Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Experience Matters

Throughout the recent campaign Republicans tried to persuade the electorate that experience matters and that a freshman senator with no relevant experience should not be seated at the controls of the country. This video illustrates, in astonishing fashion, the importance of having an experienced pilot at the controls. It's hard to believe the skill and presence of mind in the midst of crisis that you'll see here.

Imagine what would have happened had a rookie been at the controls.


Reflections on Yesterday

The American electorate put all their chips on a complete unknown and rolled the dice. Now, for better or worse, Barack Obama is president. It's both remarkable and encouraging that a nation with our history can elect an African-American to the presidency. For that we can rejoice. It's just too bad that it happened to be this particular African-American who has broken the barrier.

Obama's victory was a triumph of intuition over knowledge, emotion over reason, race over qualification, style over substance, hope over plausibility, and youth over experience. Perhaps now Michelle Obama can at long last be proud of her country.

Last night's result has buried several myths about the American people: First, that they're generally moderate to conservative and, secondly, that they're corporately wise. Whether the gamble turns out lucky or not, it was exceptionally foolish to have taken such a risk in the first place. Moreover, several other election results are hard to reconcile with the notion that the electorate is either conservative or wise: The facts that John Murtha was reelected in western Pennsylvania and that, as I write this, Al Franken, a self-admitted pornography consumer who shares his taste for pornography with his son, may yet be elected to the U.S. Senate, are incomprehensible if the notion is true. In addition, congress under Democratic leadership has a 74% disapproval rating, but notwithstanding such contempt, the voters who so strongly disapprove of congress chose to award more Democrats with high office. Finally, it's incongruous that a moderately conservative electorate would vote for a party and a candidate that wants to remove all restrictions on abortion, legalize gay marriage, raise taxes, and increase public handouts.

Another myth this election should have exploded, but probably didn't, is the myth of racist America. Obama is our next president because whites voted for him in large numbers. Even those who voted against him did so because of his ideas rather than his race. There may have been a fraction of the anti-Obama vote that was inspired by race, but it was small and insignificant. Indeed, there was at least as much evidence during this campaign of racism in the black community as there was of racism among whites.

At any rate, whoever got our vote, we need to give President Obama our support when we believe he's doing the right thing and speak out on those occasions, which I fear will be frequent, when we think he's not. We also need to remain well-informed because much of his agenda, particularly its more radical elements, will be promoted under the radar and with media connivance.

As for the Republican party perhaps it has learned some very important lessons. The party has to stop nominating aging moderates to contend against younger charismatic liberals. Three of the last four GOP standard bearers - Bush '41, Bob Dole, and John McCain - fit this description, and they all lost to younger, flashier opponents (Clinton, Obama). Secondly, Republicans have to learn that politics is not just about enjoying the status elected office confers or benefiting personally from the emoluments that come one's way, it's about actually serving the country by doing what's right and not what's expedient. Although GOP corruption and fecklessness is no worse, maybe not even as bad as, that of the Democrats, voters expect it of Democrats and give them a pass. Among Republicans, however, corruption is a seen as a symptom of hypocrisy, a sin sure to cause a Republican to find himself in the cross-hairs of the media guns.

Thirdly, Republicans have to find a way to educate the public about the differences between liberalism and conservatism. One of the most distressing things about the last eight years was the inability of George Bush to rally people to his support because he largely left it to others to make the case he should have been making. One of the distressing things about the campaign just ended is how John McCain threw around pejoratives like "socialism" without explaining to people why "socialism" is a bad thing. He acted as if people just know what socialism is and why it's corrosive. They don't. The public, or large swatches of it, have no idea what socialism, fascism, capitalism, or Marxism entail. They need to be educated and that takes leadership.

So, if Republicans ever want to return to the place where they can do good for the nation, they have to seek out candidates who are principled conservatives and who, preferably, don't look like they're ready for a retirement home. They also need to find people to run for congress who are both intelligent and morally virtuous, who see government office as a form of public service rather than self-service, and who know how to both educate and lead.

Unfortunately, this may be difficult to accomplish in the years ahead because a lot of the best people in the GOP may opt to leave it in disgust after seeing how it squandered the opportunity it was given when it held a congressional majority from 1994 to 2006 and the presidency for the last six of those years.

In his book Slouching Toward Gomorrah, Robert Bork tells the story of how he was lamenting to a friend how the United States seemed to be in an ineluctable cultural decline. The friend agreed but he told Bork not to lose heart because such declines take time and in the interim it was still possible to live well. It's my hope that as we slouch under a President Obama toward, if not Gomorrah then at least toward Sweden, that enough talented, principled conservatives will rise up not just to slow the decline but to reverse it. It can be done, but it will take people with vision, integrity, courage, intelligence, talent, energy and determination. Are such people out there?