Friday, September 16, 2011

I Believe I Can Fly: Episode 2

I was actually sitting in the planning meeting for the Reno Air Show, and I have the transcript. 

"Hmmm...  Let me make sure that I understand what you're saying.  We're going to have 80-year old technology, and an 80-year old pilot.  Both flying at high speeds and low altitudes." 


"Great.  Let's make sure that we get the fans in the middle of the action.  There's no way anything bad could happen."



Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New Chapters

Seven years ago, way back in 2004, I put up an innocent little blurb.  Basically, I was explaining how indifference was the true winner in the 2004 presidential election, since Bush only got 59 million votes, which was more than Kerry's 55 million, but well less than the roughly 100 million non-votes. It went something like:

Ordinarily, I'm all for voting and the democratic process, but this time I stayed home. Why was that? My vote would not have mattered. I'm in Illinois. Kerry won by 11 points. He probably won Chicago by about 30 points. Chicago completely overshadows the rest of the state. My vote is negated by the huge mass that is Chicago. Does that speak for me? Not at all.

I also sort of explained my voting ethos, and confessed to how it was sort of the opposite of issues-based, informed voting:

How would I have voted has my vote mattered? Probably Bush, mainly because he seems likable and Kerry seems stiff. Probably because I'm used to Bush, and unfamiliar with Kerry. Probably because Bush is entertaining, and Kerry is the opposite of entertaining. 

But what is really interesting to me is what I had to say about the Democrats back in 2004:

But Kerry's party opens up a huge Pandora's Box. The Republicans have a good sense not to go too overboard to the right, lest they offend their slightly right-leaning base. However, the Democrats do not. They know that the majority of people stay in the central, yet their agenda seems overhwelmingly left. And that scares me. There are already enough people who don't share my views speaking for me. 

What intrigues me, is that now, as we look back at the 2010 elections, and look forward to the 2011 elections, is that if you were to do a find-and-replace on that last blurb, only focus on the overwhelming Tea Party movement in the Grand ol' Party, then you see this forced polarization.  A lot of this can be thought about in a Hotelling model, which I discussed back in early 2008, when I explained how Obama was going to hammer McCain.

As I think about the Democratic party, they made a brilliant play back in 2007.  They knew that if they fought the battle from the far-left end of the spectrum, it was going to be a crap-shoot at best.  Facts be damned, the perception of Hillary was that she was well left of center.  On the other hand, Obama was seen as a pragmatist, a more moderate Democrat.  So they put their efforts behind Obama, who was able to bring out independent voters in droves.

The Republicans had two things work against them.  First, they basically got unlucky.  They sent McCain up against him, and despite being relatively similar in terms of where they stood (moderate-left vs. moderate-right), got hammered because of Obama's charisma, speaking ability, and ability to win non-affiliated voters (and to bring out the black vote).  Against Hillary (who would be seen as being much more liberal than she probably was),  McCain would have had a legit fighting chance, because he could have claimed a lot of the space that Obama ended up winning.  Instead, McCain went toe-to-toe against Obama, with predictably poor results.

But the second thing was their own doing.  The Republicans got stupid, or more specifically, fragmented.  Basically, the far right tried to hold the rest of the party hostage.  They said that if they went with McCain (who was seen as too much of a centrist), that they'd hold their breaths until their faces turned blue, and that they wouldn't come out to vote (they then repeated this tactic by making filibuster a normal part of the arsenal, which was replicated by the Wisconsin Democrats who tried to duck votes by leaving the state).  They wanted to push the party forward with their own agenda.  When you have this sort of dissension within your own party, then things are likely to go poorly.

So flash forward.  How in the world did this whole Tea Party thing take off?  Tina Fey's caricature of Sarah Palin becomes a real-life thing, where Sarah Palin and the Tea Party became caricatures of caricatures.  Somehow the need to be a non-insider has devolved into the need to be a non-intellectual.  The Tea Party has taken the populism of a Bill Clinton, and raised the stakes so that the GOP is not represented by the thoughtful conservatism of George Will, but rather the moderate-IQ audaciousness of folks like Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann.  Somehow the Republican party has gone from the intellectual establishment, fighting off poorly thought out, radical ideology (think college students with Che Guevara t-shirts, talking about freedom), to being a different version of poorly thought out, radical ideology, lashing out at the intellectual establishment.

Charisma doesn't mean that you have to dumb down the speaker, simply because the audience has a moderate IQ.  The audacity of hope, thinking that, "This guy is a symbol that I can aspire to," should be preferred to thinking, "Hey, I like that dude because his grades were even worse than mine."  I certainly wish that the Republican party would have their own version of a Harvard Law magna cum laude, who was president of the law review as a grad student.  I certainly wish that they would have someone who was well-respected enough to be asked to teach law at University of Chicago.  Instead, the GOP icons are some dude who was a C student at Texas A&M, and some chick who transferred 6 times in 5 years (doing stints at 2 community colleges) before finally getting a communications degree.  All in all, the Republican Party holds it's membership in such low esteem that they trotted out a bunch of C students because they thought that these folks were the only ones that were charismatic enough for the audience. 

And perhaps more depressingly, the Republican party has gone from the moral high ground (think about how the GOP tried to hammer Clinton on his morality), into a party that embraces (or at least looks the other way at) a lot of ethically questionable activity.  Even for George W. Bush, for all of his failings, was able to hold a moral high ground, as someone who had shed drinking and immaturity, and embraced his faith.  Instead we get Perry, who fights against transparency, uses his office for personal benefit, and embraces the hiring of political contributors into public office as the frontrunner.

So for the first 33 years of my life, I've always identified myself as a Republican.  Dug Reagan, before I knew anything about anything (I may have gotten confused with the Max Hedroom-esque version in Back to the Future II).  Knew that Jimmy Carter was an awful president, despite only being 3 when he lost in the 1980 election.  I was all for George Herbert Walker Bush, and thought that he got ripped off against Clinton in 1992.  During his presidency, I thought that Clinton was slimy, and I was happy for W to beat Gore in 2000, and was for W's re-election in 2004.  I registered Republican, voted Republican (when I voted), and was generally good with the basic arguments behind conservative thinking.  I read Rush Limbaugh books in high school, and I still buy into the notion of rugged individualism.

But this party has been hijacked by folks that use tactics that are parallel to terrorism.  This party has moved from the intellectual high ground to a party that relies on brinksmanship for all of it's activities.  Ideology has usurped pragmatism, and the party is content to use outright threats and scorched earth sentiment, rather than hammer out effective solutions.  When it's a badge of honor that you would cut off your nose to spite your face (or to accept $1 in tax increases for every $10 in spending cuts), then you have a party that is relying on ideology.  This isn't rugged individualism.  This is a bunch of lemmings following the herd.  And when that ideology is being offered up by a bunch of C students, then at some point, I have to excuse myself from the party.