The Last Few Political Arguments (Until Congress is Back in Session)

This is about the election.

Are you surprised? Nope, didn’t think so. So, in case you’re burned out on political coverage, don’t read any further than the next line:

VOTE.

Now, the rest of this article is is going to be about three topics:

Real “Fiscal Responsibility”, or When Your Best Friend Votes Libertarian  – this part gets a little wonky

What is Overreacting? – this part is ANGRY

What Voter Efficacy Really Means – this part is encouraging!

Read what you want, or just skip to the end.

Real “Fiscal Responsibility, or When Your Best Friend Votes Libertarian

So, I’m at the grocery store after work, picking up some apples and bread, when I run into an acquaintance. We make small talk for a little bit, until he notices in the book under my arm, which is Michael Lind’s Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.

“Are you a student?” he asks me.

“No,” I say. “Just reading it for me.”

“Oh. So just a badass, then,” he says. Then his smile quickly turns into a serious shark face when he leans in a little too close and said, “Who are you supporting for president?”

“Barack Obama,” I say.

He raises his eyebrows, predator having sighted his prey.

“Oh really? Are you fiscally responsible?

Let me note that this grocery store is extremely small and very cramped, difficult to move around in even at the least crowded times. But here we are in the after-work rush, almost blocking an entire aisle, bitching about productive economic policy.

A couple of days later, I get a text from my best friend. We’ve known each other since we were three, but now she lives in Denver. She asks me what I’m reading, and lo and behold, it’s the same book. Her response: I wish I understood the economy more…I have recently become a libertarian supporter though haha.

Did my blood run cold? Yes, it did. When I pressed her about it, she said I like that [libertarian candidate Gary Johnson] ‘s fiscally conservative and socially progressive. I thought I could talk her out of it, but then I got this nail in the coffin: yeah I did a mail in ballot.

She’d already voted. Look, I love this girl. Our families used to vacation together! I might as well call her my sister, because that’s how close we have always been. And becoming politically aware is a journey – when we were eleven we got into one of our biggest fights ever about the abortion rights. Then, years later, she started doing embryonic stem cell work. She’s pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-decriminalization of marijuana…you pick a socially liberal topic, and she supports it. My grocery store sparring buddy said much the same – he described himself as “socially liberal” but “financially conservative”.

But I don’t think either one of them is aware of what that means. A popular argument among we left-of-center voters is that people who vote right of center are placing their personal financial well-being over the general good. In other words, they think their money is more important than another person’s civil rights. That’s a pretty terrible set of priorities. But these people don’t think of it that way. They think “fiscal responsibility” should come first, because our country is in debt and fixing the debt will ultimately fix social issues. That is, of course, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Some people on the right will vote that way because they’re fighting to maintain the racist, sexist, unequal society we live in. Fuck them.

So, what is “fiscal responsibility”, the way Republicans, Libertarians, and people who vote for them see it? Part of it is basic financial wisdom – if you are in debt, you must cut spending. Another part of it is about deregulating many of our industries and markets, and shrinking government involvement in the economy. This deregulation, they assume, would mean that there would be more competition, and the invisible hand of the market would correct our recession. However, they are still interested in protectionist actions against other large economies, like China and Japan.

Let’s address that first bit, because that’s what most people seem to cling to. If you owe someone money, you should cut spending until you can pay it back. Right? That’s basic knowledge that we all learned in high school econ. When I’m short on rent, I don’t go out to eat, or see movies, or buy books. I don’t have to increase my revenue (aka, work more hours), because I’m cutting spending. Smart, huh?

But the comparison gets fuzzy, because, while my debt is owned by a number of private entities (my landlord, SallieMae, etc.), my spending does not account for the care and welfare of 314,714,831 people. I don’t have expenses that spread internationally, accounting for the stability of foreign economies. So maybe that balanced budget wisdom handed down to us from the wise money-managers we know is not so wise after all. Because what is good for an individual is not always good for a government. People who are in debt, just like people who vote for the “fiscally responsible/conservative candidate”, want a strong middle class. They want a healthy economy where it’s possible to make money towards a better life. But, as austerity measures in Europe have demonstrated, cutting back on social spending is only making life worse.

Ideally, people would stop saying fiscal responsibility. They’d say “long-term economic responsibility”, because that’s what they mean, anyway. That would mean some cuts in spending, but it would mostly mean more legislation in terms of the stimulus package. It’s better to spend money now on training workers and making up the wage gap, because our economy is based on consumers. We are the brick foundation that holds the up the house, and getting money into the hands of consumers for the long run is what’s going to heal the economy. Trying to balance the budget right now is folly – FDR tried in 1937, and almost sent the country back into a depression. What’s that other piece of common financial wisdom? Oh, right. You have to spend money to make money.

So, those people whose only argument for voting for socially backward candidates is that they have a better economic policy are wrong on that count, too. Remember how your parents told you that student loans were a “good debt”? Well, so is recession spending, because, just like student loans, it pays off bigger in the future.

And all that nonsense about complete deregulation leading to competition and lower prices for consumers? Well, ask yourself  this, then.

Why can’t you get an unlimited data plan anymore?

What is Overreacting?

As you can probably tell, I’m a very opinionated person. Once, a guy tried to hit on me at a bar but instead of exchanging phone numbers, we got into a fight about affirmative action. Whoa, calm down, you may be thinking. But let me say this: he was a white guy, a lawyer who lived in Manhattan, who said that affirmative action had actually made his life and career more difficult. He was a lawyer who lived in Manhattan.

So, I said something about it. So, we got in a fight. So, later, the friend I was with told me I was being a little bit too serious and needed to stop overreacting. Other note: as a non-white person, I am frequently asked where I’m from. When I say, Michigan, they say, no, but where are you really from, which means, why aren’t you white? This also upsets me, and I’m not shy about telling people that I’m upset about it. And what do they tell me? Come on, Gemma, you’re overreacting.

Maybe you agree with them. Maybe you think I should be polite and back away from these conversations. But I think nobody changes their behavior unless you call them out on it. That’s why it’s good to be vocal, as long as you’re smart. A lot of people are sick of political coverage right now, and they’re tired of reading all of the damn Facebook posts about why whoever is the worst and will cause the country to descend into a thousand years of darkness. People are tired of canvassers and that little girl is tired of Bronco Bamma (I hate that video so I will not link  it). As well they should be – much of political rhetoric is tired and lazy, radical or reactionary responses devoid of reason or thought.

But, just like telling some entitled asshole off, some political anger is good. Some political anger is healthy.

The argument has been made that civil discourse, where two disagreeing parties have a calm and reasonable discussion with each other, is much preferred to the kind of cage fighting we saw in the second presidential debate. Was Barack Obama too aggressive? Did Joe Biden laugh at Paul Ryan too much? You know, I would love to have a political system where participants could behave like adults and discuss two sides of an issue without resorting to childish tactics, but as long as there are people in this world who truly believe that basic biology is a grand conspiracy, that gay people can cause hurricanes, and that women are too stupid to vote, there is no call for polite discourse. We shouldn’t be polite about intellectual dishonesty and discrimination – we should react loudly and clearly, and when people tell us to calm down already, we should say NO. We all deserve better and we’re going to yell about it until you pay fucking attention, already.

People say, why vote? All politicians are the same. But that’s laziness at best, and willful ignorance at worst. Look at history. The world has changed. We work 8 hour days and 40 hour weeks. I, a non-white woman, am allowed to vote. In some places, gay people are allowed to get married. How did that happen? People refusing to calm down. That’s political involvement, and it involves the ballot box.

Which neatly leads me to…

What Voter Efficacy Really Means

I won’t date anyone who doesn’t vote. Sorry. Just won’t. But, you say, there are very good and reasonable arguments for not voting.

Says Katherine Mangu-Ward:

Your vote will almost certainly not determine the outcome of any public election. I’m not talking about conspiracy theories regarding rigged elections or malfunctioning voting machines—although both of those things have happened and will happen again. I’m not talking about swing states or Supreme Court power grabs or the weirdness of the Electoral College. I’m talking about pure, raw math.

It is mathematically improbable that your single vote will sway the election. That does not, however, mean that your vote doesn’t count. I’m not going to explain the electoral college, or even defend it as a system, (read about it here) but suffice to say, while your vote doesn’t decide the national election, it definitely, absolutely counts, even if you live in New York City or Stillwater, Oklahoma (Oklahoma is the only state that did have a single district poll for Barack Obama in 2008). People who suggest otherwise are free to abstain from voting, but they must realize that this only works because OTHER PEOPLE VOTE. You can read the rest of her article here. 

You know what? This just makes me mad, and I promised encouragement, so I’m not even going to talk about the main arguments non-voters like to use. I’ll let Errol Morris take care of that in his incredibly smart mini-documentary, 11 Excellent Reasons Not to Vote?

Here’s another link: Slate’s Kerry Howley with “The Case for Not Voting”. This article repeats some of the arguments in the one quoted above. Both suggest that many people have a duty not to vote, because they are ill-informed. I do agree that people who don’t understand the issues, or have no opinion on them, should not vote. But Howley suggests that it’s just too hard to find the time to inform yourself. “Should we have perused Mitt Romney’s curious tax plan?”, she asks.

Yes. The answer is yes, we should have. Real voter efficacy does not mean a 100% percent voter turn-out. Don’t get me wrong. Every adult American citizen should have the right to vote. It means a turn-out of the most educated voters, which, in a dream world, would be 100%. When I say I don’t want to date a non-voter, it means I don’t want to date someone who doesn’t take the time to learn about the world around him. Being aware of what our government does is imperative.

My dear friend who voted Libertarian had this to say: I don’t feel like I should have to vote for a candidate I don’t agree with. That, at least, I can get behind. Inform yourself. Do the research. But don’t write in “Space Ghost”. Seriously, no one is going to read your dumb write-in over the loudspeaker. Vote if you feel you have all the information you need – that’s voter efficacy.

The American experiment was a radical step forward in self-governance. Back when we were a colony, some loud, pushy people who didn’t like what was being done with their money decided to break from the mother country and try something else. No peerages here, no, no hereditary government seats. Our founders, flawed as they may have been (and I’ve read and loved A People’s History of the United States) wrote a constitution intending to enfranchise the average citizen, to give those being governed a voice in the government. Before, leaders were unseated by coups and revolutions. Now, they were to be unseated by what amounted to job performance reviews. Do you know what this means? It means you get to choose. And you should. We were given control of sovereignty, and we should damn well use it. The founders of this country must have, in their idealistic, conflicted hearts, believed that the American citizen should be entitled to have a say in the way his country was run.

You do. So So stop whining about how terrible everything is and do something about it. Start with a vote. And then, who knows?

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