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Category Archives: politics

Election Thoughts 2: American Edition

Okay, first, if you haven’t seen Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barak Obama, check it out. I doubt it will change things very much, but it’s far and away the most eloquent and moving thing I’ve seen come out of either side of the campaign.

I can’t vote in the US, but I like to make-believe I can. When Obama and McCain started the campaign, I was actually hoping more for a McCain presidency more than an Obama one. Obama seemed unproven and the beneficiary of a cult of personality, whereas McCain seemed like a reasonable, honourable moderate who would be able to work well with a Democratic senate and congress and possibly steer his own party toward the center, or at least center-right. But in any case, I thought, either would be vastly better than the Bush presidency.

Turns out I was completely wrong. In picking Palin, McCain showed himself to be unreasonable, unprincipled, and beholden to the Republican far right. He also raised the spectre of a president who would be everything wrong with Bush, but somehow even worse. Pretty much everything the pair has done since then just reinforces that. (I can’t imagine McCain is happy about any of this, either: when it comes time to tell the story of John McCain, it’s going to be downright Shakespearean.)

At the same time, pretty much everything Obama has done has shown him to be the kind of person who should be president. I don’t buy that Obama is a new JFK, or even a new Clinton, but I do completely buy that he’s the man for the job. I have a strange and unfamiliar feeling when I read about American politics now. I think it’s… hope? Or at least hope’s little brother, cautious optimism?

election thoughts

First off, this is just funny:

And so, another Canadian election has come and gone. To be honest, while I’m no particular fan of the Tories, I think the outcome we got was the best available. I may not agree with or even personally like Harper, but I do think he’s a competent and committed servant of the people and not the closet ideologue he’s sometimes made out to be. And I think he’s done the right thing in not overreacting on the financial crisis, given that the foundations of our financial system really do seem to be relatively sound. However, I’m not ready yet to think Stephen Harper should be given a majority, and far and away the number one reason for that is his short-sighted view on climate change. I predict that as a nation, we will increasingly come to see our inaction as a major political, economic and moral failing in years to come. Particularly since even if John McCain manages, against all odds, to win, the US will still have a greener chief executive than Canada. Hopefully, pressure from the opposition parties, the provinces, the EU, and the post-Bush US, combined with the drop in oil prices, will tip the political scales in favour of an aggressive Tory environmental plan. It may make the base unhappy, but seriously, where are they going to go? It could even be what the Tories need to pick up some extra seats in the cities and the east.

I have a lot of respect for Dion as a person, and even as a politician, but I’ve never once seen him giving a speech or interview and thought, “now, he would be a good leader”. Hopefully he’ll be able to act as environment minister in a future Liberal government under… Prime Minister Ignatieff, perhaps? The Grits need more than just a leadership change, but having an effective leader who isn’t the compromise choice looks to me like an essential first step back to power. Ignatieff is looking less and less like an American carpetbagger, and I suspect the idea of a eloquent, slightly glamorous intellectual as leader is only going to look better when Barak Obama wins. Plus, he’s ruthless and arrogant enough to just feel right as a Liberal PM.

No, the real disappointment this election has been, as it has been for years, the Green party. Canada’s electoral system essentially disenfranchises people who chose to vote according to their conscience rather than strategically. Under this system, the Greens are pretty much destined to lose. They’ve had several elections now to find a way to turn their support into actual political power and the fact they haven’t been able to do it yet kind of suggests to me that it can’t be done. I’ve usually voted Green in the past, despite serious misgivings over their anti-science and slacktivist tendencies. But I didn’t this time, and barring a sudden leap to a sensible, Australian-style preferential ballot, I don’t know if I will again (sorry, mom and dad!).

lonely at the bottom


This chart is from Political Compass, which tries to avoid the standard (and stupid) alignment of political beliefs along a single left-right axis. I’m not sure this is a huge improvement, though: I think my placement so close to the bottom is more due to my anti-authoritarian streak than my similarity to conventional Bob Barr/Ron Paul-style libertarianism, an ideology I think is both heartless and naive. In fact, in this case, the right-left axis is a pretty good indication of my voting preference.

And if only we had a preferential ballot in Canada, I could actually vote for my preferred party. Instead, I’m once again going to vote strategically, just like certain too honest for their own good politicians.


nixonland.jpgI know it’s a cliché, but the older I get, the more interested I become in history. I have no romantic view of the past, though — I read history mostly as painfully slow progress punctuated by awful mistakes which cast very long shadows through the decades. And so I was fascinated by Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, Rick Perlstein’s 896-page political history. The eponymous “Nixonland” is the America that created Nixon and that he, better than anyone (except possibly Ronald Reagan), was able to exploit: a country with two visions that are both sincere, deeply held — and utterly incompatible. However, the Nixonland divide isn’t strictly between liberal and conservative, but between the privileged insider “Franklins” and striving outsider “Orthogonions”. The names are from two cultural clubs at Wittier College. When the former rejected Nixon for his poverty and working-class manners, he started the second.

The book is divided into four sections, roughly covering the election cycles of 1966, 1968, 1970, and 1972. Though the bitter and amoral genius Nixon is at the centre of the book, it’s Nixonland itself that the book spends most of its time in. Perlstein does a terrific job of letting us into the minds of the hippies and radicals and concerned middle-class parents and resentful blue-collar workers that live there. The author is, himself, a post-Boomer, and he argues persuasively that the country he grew up in is still Nixonland. Watching George Bush (and Sarah Palin), it’s hard to disagree.

another brilliant xkcd comic

Conspiracy Theories

I couldn’t agree more.

I think it’s safe to say that nobody ever looked into 9/11 conspiracy theories or creationism undecided and came out in favour. There’s not really any point in arguing with these people — while they like to surround their arguments with fact-like substances, that serves a psychological, not rational purpose. At the end of the day, they’ve chosen to live in a fantasy world where the facts meet their preconceptions.

Not that conspiracy theorists and creationists are irredeemable — just reason-proof. They need to change the way they think before they can change their minds.