Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Split in America

Timothy Egan begins his Sunday Opinion column in the New York Times, “The Party of Yesterday”,, with the following description of the “nation’s brainiest cities…cities with the highest percentage of college graduates”: “These are vibrant, prosperous places where a knowledge economy and cool things to do after hours attract people from all over the country. Among the top 10 only two of those metro areas—Raleigh, N. C., and Lexington, Ky.—voted Republican in the 2004 presidential election.”

He continues, “This year, all 10 are likely to go Democratic. What’s more, with Colorado, New Hampshire and Virginia now trending blue, Republicans stand to lose the nation’s 10 best-educated states as well.” Going further he states that “Brainy cities have low divorce rates, low crime, high job creation, ethnic diversity and creative capitalism…They grow good people in smart cities.”

Although I don’t disagree with the conclusion that Egan reaches, that Republicans “blow off the smart cities” and the smart states which makes them “The Party of Yesterday”, I believe that there is a deeper cause behind this bifurcation. It seems to me that this separation is something that is being experienced worldwide and is connected with the spread of information.

Historically, we have seen that information spreads and its spread cannot be stopped. Nations and organizations and cultures can slow down the spread for a while but in the end the spread of information overcomes even the most restrictive of societies. The development of movable type allowed for the printing and dissemination of books and pamphlets to audiences never before reached and this resulted in societal upheavals like the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and Post-Modernity. As this and further innovations that allowed people to compare viewpoints and data that were kept isolated before, science grew and prospered along with many other fields of applied science and intellectual investigation. The Information Age is bringing the world to an even greater integration of thought as the spread of information reaches more and more corners of the globe.

Of course, this is not looked on favorably by many. The spread of information threatens ways of thinking, lifestyles, and people in power. The spread of information is disruptive and often brings with it an upheaval of ordinary life. The spread of information forces change!

Those in power that are threatened by the changes sense the danger of the “new” information and attempt to constrain its spread while at the same time engage in the defensive maneuver of requiring a stricter adherence to the “old” way of doing things. In this response there can be no openness to debate or dialogue for the leaders in power believe that they cannot give in an inch to different ways of thinking.

Beyond the leaders that are threatened by the “new” information, different people respond to this threat in different ways. Whereas some people welcome the change, even thrive on the “new”, others in various ways are wary of anything that is different or are just overwhelmed by the wave of the “new”. In one instance it is costly to change one’s life and thinking to accommodate the new information. In another instance the situation can be described as one of information overload: the new information is like “white noise” to people…they are inundated with too much information and are unable to process it. In either case, as well as others like it, many people resist what is happening because it alters what they know and are comfortable with.

This environment is making a major contribution to the separation that Egan describes in his column. Whereas he claims that the separation is occurring as the “brainy” areas of the country are divided from other areas of the country, I believe that the bifurcation is being exacerbated by the division between those that are receptive to the spread of information in the modern world and those that want to hold on to the old knowledge and the old ways of thinking.

The foundational “base” of the Republican Party is constructed more and more from just those that want to hold onto the “old way of thinking” and are resistant to the spread of information that is making the modern world such a dynamic place to live in. The objections that are being raised relate to the diversity of culture and of different cultures, the new discoveries in the biological and physical sciences, the innovations relating to information technology and the global application of this knowledge, the openness to alternative goals and objectives in the world, and the possibility that all worldviews, including theirs, could be fallible.

With the emergence of the modern Republican Party in the late 1960s, it became the common wisdom of the party that a candidate attempting to gain the nomination for President had to move to the right end of the political spectrum to get nominated. Once nominated, the candidate could then move toward the center in order to be elected. Early on, through the 1980s, the Republican Party had a sizeable portfolio of policies and programs that were sufficiently attractive to independents and other swing voters to attract them to vote for its presidential candidate. However, the Party had exhausted their portfolio of policies and programs by the late 1980s and into the 1990s.

Therefore, something new had to be tried. A young Karl Rove was able to resolve this dilemma. In the two Bush (43) elections, the Republican candidate for President stayed to the right in order to cement the base of the party. However, since the party had little or nothing to offer those in the center of the political spectrum Rove resorted to fear tactics in order to obtain the votes of the independents and the swing voters. In the age of 9/11 and the war on terrorism, the strategy proved to be successful!

A similar strategy has been followed in the current run for the presidency. John McCain was supposedly an independent, a maverick that appealed to those in the center. What he didn’t have was an appeal to the foundational “base” of the Republican Party. The campaign strategists filled this gap in a very satisfactory fashion, to their way of thinking, by getting Sarah Palin nominated for the office of Vice President. The problem with the strategy was that Sarah Palin was not acceptable to the swing vote and the election started to slip away from the campaign. McCain’s “maverickism” could not hold the center. In desperation, the managers of the effort moved to the old standby of the previous two campaigns…demonize the opposing candidate and scare the independent voter into voting for McCain.

Not only did the strategy not work, it exposed the intellectual emptiness of the Republican Party. It exposed the Party as being the party that was resistant to the future. It exposed the Party as being an organization that was not only resistant to the spread of information but as the party that wanted to constrain thought and hold onto old prejudices. It exposed the Party as being reactionary.

This is the problem America has to face going forward. In past years we saw this problem as one we faced externally in a world. Now, we see it as also a problem we have to face internally. For whatever cause, people everywhere resist the spread of information. People fight wars to keep information from spreading. It is not a new battle, but one that has been rejuvenated as those impacted have become desperate as they feel the world they know slipping away.

History shows that the resisters never win…but they can put up an inconvenient and troublesome fight. Those that support the spread of information ultimately win the battle by example…by showing others that, as Egan implies, they are good people living in a good place with room for all to join them.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Where McCain and the Republican Party now stand

This election has been a long road for me. Even though I left the Republican Party in the 1992 election, as the nominating season got underway in 2007 I was hopeful that there was at least one Republican candidate I could count on…possibly even two. I regretfully have to state…the Republican Party has definitely left me behind. I have never been so disappointed in people…Mitt Romney and John McCain in particular.

Last year as the political campaigns got under way I must admit to being particularly taken by Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts. I grew up in Michigan and was a big fan of Romney’s father…George Romney…and his mother…Lenore. I got the opportunity to work with George Romney in Washington, D. C. when he was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. I had and have a great deal of respect for the elder Romney and believe that he always had his heart and mind in the right place.

I thought Mitt would be like his father and his life story indicated that this might be true. He went from one success to another, Bain & Company and Bain Capital, the Winter Olympics, and his term as governor of Massachusetts. He seemed open minded and responsive to situations with strong moral character. He seemed to be a lot like his father. Thus, I supported him financially, as well as emotionally.

And, then he began his campaign. I could not have been more disappointed as I heard him in the early stages of the campaign…especially in Iowa. He seemed to be a different person, perhaps because he did not believe what he was saying…or perhaps because he had accepted views that he was just learning. Whatever, he was nothing like the strong pragmatic individual I had seen earlier, a person who had a firm moral structure within him. In addition, he was nothing like his father!

Let me digress here for a minute. In the last quarter of the twentieth century one of the major beliefs held within the Republican Party was that a person who wanted to receive the nomination to run for President at the head of the Republican Party had to move sharply toward the political right in the primaries before moving back to the center of the political spectrum for the general election.

Romney did this to an extreme. In Iowa, he didn’t sound anything like the person who had been Governor of Massachusetts. And then there was the Michael Hucklebee threat. Not only did Romney feel that he needed to move to the political right, because of Hucklebee, he believed he had to sound like a Christian fundamentalist! Adding to this was the fact that Romney, being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, being a Mormon, was a member of a religious body that was greatly distrusted by many of the evangelical Christians he was trying to attract. He even claimed Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior and gave a ‘defining’ speech to lay out his religious beliefs. Romney sounded more and more like he really didn’t have any fundamental personal beliefs!

Romney lost the Iowa caucuses.

Worse than that…because of his pandering in Iowa he lost New Hampshire! At one time, Romney was well ahead of his competitors in New Hampshire. He was from neighboring Massachusetts and people in New Hampshire knew of him and liked him because of what he had done in Massachusetts.

And, at one time John McCain trailed Romney in New Hampshire polls by double digits and this was amazing because people in New Hampshire had always really liked McCain. But, McCain was basically ‘out-of-the-race’ because of his poor organization and the strained financial condition of his campaign. It seemed as McCain’s last try for the Presidency was dead on arrival.
Romney gave McCain his life back. Because of his pandering in Iowa, the people of New Hampshire turned against Romney. McCain re-organized and won the primary. McCain was back in business although still weak.

But, the other Republican candidates went on to self-destruct. Romney became less and less credible. Rudolph Giuliani followed a dreadful strategy which focused on Florida. And, in the end, the only one left standing was John McCain…the winner by default. A winner who was not trusted by the right-wing side of the Republican Party…who, at best, was received less-than-warmly by the evangelical Christian Right. McCain became the nominee of the Republican Party with only limited enthusiasm from the base of the party.

In order to explain the rest of this story let me just state up front that I believe that John McCain is one of the worst organizers I have ever seen at this high a level of ambition. The unfolding tale of his campaign is one of continual decisions that were questionable at their best and disastrous at their worst. But, the saddest part of this whole saga is that John McCain lost his direction and, in the process, lost his honor.

It seems to me that early on his campaign decided two things. First, McCain’s campaign managers believed that John McCain was loved by the center of the political spectrum for being a maverick and an independent thinker and the center would stay with him…especially if he were running against an extreme liberal. Second, his managers believed that it was important to command and energize the right side of the Republican Party, the side that was so lukewarm to McCain. The answer, they believed, was the choice of candidate for vice president…that person had to be someone of the political right that also appealed to the evangelical base. Furthermore, it would not hurt if that person were a woman…given that Hilary Clinton was not in the race anymore.

However, two things happened. First, the choice of the candidate for Vice President did fire up the right side of the Republican Party and its religious base, but, in so doing this individual over shadowed the candidate for President and dominated the news. Even worse, the vice presidential candidate seemed to drive away the independents and the people of the center that was the natural constituency of McCain, himself.

Here is where McCain’s political handlers hit the panic button. The choice of a vice presidential candidate held the political base of the Republican Party; but McCain was not supposed to lose his base in the process. Only half the plan was working.

The subsequent efforts of the McCain team represented a desperate effort to re-capture the center. And, how was this to be done? Demonize the Democratic candidate so that the center of the political spectrum would once again return to its preferred candidate…John McCain. This is the only way one can explain all the efforts the campaign to target Obama as a friend of terrorists, a socialist, a tax-and-spend liberal.

The problem was that the efforts to demonize the Democratic candidate didn’t work. In fact, if anything these efforts had the opposite effect and John McCain was now seen as a person who sold out to his right leaning handlers and had given up his honor and his dignity. He was not what we thought he was.

The right hand side of the Republican Party has come to dominate not only the primary season of the Party but also the Party in the general election. Unfortunately, it has swallowed up two men, who, in the past, seemed to be decent and capable individuals. It will continue to do this unless the Party loses badly in this election. But, more on this in another post.