation loses its moral authority and leadership abroad.
There are three current openness/fairness issues in front of us, and Obama is in the right on two of them:
* A significant portion of our population feels discriminated against today, due to the same-sex marriage issue. They face discrimination in the tax code. In adoption and guardianship issues. In access to health insurance and benefits. In times of critical health issues. And in many more ways. We need to fix this, and fix it at the federal level, it is wrong to have variation in this basic civil right state by state. After some dithering, Obama is moving to the right position on this issue.
* Healthcare is another fairness issue. It is hard to pursue happiness if you are fighting health problems or can’t even get basic healthcare. It is terrible that kids don’t have access to uniform care, it is terrible that young mothers can’t get basic healthcare. It is bad that you have to work for a large corporation to get decent coverage. Obamacare is a tepid and compromised first step to addressing our healthcare issues, and not every aspect of it is right. But it is an attempt to address the issues, and we need to be moving ahead, not stepping backwards.
* Campaign finance is a threat to the openness of our society. The lack of any limits on corporate giving is bizarre, we are letting our political process be corrupted by corporations and organizations. This hits right at the “of the people, by the people, for the people” principle. I am a believer in a simple rule — if you can vote, you can give money. If you can’t vote, you shouldn’t be able to donate. Neither party is doing us any favors here, they both have their snouts in the campaign finance trough.
These are not the only openness and fairness issues — we have many more we need to work on. Access to quality education. Transparency in banking and finance. Privacy rights. Women’s rights. But these 3 are on my mind and on 2 of them, there are material differences between the candidates.
These issues trump everything else in the long run. Yes we need to work on economic growth, but to what end if our society and values are compromised? Yes we need to work on the budget and deficits. Yes we have foreign policy issues. But these will all be easier to work on if all our citizenry is valued and engaged, if we can talk openly about our issues, and if our institutions are not compromised.