We’re in the pre-season doldrums now. The real campaign for President won’t begin for months. You think it’s nasty now? Hey, just wait.
At the moment I have no clue who I’ll vote for. Before I make up my mind, I want to watch and listen to a campaign. I want to hear what these candidates have to say on issues important to me. I want to get a better sense of how the new guy, Mitt Romney, handles himself.
In the past, I’ve voted for both Republicans and Democrats, depending on the year, the circumstances and the candidates. Independents are like that. We vote for and against people, not political parties.
At this time four years ago, I was tilting toward John McCain. He wasn’t perfect – none of them are — but he was a genuine American hero who’d stood up for principle more often than most of these politicians do, and he showed some common sense in foreign affairs. Then he picked as his running mate the governor of Alaska, a state with the population of two Albany Counties. Predictably, she turned out to be an airhead who thought she was being picked on when somebody asked her what she read. (As it turned out, not much, apparently.)
That forced me to take another look at McCain. He was 72 years old. He’d had a couple of bouts with cancer. And this was who he was willing to put a heartbeat away from the presidency – this ditzy, loud-mouthed harpy who wouldn’t stand out intellectually in a flock of sheep?
At best, that was bad judgment. I learned in the Air Force that some fighter pilots, like some surgeons, possess a level of self-confidence that borders on psychosis. Their raw courage is admirable, but their sense of invulnerability can give them a flawed sense of risk assessment.
That’s not what you want in the White House, and it’s what I saw in McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin. That’s what iced my vote for Barack Obama, even though he struck me as distinctly green as a presidential candidate only two years out of the Illinois State Senate.
Now, four years later, I like some of what Obama has done and dislike other things he has and has not done. He gets points with me for doing something about the health care crisis. Whether what he did was the best thing remains to be seen, but that couldn’t be left alone. He gets big points with me for the Osama Bin Laden execution. I like the way he handled the Libya business.
I’ll give him some points for finally deciding to get American troops out of Afghanistan, but he’s doing that fairly late in the game. Too many Americans have been killed there for no good reason. Anything that we needed to do there could and should have been done with drones and special forces, not with an occupying army with no chance of establishing a stable government in a country that has never cared about having a stable government.
I also fault him on the job situation. Okay, Obama inherited a bloodcurdling economic disaster, and his stimulus package stopped the bleeding and led to some recovery. But not enough recovery, frankly. His stimulus was too small for the size of the problem, and it was primarily designed to keep public employees on the job while doing too little for the private sector. When the private sector failed to come surging back a good many of the public employees ended up losing their jobs anyway.
Meanwhile, over in Germany, the woman who runs things there, Angela Merkel, put government money into the private sector in the form of tax breaks and outright grants. She ended up saving jobs there and kept public employees on the job because that country still had private employees working and paying taxes. The result is that the Obama administration is now cheering because the U. S. unemployment rate has dropped to 8.1 per cent. Germany’s just dropped to 7 per cent. Yes, we’re a bigger country with a bigger economy, but it’s clear that Obama’s approach was less successful than Merkel’s.
In addition to that, nothing serious has been done to break up the big banks. If they screw up again, we’ll have to bail out their butts again. And they will. Just wait.
So, before I decide who to vote for, the first thing I want to see is who Romney picks as a running mate. If he selects some mouth-foaming loon to placate the Republican party’s increasingly nutball base, then I have a pretty good hunch as to where I’ll go. I also have to confess that I feel a considerable amount of sympathy for Obama for the demented attacks that have been made on him over the course of his first term. All the birther crap and the mindless criticism have turned me off in a big way. The guy would wake up in the morning and the Republicans would promptly fault him for opening his eyes and taking a breath. That’s not behavior that I’m eager to reward.
For me, then, there’s still much to see and hear, to absorb and turn over in my mind and to weigh and consider before I pick a candidate. The debates will weigh heavily in my mind. They’re largely show biz, but you do get a measure of a man in a situation like that.
I have reservations about both guys. Romney strikes me as sort of a Stephen King character, a shape-changer. The fact is, though, that the Republicans, in the end, didn’t pick a jerk, and they had plenty of opportunity to do that. Mitt Romney was a rich kid who became an even richer man through his own efforts and dedication. He seems to be a bit of a prep-school tightass, but I’m not interested in having a beer with either guy – aside from which, Romney doesn’t drink anyway. Except for the fact that anybody who wants to be President clearly has a screw loose, both these guys seem to be uniquely admirable men. They’ll be insulted and diminished constantly for the next five months, but both are intensely intelligent, intensely determined, intensely tough and extremely capable. Each, I’m certain, wants the best for the rest of us. Each wants to make a positive difference for his fellow citizens.
So, in the end, the choice for me will not be made on the basis of all the lies, distortions and invective that party loyalists find so much fun. It won’t be based on who’s the perfect candidate in each and every respect. Instead, I’ll make up my mind on the basis of who’s more likely to do the better job for us in these uniquely difficult times. That, I think, is how sensible people should decide who to vote for.
But not many of us operate that way, do we?