Politics


I really thought that I was done writing for the night, but after reading Gail Collins’ Op-Ed piece on the successful downing of an inoperational satellite by the Pentagon, I couldn’t resist making mention of it here. It is Vonnegut-worthy satire.

As Collins’ reported, the cost of knocking this hunk of metal out of the sky was a cool 60 million. Upon the Pentagon’s recommendation, the President decided that the tiny odds that this dysfunctional satellite would fall smack into someone’s back yard and filling it with an unpleasant gas justified the cost of taking it out. Mind you, I’m all for protecting my own little ecosystem out here in Eden, but as Collins points out, an estimated 17,000 things have already made their way from space to Earth through out atmosphere and the odds of any single one of them hitting us is several million to one. My back yard and I, for one, have yet to be hit.

Collins challenges her readers to imagine what they might do with 60 million to invest in protecting their personal safety. Here’s my two cents; and I’ll even stick to the topic at hand. Instead of playing star wars with defective space equipment, I would invest the 60 million in research grants to PhDs and postdocs for the purpose of creating environmentally friendly satellites, ones that would burn up upon passing back through the earth’s atmosphere without being blown to smithereens beforehand. Alternatively, my 60 million might support research and development of satellites with a longer shelf-life; these “environmentally friendly” satellites could be easily be retooled and upgraded as technological advances deemed necessary. And I’m not a scientist! Heaven knows there are better ideas out there!

Here’s a link The New York Times news story on the event. It includes a great picture. Here’s the critical Chinese response to the event as reported by The Times, and here’s a link to The Lede’s coverage of the event, which includes some direct quotes from Pentagon officials justifying their decision.

I think what is interesting about the election is the way that it provides tantalizing glimpses in the candidates’ personalities. The problem is determining which of those personality traits will be a factor shaping the future adminstration. Or, just as pertinent which candidate’s personality traits are going to shape our country’s history. Oh yeah, put that way, it’s a pretty scary thought. But consider these little gems: Gennifer Flowers led to Monica Lewinsky. The phrase compassionate conservatism carried just about meaning as the declaration that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I can go further back too: remember, “Read my lips. No new taxes?” Oh yeah, thought you did.

One of the blogs I read regularly is Judith Warner’s “Domestic Disturbances.” I’m not particularly domestic, do not have children, but I am probably disturbed, so I generally feel right at home with her angst. She has interesting opinions. I don’t always agree, but she’s always thought-provoking, which is what really matters. Case in point being this week’s post, “Emotion Without Thought In New Hampshire,” about Hillary’s teary moment on the campaign trail. Apparently this gush of emotion produced positive feedback from other similary exhausted and harried women. In short, Warner was disappointed in Hillary for not managing to hold it all together on national television, but more disillusioned with the women who could find solidarity in the female candidate until she showed a crack in her armor. Of course Warner’s logic is spot on, but thinking along those lines lost the Democrats the past two elections, so if Hillary or Obama don’t want to make the same mistakes as their predecessors they’ll listen closely to the-rest-of-us America, not just Ivy League-educated America.

I wasn’t the only one interested. Warner’s post garnered four hundred plus responses and rather than ask you to scroll through them to look for my comment, I’ve posted it below.

It is what it is. In a perfect world every single voter would be focused on the issues and positions championed by the candidate, but apparently that’s not meant to be. Besides, the job of being President of the U.S. is a lot more nuanced than simply having an agenda. The way a candidate carries herself on during her campaign provides a window into how she will handle herself on the job. If the voters want to see that a candidate is human, then so be it. A smart candidate will use those desires as a vehicle for what really matters–her agenda.

Check out Warner’s post and let me know what you think.

I’m in favor of keeping my soapbox, even if it means I’m contributing to the “vitriolic” national political discourse. And against all odds, Karl Rove and I apparently see eye to eye on this issue, though for very different reasons. He believes blogging helps the Republican cause; I believe blogging gives voice to the individual voter regardless of her political persuasion. Last week the writers of “The Opinionator,” a blog co-authored by Tobin Harshaw and Chris Suellentrop, staff editors of the NY Times Op-Ed pages, made mention of Rove’s recent comments on the accessibility of a pulpit to every angry citizen with internet access. Well, hallelujah. It is high time we leveled the playing between those with a voice and Washington and everyone else.* Because it’s short, I’ve included the text of the entire post directly below.

 

“The Web has given angry and vitriolic people more of a voice in public discourse,” former top Bush aide Karl Rove told an audience yesterday, according to The Washington Times’s Fishwrap blog. Rove observes: “People in the past who have been on the nutty fringe of political life, who were more or less voiceless, have now been given an inexpensive and easily accessible soapbox, a blog.”

Wait, is there supposed to be something wrong with that?

“The [Internet] is not the reason hyperpartisan politics have been elevated; people like Karl Rove are,” writes Amanda Terkel at Think Progress:
“Rove admitted that despite the coarseness of the political debate, he hopes the netroots ‘keep at it’ because it helps Republicans. If only the blogosphere were as civil as Karl Rove.”

Sometimes, perhaps, the pot deserves to call the kettle black.

In my relatively short lifetime, I have seen the influence of the individual voter, ostensibly the one who holds a member of Congress accountable to his or her votes, eroded by the influence of those with a voice in Washington, insiders and special interest groups. As an insider, Rove naturally enjoyed such privilege. By default a blogger (especially one with a devoted fan base) makes insiders nervous because he or she erodes away some of the power bestowed upon him by his insider status. I teach English. I live for free speech. So, I can’t imagine myself feeling anything but support for another voice, but seven years ago I might have voiced caution when reading unreviewed material, much in the same way that I caution my high school seniors about considering their sources before subscribing to their arguments. However, during the past seven years we have been fed so many disingenuous “truths” by the Bush administration that I cannot, with any honesty, say that Rove’s word is any more reliable than Joe Blogger’s, though they may warrant close scrutiny for different reasons. It is within that close scrutiny that lies the most valuable message I can impart to any student–read skeptically. Long live free speech and perhaps just as importantly, readily available free publishing (thank you, WordPress).

As an addendum to this piece, I might also add that the formal publishing world is making way for this medium in unprecendented ways. I remember back when Andrew Sullivan left his position as editor at The New Republic to devote himself fully to his own blog. Not being a reporter, I did not yet realize how heavily regular reporters relied upon the efforts of bloggers, who had much greater freedom to go and say whatever they pleased. That process is only becoming more transparent. That bastion of old school news itself, The New York Times, has done two things of late that are worth our note. First, they dissolved their online pay-per-view program, Times Select, explaining that the current trend of the internet news sources rendered such a system obsolete. Second, they have continued to expand the blog section of the Times online, inviting renowned bloggers such as Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner to post their blog, Freakonomics, under the auspices of the Times banner.

*Do not misinterpret my sentiments as some foolhardy desire to dismiss Congress. That’s not my point at all. While I find our voting system problematic and the electoral college outdated and unfair, I by no means wish to do away with the structure of our government. The House and Senate are essential and must remain so. That being said, historians have argued that our founding fathers really had no desire to blindly hand over power to the populus, hence the unusual institution known as the electoral college, but this only makes individual voice more important.