Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Are Americans Qualified to Dis-Qualify?

"Straight talk." 

Possibly the most ironic term used in politics. 

Remember the "Straight Talk Express?". Yeah, the one with John McCain and the pretty blue bus, the one that canvassed the country in 2000, then was brought out of mothballs for another run at the Presidency in 2008. The 'Straight Talk Express' was going to give it to America 'straight.' That, of course, was before he turned the wheel over to an inexperienced housewife from Alaska, without giving anyone the straight talk on why he chose her as a running mate. She drove it into a cliff...right around the time she accused Katie Couric of slipping her a mickey...

But, today, straight talk seems like a good place to start. 

So, I'll give it a try and give it to you straight. 

I'm not qualified to be a "political analyst" or a "political scientist". Despite an undergrad minor in history and a lifelong interest in politics, I am here to tell you that I am no more qualified to analyze an election, or tell you who to vote for, than I am qualified to surgically remove your gall bladder. 

There was a time, a much simpler time, where that alone would almost prevent me entirely from influencing votes, or political thinking. I'm not that old, but I'm old enough to remember when one was writing or spouting about something meant that one actually had to 'know' about that 'something', at least to generate an audience or following - aka - a constituency. 

But in this era of "new media", I can get on the web and blog away. I can tell you what I think. I can give you my opinions, call it ideology, call it rhetoric, call it my duty as a citizen to 'inform'; in other words: give you the 'straight talk' you apparently so desperately need. 

Yet, certainly, even my passionate concern for country - combined with an increasingly rabid political curiosity and appetite - doesn't qualify me to tell you how to vote. I mean, I cook some pretty mean meatballs, but no one is beating down my door with offers to open a Cantina.  

So, why is it then, that we're all seemingly clamoring to insert the next inexperienced politician into seats of Senate and Congress based purely on ideological rhetoric?

The Tea Party? Seriously? Do any of you really know what that means? Do any of you recognize the aptly named, "10 Commandments of the Contract with America" - the Tea Party's very own operating doctrine?

Wait, let me give you the 'straight talk' on that question:

No, you don't. At least not 19 of the 20 Tea Party backers that I recently polled. Yes, the poll was informal. I reached out to 20 people over the past few weeks whom I consider friends, who also represent themselves as "Tea Party supporters". No (disclaimer), I am not qualified as a political pollster. But the findings were surprising...or alarming...

19 out of 20 couldn't name a single tenet of the 'Tea Party 10'. 

For the cheap seats - that's 19 out of 20 - or 95%. Potentially 95% of Tea Party supporters - at least the ones I know - don't even know what the Tea Party is about. When I pressed the issue with each of them, I got consistently vague and generalized versions of the following responses:

"It's about smaller government"
"It's about defending the Constitution"
"It's about repealing things like Obamacare"
"It's about giving America back to the people, to the taxpayers"

Bailouts...blah, blah, spending...blah, blah...

I asked, all 20, if anyone could give me the very first of the 10 aforementioned "commandments". No one could. For the record, it reads: 'Identify Constitutionality of Every New Law."

Why is this relevant? Seriously, you may be asking that (though I hope not). 

In point of fact, I was asked that very question, in some form or fashion, by about half of the Tea Party people I talked to. It came out something like this, "Why does it matter if I know the exact wording, I just know I'm for smaller government and lower taxes..."

Wow. 

So, this is our current political landscape. Details, facts, substance - they no longer matter. The only things that do, in this day and age, are ideologies, rhetoric and sound-bites. 

I mean, how else do we end up with people like Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell? To be fair, I don't have the Constitution memorized either, but when the Tea Party came into the national spotlight, even just as an observer, I downloaded a copy of The US Constitution months ago on my PC and carry one on my Android phone. I don't know, call me a nerd, but if everyone in every race is debating the "constitutionality" of the issues, I'd like to think at least the candidates would become familiar with the Constitution. I even downloaded and keep a copy of the Tea Party's "Contract with America".

Have you actually seen this? I'll be the first to concede that it was produced by "left-leaning" CNN...but...come on...

(HINT: It's Christine O'Donnell. She's running for SENATE - as in US Senate - not Senator of the local Rotary). 


So the obvious question should be, "do we really want representatives in Washington voting on laws, voting on confirmation of justices to our courts, when they don't even remotely understand THE founding document of the United States?" 

-or-

"Do we want a Tea Party that claims, "We Are You" when they're not represented or supported by a single Democrat? I mean, does being "you" mean that I have to favor a one-party system, or that only one political ideology is going to give my family the best chance at success and prosperity?"

But we don't ask those questions. Not today. Most Tea Party folks have actually tricked themselves into believing that the Tea Party is a 3rd party alternative to the two-party system. Hey, smart guy, it's NOT. It's the Republican Party - only more ludicrously off-center. It's a party that would like to one day be called "Constitutionalists", even as they put forth candidates who haven't ever read the US Constitution. 


Today, all many of us care about is the loudest voice in the room. When people are frustrated - and given the US Economy's performance over the last 5+ years, a lot of people should be frustrated - we tend to get angry. We tend to yell. The difference now is, the ones doing most of the yelling are the ones that say the least. 

Being 'qualified to share an opinion' has eroded simply to 'being capable of sharing an opinion'. 

I mean, I'm bothered by the fact that Suze Orman can call herself a financial expert based on her 6 years as a stockbroker before launching her own fund. Yes, it's frightening that someone with so little experience and formal education was listed in 2009 as "Forbes 18th most influential woman in the media", but she's not running for elected office. 

And, yes, I'm legitimately bothered by the fact that people like Perez Hilton drive pop culture. He's undoubtedly the single most influential blogger on the planet. But again, he's not running for office. 

So, if I can be allowed to impress just one message onto the masses prior to election day, it would be this:
"Do a little research people. Not a lot. We know how busy most of you are piecing your life back together since Obamacare rolled off the senate floor. But do enough to know what side you're really on. Read the health care bill before you say you oppose it. Read the 1st, 14th, 16th & 17th amendments before you side with the Party that has indicated a desire to repeal or revise them. I mean, we all love the notion of lower taxes, and lower Federal spending. I like to think that most of us would consider ourselves supporters of the US Constitution, without necessarily knowing every passage and amendment. But, if you're going to vote, either for a party that bases it's entire modus on Constitutionality, then you should probably know more than you do."

Finally, yes, I'm legitimately bothered by the fundamental notion that I can hop online and spout about whatever. But I am certain that when I do, I have researched my topic and if challenged on my points, I can defend them. Even so, I'm not running for office...but...

Did I mention I cook some pretty mean meatballs? Care to fund my Cantina?


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