Voting for President

This past weekend, I received an e-mail from Ryan. He is the next generation of a group of friends who have raised their children together, spent holidays together and celebrated the graduations, weddings and births of grandchildren together. This next generation, our sons and daughters, are now spread across the face of the country in pursuit of their careers and yet, despite that geographic separation, this next generation have kept in touch with each other and always look forward to the big gathering over the 4th of July each year.

They are now of an age when the world takes on an earnest meaning and they recognize that they, not us, are responsible for the future. In addition to taking work and careers seriously, they have begun to take politics seriously and that was the gist of the letter from Ryan. Following is the critical excerpt from Ryan’s letter and my response:

“My generation doesn’t want McCain and Palin representing us. Our generation has friends we talk to on the phone and email every day who live in Switzerland, China, Morocco, Argentina. And the world hates us. We want someone who is a diplomat who can deal with the world in a rational way. . . Obama is the best candidate to restore the pride that will allow us to travel the world and not have to hang our head in disgrace and embarrassment. I can’t imagine you’re happy with what the Republican party is putting forth, are you? It’s lunacy. And I think Palin’s experience is legit (I mean, I went from a small Portland-based firm to one of the largest in the world and it wasn’t a problem at all) and I still think it’s lunacy.”

Dear Ryan:

The unfortunate thing about politics is that it is more a manipulation of perception than a discussion of facts. There is no other way to explain a presidential race in which a person whose life experience is that of a “community organizer” and a freshman senator can be deemed to be fully qualified to become President of the United States and another person who has been a mayor and governor is deemed to be so inexperienced that she should stay home and mind the children.

But let’s start with your assertion that “the world hates us.” I’m sorry, that is simply not true. Much of the world envies us but they do not hate us. In Europe, the ruling class is angry that the Bush administration has not treated them as equal partners in making decisions critical to the security of the United States. The intellectual class of Europe, like the intellectual class in America, always hates the government in power because they think they are intellectually superior. But for the vast majority of working men and women in Europe, they like America and Americans. Given half a chance and a good job they would leave tomorrow to become a part of this great democratic experience.

There are parts of the Muslim world that have been taught to hate everything that is not Muslim, including the United States as the Great Satan. The hatemongers who run the madrassas in Southwest Asia cannot understand how the United States and other Western Nations can enjoy such a high standard of living when they are basically stuck in the seventh century. People often hate what they envy, hate those who are different, hate that which they cannot explain. It worked for Hitler and it is working for Muslim fanatics. And yet, despite that culture of hate, many people in Southwest Asia like America and Americans. And they like the working men and women of Europe would, given half a chance and a good job, leave tomorrow to join us here in America.

In Africa, most people are struggling just to find their next meal and to avoid being killed in ritual genocide practiced by one tribe upon another. For them, America is irrelevant and largely unknown. To suggest that they hate America assumes that they even think about America. But in those pockets of Africa where there is development and a growing middle (merchant) class, they see America as a goal not an enemy.

And finally, in South America there will always be regional loudmouths like Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega who need an enemy to justify their excesses. And to look good for their people, they need to pick out a “big enemy.” One they can “stand up to” to show their bravery and fortitude. While they arm themselves to “resist an imminent invasion by the United States”, they know full well that no such invasion is forthcoming and the real reason for arming themselves is to control their own citizens. But it is these tinpot despots who hate America and not their citizens.

I grant you that President Bush has been ham handed in dealing with the egos of other countries. But we have had recent experience with a president who thought it was more important for everybody to love us rather than respect us — Jimmy Carter. And the world understood almost immediately that, under Carter, America was a paper tiger — unwilling to risk criticism to protect its own interests. In the end, while the rest of world sniggered up its collective sleeve, America was held hostage by a group of religious fanatics and students in Iran — and America had gained neither love nor respect from the rest of the world.

But back to Obama. Obama has zero experience in international relations. How he will do in that arena is a big question mark. There is nothing in his education, life experience or brief political career that would suggest success or failure. Those who are pinning their hopes on a great future simply because Obama is not Bush may be in for a big surprise.

But this is your generation and your generation’s responsibility. It is a sober responsibility and not one that should be advanced by slogans, rock bands or Hollywood celebrities. The best test of a man (or woman) is the test of judgment. How one responds in a past crises is the best indicator of how (s)he will respond in a future one.

I confess that I don’t like John McCain — never have, not since I met him over eight years ago when he first ran for president. I was stunned when he won the Republican nomination, almost as stunned as I was when Obama beat Hillary. And when it comes to judgment, I’m not a real fan of either Obama or McCain. Obama’s judgement (or better the lack thereof) is shown by his association with the likes of Wright, Ayers and Renzo and his lack of candor about the depth and length of those associations. McCain’s judgment (or better the lack thereof) is shown by his willingness to stab his party in the back routinely, his belief that playing footsie with the likes of the New York Times would win their endorsement, and his jaw-dropping suggestion that taxpayers buy up the difference between mortgage balances and current home valuations as a cure for the sub-prime mortgage crises. But there is one area where I tend to think that McCain has demonstrated good judgement and that is in the area of national security.

All things being equal, the safety of this country and its people comes first.

But let’s not jump off the bridge. The polls show that Obama is going to coast to an easy victory. This country survived Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. Even if all of the worst speculation about Barack Obama is true (and it most certainly is not) the republic will survive Obama. And what the hell, he may even turn out to be like Harry Truman (rather than John Kennedy) and become a great president.

So Ryan, go forth and vote for whomever you please. But vote knowing that you and your generation must accept the responsibility for what follows.