Thursday, November 1, 2012

What a President Understands

Anyone who knows me knows that I will be voting for Obama. No reluctantly as the least bad option, but as the only politician I've ever gladly helped elect.

I was thinking about what makes him so appealing to me after hearing for the 40 billionth time that Romney thinks a President should primarily "know about business". It occurred to me that this seems to be accepted wisdom, and honestly? I want a president that primarily understands people. Because a government of the people should have a primary representative who understands people and cares about people. What people want, what people need, why people do things. When they don't know, they make an effort to find out. And by a vast margin, President Obama understands people from all walks of life in a way Romney has demonstrated that he doesn't, and doesn't care to, and can't even fake. Romney also demonstrates the kind of behaviors used by bullies - he would make himself better comparatively by holding others down. Obama would rather lift everyone up. And so would I (on my better days, at least).

Even more, for all that business relies on people, businesses don't need to care about people - if they did, we wouldn't have developed unions or regulations. Sometimes we need government to step in and protect the majority of people from the tyranny of the few - and from the businesses. One careless business or one bad neighbor can really spoil things for a disproportionate number of people. There's also a lot of talk about how markets will sort out answers to problems. The two main problems with markets are that there's uncorrectable asymmetry in all aspects of markets, and markets aren't moral. Free markets are needed to achieve those mythic optimal solutions and we expect some solutions to be moral, so unregulated markets aren't the best way to solve those problems as, ironically, they aren't really free.

Even without invoking religion, government can help promote moral solutions (and I can't believe I wrote that either, but "can" =/= "does") and promote market symmetry with regulation and enforcement of business. And historically, solutions that limit business in order to help improve the lives of people in society are better for everyone, including the massively wealthy. The massively wealthy in a land of serfs are comparatively more well off than the serfs, but like bullies, they're less well off than they'd be if the majority of people were productive citizens working on the most advanced thing they can rather than scratching every day to survive.

One example of this is Saddam's palace. It was the "best" estate in Iraq, and from the reports I read, it was kind of a shithole. Ornate, but clunky and prone to breaking and inefficiency. He didn't even have the best available in the world, and the best available in Iraq wasn't all that great. Surely on some things he did have the best in the world, but in the main? Not for the household goods. If the average goods in Iraq were, on average, excellent, the best in the country would truly have been impressive. But he cared more about keeping others down so he could stay on top.

Instead of thinking about ways to make the country better, dictators and bullies spent time keeping others down and consolidating their personal power. It's an enormous waste for temporary gain and makes the average standard of living worse. The better off the average person is, the further they can plan into the future and the less likely they are to stage a revolt. When everyone's hungry, 10 years from now doesn't matter. Ten days from now may not matter. When you can't think past 10 hours, you really have nothing left to lose. I don't want to live in a country with nothing left to lose. I want to live in a country that provides opportunities that allow everyone to do something beyond just survive, and right now, we don't meet that threshold for an alarming percentage of our populace - it's well into the double digits. The richest country in the world should be able to care for its poorest. And our poorest shouldn't actually be poor.

I will to vote for the humanist over the businessman. If the humanist hires good advisors, the businesses can be accommodated.

I like that Obama can multitask. I like his choice of priorities. I like that he has shown concern for all people, even after I may have written them off as not worth the time. I like that Obama considers what he does and says. I know he does this because from the day he was elected, his public speech contains many pauses that didn't happen beforehand - in particular there was a "keep up the good work" speech to his Chicago campaign staff in 2008 that he delivered off the cuff, fluidly, for 15 minutes.

There are some things I'm not as thrilled with (drug war comes to mind), but there isn't a single thing he's doing that a Republican would do more to my liking.

To cap it off, Obama has kept his cool in a way I could never do. Probably because he's had to and I haven't. He knows that he can never be seen as "angry black man", not even once, and so far so good. See the comedy show Key and Peele for good "Obama interpreted by Angry Obama" for a handy reference of how I would react to traitorous intransigence that puts the party over the country. Obama has kept people calm in crisis after crisis. He's managed to NOT get us into war with Syria or Iran, something some Republicans are actively advocating. I think it's hard to judge a person on what doesn't happen on their watch, but after living through the Bush II years, I now know what happens when those things aren't prevented and preventing avoidable issues are some of the most important things a president does. We just had a massive storm wipe out part of our biggest city and several states, and the vibe coming from the White House is "Keep Calm and Carry On" not "Let's Panic and go to War!" I want a president who believes we are strong. I want a president who promotes our strength by allowing us to be strong, not by making others weak. And in this election, that choice is Barack Obama.

I really hope that the storm damage doesn't prevent people from voting next tuesday. Carry on.

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