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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

October 25, 2012

(Politics Alert: If you are the sort of individual who is offended by political discussion, skip this one.)

I have a friend who I work with at the bookstore. Her name is Bella. (“The Twilight Saga” has been a source of aggravation for her, especially working at a bookstore.) Bella is highly educated. She excelled at her schoolwork from elementary through to college. She has a degree in Natural Resource Management. On finishing college, she discovered, like many others have, that the jobs in her chosen field were scarce. She’s had to work several retail and service jobs to pay the rent. It’s been years now. She turned thirty a few months ago.

In the meantime, Bella has developed a passion for the culinary arts. She spends most of her spare time baking, cooking or gardening. Her long-term boyfriend Jakob (I know, I know, Stephanie Meyer has been a hardship for both of them) has the gut to prove her skill at creating delicious confections. She loves making things and sharing things. At the bookstore, we have all been delighted to reap the rewards of her passion and ingenuity. We are all looking forward to the holiday season in hopes that she will bring us samples of her holiday treats. Last year she brought everyone their own bag of homemade sweets. Mine was gone before the New Year.

Last year, Bella and Jakob bought a house. It was a very serious commitment to each other. Jakob is also highly educated and has a degree in Earth Sciences. Like Bella, it has been difficult to find a job and he has landed at a small computer repair shop. They are devoted to each other and their new house.

I was not the first person to suggest to Bella that she might use her culinary prowess to go into business for herself. I even offered to pay her for some of her ice cream, which might be the best I’ve ever had. Bella is resigned to the fact that despite the skill and passion she may have, the risk involved in going into business for herself is too great. For her, the thing she cites again and again as a shackle that keeps her from rising is health care. Even with insurance, the cost of doctor visits and the threat of potential problems is prohibitive when it comes to contemplating taking a risk. She told me, “If I knew I didn’t have to worry about health care, I would be willing to take the risk.”

So, whether she is being too pragmatic for her own good or not, Bella has decided to live in perpetual waiting. The only way to make it through the retail day is to tell yourself that it is only temporary, that things may look bleak now, but sometime, somewhere, you will find fulfillment in your profession. In the meantime, you take it one day at a time and try not to scream, try not to cry at the horrible indifference with which you are treated by your fellow humans. After work, you are so exhausted, drained mentally and physically, that the prospect of searching for a job you actually want seems an insurmountable task. Day after day falls away. Months disappear. Years begin to rumble past with alarming rapidity. The only way out is through, you tell yourself. You’re too tired to think and it’s better that way. Despite your passion, despite your education, despite your willingness to commit to humanity and citizenship, fulfillment will always be just over the horizon.

I started this blog almost a year ago now, on the eve of the Republican primary season. The media had been crowing about the upcoming contest and my disgust was such that I had to write it out of me. It felt good. It may not have made a difference to anyone else, but it felt good to articulate my feelings. It inspired me to keep writing.

I haven’t written a lot of political posts, even though I pay very close attention to American and to a lesser extent UK politics. I have very conflicting feelings about our political system and our political parties. On the one hand, I feel ashamed at having spent so much time giving credence to those that write the political narrative, while on the other hand I’m dismayed that very few people seem to care.

I’m not an activist and I’m not a member of any political party. The two parties we have are so full of endemic corruption and reprehensible traditions that I would cringe at the thought of being associated with either one of them. I know that there will never be a political candidate, or person for that matter, that I will ever agree with wholly. Even lifelong partners disagree on occasion. It took a while for me to accept that. It is often the case that you will find yourself voting for the person that you agree with most or, all too often, voting for the person running against the person you agree with least.

For many months now, I have been trying to decide which candidate I would vote for in the November 6th election. I’m sure, for any of you who read my blog regularly, you will know which way I lean. But just because I lean to the left, doesn’t mean I dismiss the right without just cause, as many people I know do. There are several things that I disagree with Obama on, from drone strikes to his handling of Wall Street. So my inclination to the left has not been automatic.

I’ve spent the last several months following both campaigns very closely. I regularly go to Mitt Romney’s website. I’ve read a number of his op-ed pieces and watched his political ads. I tried to slog through Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity”. (The graphs helped.) I watched all four debates and both conventions from beginning to end. I have tried to remain open-minded and responsible. As the months passed and we got to know more about the candidates, it became increasingly clear that I could not vote for Mitt Romney. Everything about his campaign has been so inconsistent, it has been difficult to parse his beliefs about anything, other than that he opposes gay marriage and he’s not a fan of women having control of their own bodies. He may be a successful businessman and a loving family man, but his inept political dealings seem at odds with the skills necessary to run a country.

As I said, I have several problems with Obama as well. In desperation, I turned to third-party candidates. It seemed a natural course for me as someone who finds the two-party system abominable. After looking into each candidate, I felt dejected. There are many policies that I agreed with. There were some that I didn’t. While it has long been my contention that we should all vote for exactly who we want to rather than voting strategically, I felt that it would be wasting my vote to vote for any of these fringe candidates. I love the idea of third parties. I would love it if there were more parties. (What’s better than a party?) But I fundamentally disagree with the way these parties present themselves. A number of them admit to knowing they have no chance of winning. It’s just an opportunity to get the issues into the public dialogue. But has that ever worked? Has anyone ever regarded these parties as viable parties? Rather than shooting for the moon and falling flat every time, I think these third parties should be taking a more pragmatic approach. The only chance these groups have of winning votes is in local elections. They are the closest to the ground in the political sphere and it should be a cinch for them to mobilize voters in local elections. Rather than unending symbolic candidacies, they should win real elections and make real change. The more local elections won, the more credibility gained. The more change enacted at the will of the people, rather than the will of the two-headed behemoth, the more likelihood of voters willing to use their ballot to vote in third-party candidates for higher and higher office.

So, really, I’m left with one choice: Barack Obama. Like many people my age, I voted for him in 2008. I genuinely, for the only time in my life, felt a glimmer of hope for our country and our political system. I still remember where I was when I was told he’d won the election. It was a great feeling and the hope that I’d been promised was real. But, as it usually happens with hopes and dreams, reality set in and we all soon realized that despite the historic nature of his election, one man cannot change an entire political system. Many people, myself included, were disappointed. The high of hope had given way to the doldrums of pragmatism. Guantanamo has remained open. Drone strikes have increased, killing US citizens, civilians and children. The economy has been slow in its recovery. I know many, many people that have been and continue to be affected adversely by the Great Recession. There has been very little movement by the Justice Department or the administration to prosecute the bankers and banks that brought on this massive global collapse. Henry Paulsen is the Secretary of the Treasury despite his strong ties to Goldman Sachs, which almost certainly was involved in the shady dealings of credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations under his leadership. Barack Obama often makes the claim that Wall Street must be held to the same rules as Main Street, but there has been almost no movement to back up this statement. More immigrants have been deported under his presidency than under George Bush. Likewise with drug arrests. The Patriot Act has not been repealed despite his assurances to “revisit” it in his first campaign. In fact, it has been reported that warrantless wiretaps and other government invasiveness into its citizenry has been on the rise since he took office. I’m sure I could go on for many pages with my disagreements with the current administration.

The thing is, with these disagreements, while I may disagree, his challenger does not. When asked about drones, Romney had no problem with them. His record on government oversight of Wall Street is pretty clear and aligns neatly with the administration. I have no doubt on his feelings about warrantless wiretaps, drug arrests and immigration. A number of his advisors and campaign officials are former George W. Bush people. It is two sides of the same coin.

So why, with all that, why would I still vote for Barack Hussein Obama? He showed his commitment to women and women’s rights by signing the Lilly Ledbetter Act. He kept true to his promise to end the Iraq War and repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He passed the Dream Act. He has expressed his commitment again and again to education and teachers. He has shown support for gay marriage. But most important for me, has been Obamacare. I’m not saying it’s a perfect law by any means, but it demonstrates a commitment to the well being of the nation. Personally, I don’t think it goes far enough. I would be happy to have the so-called “socialist” style of healthcare like the UK’s National Health Service or Canada’s health care system. How great would it be to know that your taxes are going to heal the sick rather than fund a drone strike? How liberating would it be to know that you don’t have to wait till your next payday to see the doctor?

Which brings me back to Bella and Jakob. How many more Bella’s are there in our country? How many people are out there with the skill and the drive, but also the fear? America claims to be “The Greatest Nation”. Imagine how great we could actually be if people were free to pursue their dreams rather than merely surviving and waiting. Imagine if rather than just saying life was an inalienable right, we made that a reality. Life is essential to the pursuit of happiness and Obama has made it a little bit easier for Americans to stay alive. That means something, to me, to Bella, and to Jakob.

That’s why, somewhat begrudgingly, I will be voting for Obama. He said in the last debate that he was betting on the American people. So I am betting on him. It has been four years since he first ran for president. We were all so enamored with his promises of hope and change. We had stickers and shirts and hats and mugs. We answered the call, “Yes we can.” We were so focused on the newness and hope that we ignored his warnings that it wouldn’t be easy. We are four years older and four years wiser. There are no rose-colored glasses of hope this time. It is up to us to make the pragmatic decision. It’s up to us to see through the media and political bullshit and bet on the future.  It is up to us to decide which path will lead us to a brighter tomorrow. It is a heavy responsibility, not to be taken lightly. The media may make it look like it has all the importance of a horse race, but it is more than that. It is a decision about your future. It’s about Jakob and Bella’s future. It is about the future of the clerk at the grocery store and the receptionist in your dentist’s office. It’s about the future of the road worker and the future of his child. It is about my future. Like it or not, we are all in this together and our vote should reflect that. Because it’s not just about your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s about everyone’s.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2012 3:22 am

    Disagree with your choice, but I am glad you vote.

    • October 25, 2012 3:31 am

      Thank you for reading and commenting. It is heartening to know that even though we disagree on the candidate, we can still agree on the value of voting. Sames are more important than differences.

  2. October 27, 2012 1:22 pm

    I read every word of this and enjoyed it so much. Yours is a rare type of post in the blog world in that you are reflective, civil, and passionate- all at the same time. You are speaking from and of your life experience and sharing how it has shaped and is shaping your views. We can all learn from this and better understand each other. This is so much more helpful to political discourse than the usual slogans and one-liners tossed around more like weapons than elements of conversation.

    While I will be voting for Romney I respect your points. It seems that both candidates agree on many things that are problematic for you, and when they clearly disagree you tend to side with Obama. Fair enough. I think your acceptance of voting strategically rather than idealistically in a national election is a sign of maturity and not of selling out. I think your analysis of third parties running instead in local elections is spot on. Indeed that is another great argument for the importance of strong state and local verses strong federal government . Change comes very slowly at the federal level but things tried and proved locally can get traction.

    When I first read your thought about Bella not going in to business because of health care, my first thought was of the challenges she would have a few years down the road if she did stsrt her business and it began to grow. This challenge would come from if Onama’s plans, as I understood tem, are implemented, My friends, many of whom own small business, built after great personal risk and effort, are faced with being unable to stay in business if they have the added burden of providing a particular government mandated benefit of health care for employees. Everyone wants to have health care benefits but first they want a job.

    Hope you don’t mind such a long comment! Thanks for writing.

    • October 31, 2012 7:02 am

      Thanks so much for reading and replying. I was really nervous about posting this one. From the way the media portrays it, it seems like two people that disagree on political candidates can never have a civil discourse. I was afraid I would offend or worse be assaulted by people who disagree. I have been pleasantly surprised.
      You mention states rights and a smaller federal government. I agree with you. From what I understand about America’s founding, that was meant to be the plan all along. Of course if you give power, power will be taken from you and somehow we have drifted into this strange situation where all power flows from Washington. Even our name “The United States of America” implies that strong states have banded together to become stronger, not to cede power to a centralized government. But as it stands, I think it would be (will be?) a long process to balancing the scales between the states and the federal government. I won’t even pretend to know how that would happen. Starting small is the only way I can think of.
      As for Bella’s small business… I will admit that I don’t know the “Obamacare” legislation as well as I probably should. If it is causing undue stress on small business, that is something I am against. On the other hand, as I say in my post, I would advocate for some sort of state run healthcare system (not necessarily overseen by the federal government). Something like the NHS. I just find it very strange that we are willing to pay for wars, we are willing to pay for space flights, we are willing (somewhat) to pay for funding for the arts, we are willing to pay for road revisions and massive infrastructure changes, but when it comes to sick people, they are on their own, left to the mercy of the healthcare industry. Why can’t this be one of the things we’re willing to pay for?
      I admit, I might be a little idealistic and perhaps a little naïve, so I apologize. I know Obamacare is pretty unpopular with Republicans. Perhaps it is a well-intentioned, but poorly crafted law. Hopefully, whatever happens on the 6th, we won’t give up our good intentions and will, all of us, work toward a government we can all be happy with (or at least not hate).

      • October 31, 2012 3:20 pm

        Again, you make your points with civility and genuine desire to teach, learn, and work for a better future. I often feel my pulse racing when I engage politically, but it is so much more important for us to keep in mind all the hope and dreams we share in common. We just differ on how best to order things. And anyone who looks carefully will have to agree it is complicated.
        For many the problems with Obamacare is that it is the federal government “taking over” what is either an issue for state governments or private citizens, but certainly not the federal government. That is a big distinction. People accuse Romney of flip-flopping in that he implemented a successful system in Massachusetts yet opposes a federal system. Big difference. Our state, Tennessee, tried a system and it completely failed and was abandoned for it would have bankrupted the state. Other states can learn from our experience when they try something.
        Your point about all the things the federal government pays for, why not healthcare, is also a very good point. But I think there is also 2 good responses. First of all, the federal government and state governments already do pour a HUGE amount of money in to paying for healthcare. Medicaid for poor people, Medicare for older people, huge investments in medical research, school health clinics for children, public health clinics, immunizations when epidemics threaten, and so much more. I am sure a lot more than we pay for the arts or the space program. And, in reality, hospital emergency rooms provide emergency care when people walk in the door. Many of the uninsured use this as primary care (which is admittedly horribly inefficient.)
        Secondly, our country was founded on principles of limited government. If the private sector can reasonably provide something, we tend to prefer it. You say: “I just find it very strange that we are willing to pay for wars, we are willing to pay for space flights, we are willing (somewhat) to pay for funding for the arts, we are willing to pay for road revisions and massive infrastructure changes, but when it comes to sick people, they are on their own, left to the mercy of the healthcare industry. Why can’t this be one of the things we’re willing to pay for?”
        Think about it…there is a reason why we need the government to provide our national defense, our criminal justice system, and interstate infrastructure. No one is saying these should be left to the private sector. Paying for the arts is, in my mind, an illegitimate use of tax payer money. No reason this can’t be left to states/individuals. Sometimes we think something is only something the government can do, like the space program or the postal service, but then the private sector steps up and shows us otherwise.
        The government is just notoriously inefficient and socialized medicine tends to end up like government housing- nobody wants it if they can possibly have something else. People in Canada, UK and South Africa may have a minimal level of state care provided, but those with means opt out for care in the US or private care in their states. Maybe we do need an extreme safety net, but Obamacare is so much more, and would interfere with parts of the private sector that are doing just fine. My doctor friends are telling their kids to not even consider going into medicine. Under socialized medicine the best and the brightest DO NOT become doctors. It is a low paying, low status job. Obamacare is not actually socialized medicine, but it is a huge leap in this direction.
        And think about this…if the government is paying for your health care, they might just decide that they are going to tell you what you can eat, drink, how much you must exercise, what hobbies you can have, because all that greatly influences how expensive you are to care for. If we want the government to be our Daddy and take care of us, then we have to accept it will treat us like children. And if it doesn’t, then we are like children running wild with Daddy’s credit card! And elections would become- and perhaps already have become- a matter of one divorced parent out promising the other, trying buy the loyalty of an undisciplined child.

        Fun stuff to think about, but real life beckons!

      • November 1, 2012 1:51 am

        You make many good points. I like your analogy of the two parties being like divorced parents, each desperate to curry favor with the children.
        I think we both can agree that the federal government has become a lumbering behemoth that has usurped the power of the states and has taken on the impossible task of trying to be all things to all people. Every four years, though, we have someone come along who calls for a shrinking of the federal government. They say change has to come to Washington and they’re going to give states the control our founders intended. But it’s never happened. At least not that I know of. I don’t know how it could. Why would anyone, once in power, give up that power? If you’ve spent years and millions of dollars trying to attain the highest elected position in the land, why would you then turn around and limit your own power? The best of intentions are quickly corrupted by reality and power. The Byzantine inner-workings of American politics seem to take the teeth out of every reformer. Compromises are made. Unforeseen events sabotage the best-laid plans. Political enemies snipe at every opportunity. Our elected officials are well aware of their tenuous grasp on power so they cling tightly and grab what they can.
        I would admire any politician, left or right, who says what they are going to do and then follows through. If Romney is elected, I would be very happy if he kept his promises of jobs and decreasing the federal deficit. I would be happy if he was true to the Republican tenet of small government. But history has not made me hopeful.
        I wonder (and I am not trying to start a fight, I am genuinely curious) what your thoughts are on defense. Our Armed Forces are under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Our tax dollars go to fund them. Ultimately, they answer to the president. The argument often goes, on the question of federally run programs, that they are inefficient and wasteful. But in the case of the military, they are well known to be the best fighting force in the world, some would say in history. So, if the government is able to run a massive program like that successfully, is it not possible that they might be able to run domestic programs with the same efficiency?
        I often think that the reason things fail in government, the reason that they are inefficient and wasteful, is because so much time is spent engaging in politics and not enough people are willing to work together to find pragmatic solutions. Just because people do not agree on which political party they favor, it doesn’t mean they can’t find things to agree on. It is disheartening. We as a nation can’t even agree on what our priorities are. How can we solve problems if we can’t even agree on what they are?
        Anyway, sorry for the long rambling reply. I had a rather large coffee earlier.

      • November 2, 2012 3:49 am

        I agree with most everything you have said and you said it very well. Real change is incredibly difficult. Power is alluring and change is difficult, whoever is president.

        You are right to point out that the US military, a federally run program, is a relative “success story.” Of course, its leadership is rather unique among federal programs- a level of independence from the politicians that even includes its own military justice system. It has protections from politicians and government bureaucrats that a lot of programs do not have. (Of course, it has its own version of bureaucracy..) And it has its own medical system… and sadly even it is not very good.

        Theoretically, it is possible that the federal government could run a great health care system, but I’d first like to see a really good one in another country, or a good one run by a state. Then, we could see if we could do it in a way that does not violate the constitution, if it was the political will of the people. But just hoping it would work better than what we already have is not justification for extensive federal intervention in a huge sector of the economy. But I agree that there are real challenges with people not having the access to care that we all would like to see people have, and I sure don’t know the answer.

      • November 3, 2012 1:19 am

        You make a good point about the changes to health care. I think many people, myself included, get caught up in change for change sake, without really looking closely at the realities it will bring. We convince ourselves that any movement is good movement because every journey starts with a single step. That is why we need each other, left and right should be balancing each other, complementing each other and coming together to create change that does the most good.
        If you look to politicians, most of the time it seems like that is impossible. But, and I know this is going to sound corny, I feel like if you and I can have a discussion like we’ve had, there might be hope yet.
        I would like to thank you for the discussion. Seriously. You have made me reassess my positions and while it may not change who I vote for, it has warmed my heart to know that political discussion is still possible without the mudslinging that plays such a prominent role in the portrayal of politics. So, I thank you.

      • November 6, 2012 9:18 pm

        It HAS been a good discussion. Very helpful to me too. I understand the feeling of “somebody just do something”… at least sometimes if you try things, even if they don’t work you are further along the path to a solution that if you just sat around saying we can’t fix it. I hope that whomever is elected will seek to work across the aisle to find solutions. There are solutions we can agree on and get behind, together. And don’t get cynical, thinking we can’t make a difference. We can. We live in a country, that for all its faults, is truly a beacon of hope and opportunity all over the world. My 60 year old housekeeper, originally from Chile, chastised me the other day. I was feeling discouraged and she went in to a speech about the goodness of the American people, how this is a land of opportunity where women are treated respectfully by men, where employers treat employees as fellow human beings and not second class citizens, where people are free to work hard and keep their earnings, where we are free to worship God. She got tearful, saying this is a great and good country. And, incidentally, she is voting for Romney. Because, “I work hard and everyone should work hard and take care of themselves and their families.” Not my words but hers…a Latino housekeeper, sending her daughter to private college, sending money back to her family in Chile, owning a home and paying taxes. Blessings to you on this special day in the life of a great country.

  3. November 2, 2012 1:33 am

    I’m a retired earth scientist, or simply- a geologist, but born a very long time ago-like 1938. I had a marvelous career In mining and exploration. The possibility of finding jobs in this field today is somewhat less possible than it was during the years that I worked in it (38 years), but there are demands for geologists overseas, and that’s the way to go. I did, and had a fantastic time working and living in many, many foreign countries. Adventure on several continents-and anyone can do the same today–if they make the effort-or are willing to work overseas.

    Other than that- I’m Canadian, and although we do follow American politics uo here, we do not quite get as excited about it as you do,–for the obvious reason. My wife is on the side of Obama and I tend to lean the same way, but it really doesn’t make any difference how we feel here in Canada. One thing that most of think is that the United States will never again become the world economic power that it has been since the end of The Second World War. The global economy no longer makes it possible for any single nation (or group of nations like the EU) to dominate the economy. There is a need for lowering the living standards in the US, as well as many other countries. Unbridled consumerism is not the way to produce a better society, but that point of view would be a hard sale in The good old US of A, and probably also here in Canada.

    Good luck, and may the candidate of you choice win the election.

    Beechmount..

    • November 3, 2012 1:07 am

      Thanks for your comments. I couldn’t agree more with your remarks about our consumer culture. I am hoping that the current state of affairs in the world–the economic situation and the changing climate–will force the US and the Western world to re-evaluate what is important, not just as individuals but collectively. We all seem to have forgotten the value of humility.

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