During election cycles, students often ask, Who do you like? Where do you stand on the issues? Given that I majored in and long taught history and government, I suppose it’s a fair question.
Around school I tend to keep my responses evasive and vague for fear of unduly influencing the teenage minds surrounding me as they explore this stuff for the first time. Putting myself in their shoes, I recall that when I first voted – Nixon v. McGovern, 1972 – my grasp of (inter)national affairs was weak and I tended to give too much credence according to where my role models and perceived villains stood on the issues. (I also had no small degree of self-interest coloring my motivations in the form of a small country in southeast Asia by the name of Vietnam.)
With the November 2016 elections just a few months away, the presidential race currently resembles a Barnum & Bailey production, the likes of which we’ve never seen. And as H. L. Mencken (1888-1956) famously said, “Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.”
So, here are 5 random thoughts from an Independent mired deep in the camp of the undecided.
- This month, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “America needs a healthy two-party system. America needs a healthy center-right party to ensure that the Democrats remain a healthy center-left party.” What we’ve got today brings to mind the clever words of humorist Will Rogers (1879-1935): “The more you observe politics, the more you’ve got to admit that each party is worse than the other.”
- We used to judge the content of one’s opinion. (See Evelyn Beatrice Hall, 1868-1956: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”) Now we judge the holder of the opinion. (See Facebook, or any contemporary prestigious college or university.)
- Beginning with Ike, I’ve lived under 11 presidents. If given a hall pass to hang out with any one of them for a day, I’d go with Obama. (If anyone out there can arrange some full-court 5-on-5 hoops, I stand ready to drop everything on but a moment’s notice!) I like him. At the same time, pronouncements of either his greatness or ineptitude are premature. Contrary to many popular Facebook memes, the economy doesn’t line up in nice, neat 4-year windows corresponding directly with the actions of a given president. It’s more like the President is working the wheel of the Queen Mary in a mighty unpredictable ocean with his (so far, anyway) actions (and inactions) showing their true results in delayed reaction further down the line. Is our apparent recovery, as some economists believe, a Wall Street mirage? Is our military preparedness where it needs to be? I don’t know. Neither do you. But history does and it will surely tell us. So, let us hold the judgments for a couple of election cycles and find out.
- Although Laura and I are both CNN junkies, I find myself suspicious of what goes into their decisions of how much time to apportion to which stories. Maybe I suffer from goodolddaysitis, but I can’t shake this sense that Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley told me what they thought I needed to know regardless of whether I wanted to know it. One suggestion: Dial down the number of debates – I mean, how many times do we really need to see how accomplished a given candidate is at the art of argument? – Then dazzle us with a ground-breaking “outside the box” interactive format between candidates and the public. Give us something no one has ever seen.
- Ever noticed how some of the same folks who back in ’04 boldly proclaimed “A.B.B.” – Anybody But Bush – get all worked up today when someone substitutes “Hillary” or “The Donald” for “Bush?” Perhaps I’m too much of a stickler for the literal meaning of “anybody,” but the “A.B. _____” pronouncement strikes me as both lazy and irresponsible.
And one more thing: I’ve always disliked the Electoral College. This year I learned that I also dislike the Super-Delegate…er, construct… or whatever it is.
In any case, something tells me that this fall will not be boring.
Onward, Malcolm Gauld