Does Voting Third-Party Send a Message?

JohnsonMemeOne of the discussions started by my previous post was on the value of third-party Presidential votes as a means to send a message to the major parties and influence their future platforms. The thinking being that if Gary Johnson gets 20% of the vote, that the Republicans would recognize that Libertarian ideals were more popular than they thought and realign to capture more of those voters in the next cycle. Presumably a similar showing by Jill Stein might heavily influence Democrats.

While I can see the logic in this, it’s unclear to me there’s a lot of evidence for this strategy working in the past. But then rarely do third-party tickets attract more than noise, so there’s not much data here. Still, I think the evidence for the efficacy of Berners or the Tea Party influencing their party’s platforms from within is far stronger than the case for exogenous forces. So even if the third-party approach works, it’s unclear it’s the most effective strategy to achieve change.

Regardless, the unique structure of this year’s election cycle makes the likelihood of either party being influenced by a third-party’s performance negligible. Specifically, both parties are aware they are running very unique candidates. Clinton is toting a ridiculous amount of baggage and is vying to be both the first woman and first Presidential spouse ever elected. Trump is a generational anomaly almost defying description. He is reviled by many in his own party and most of the GOP establishment would jettison him in a heartbeat if they could do it without sending the party into a death spiral.

In this environment, if either or even both major candidates have their ass handed to them in November by Johnson or Stein, it won’t be attributed to the strength of the Libertarian or Green party platforms. It will be attributed to the weakness and uniqueness of the party’s own nominee. Even Johnson’s own campaign is trying to exploit this by emphasizing that voting for him is a vote against both Trump and Clinton (as opposed to a vote for the Libertarian platform). Regardless of the outcome, I think both parties are already trying to figure out how they can never have anything like this election cycle happen again. The third-parties are irrelevant (at least in 2016).

I stand by my initial assertion. Third-party votes are functionally equivalent to abstentions. Still, I suppose if they get you to the booth to vote the down-ticket races, then that’s a good thing. But before abstaining, you should be damned sure you’re prepared to live with either outcome, because you will live with one of them.

Remember the Brexit. Don’t wake up on November 9th with regrets because what you assumed was going to happen despite your (in)actions did not.


Threaten Me, Please…

HTF__Threatening_Base_by_FlameBunny700As an atheist, I have a recurring conversation with many believers. They can’t understand why I bother to try to be a good person without the impending fear of judgement and damnation. If I don’t think God is watching me and keeping score, why don’t I just go on a hedonistic binge of barbarism?

I always try to patiently respond that my motivation is mostly internal. I want to judge myself to be useful, productive, helpful, and caring. There is an external aspect to it as well. I want my family and friends to judge me positively. I don’t believe in life everlasting. My only shot at living beyond my mortal years is in the recollections of those who might remember me. And for reasons of my own making, I want that legacy to be based on fondness, respect, and maybe even admiration, not on infamy. That is what I aspire to, and what inspires me.

What I don’t usually share is that their question frightens the hell out of me. The implication (or in some cases, the outright admission) is that the only thing standing between them and a life of raping and pillaging is belief in some exogenous force poised to reign retribution down upon them. They are not a tamed animal, they are a caged one.

Of late, I’ve begun to wonder if this same need for external fear-based motivation extends beyond the realm of religion and morality. In economics, I hear the repeated notion that minimum wages, guaranteed health care, food stamps, unions, and any other program designed to help the poor or the working poor is inherently destructive. It removes the incentive to work harder, train harder, or even to work at all. The underlying assumption seems to be that absent the fear of homelessness and starvation, no one would get out of bed in the morning. It isn’t enough to have a sizable carrot in front of you unless there’s a big angry stick behind you to keep you moving.

This same attitude seems to bleed into foreign policy as well. The notion that the USA must remain the preeminent military power on the planet because otherwise we’ll lose our ability to influence other countries seems predicated on the notion that our power comes from fear that we instill. We repeatedly demonstrate that fear of terrorism will motivate us to actions we would otherwise never consider. In fact politics has largely degenerated into a game of which party can paint the scarier future if the other guy wins.

It even strikes me that much of our gun-culture stems from fears that everyone else, left to their own devices, would pose a threat. It is only by being a bigger threat yourself, that you’re able to keep them at bay.

I do believe that most people view others through their own life-lens. That is, they project their own desires, tendencies, and morality onto the behavior of others. People who worry about the downside of atheism, economic security, and world peace are reacting from the awareness that they themselves realize that in such a world, they would rapidly fall into an existence of varying degrees of unfettered sociopathy.

That there exist so many people contained only by a variety of fears is more than disconcerting. And it would be one thing if there was a recognition that fear-based motivation was destructive and there was a collective consensus to mitigate it. Conversely, what we’re seeing is a resurgence in the idea that fear-based motivation is essential and good.

I had hoped for better, but in the end, maybe we are just barbarians with iPhones.


Six Degrees of Adolf Hitler

HitlerKevin Bacon is so yesterday. If you’re an aspiring political pundit, Hitler is the game. Former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire, Judd Gregg, is the latest to step into the ring.

Writing in The Hill this morning, Gregg draws a wobbly late-night drunkard’s path from “Progressives” to “Wealth Redistribution”, makes a beeline to “Socialism”, a word that appears in the “National Socialism Movement” in Germany that was later shortened to “Nazism”, and by golly, there’s your “Hitler”. A perfect six hops, proving conclusively that Progressives are as bad as Hitler.

What more is there to say? I mean, you can’t argue with that sort of air-tight deductive power, can you? Surely, Sherlock Holmes himself (assuming he was smoking some seriously good shit in that bad-ass pipe of his) would concur.

I’m arguably a bit manic about this at the moment because it’s the second “slippery slope” argument I’ve seen in the last 48 hours. The other was John Goodman’s essay defending inequality. In Goodman’s case, he had the good sense to avoid Hitler, but he did manage to wend his way from a rise in the capital gains tax rate to 28% all the way to full on communism.

Fer cryin’ in yer beer, do these guys apply this sort of convoluted logic to their everyday lives? Do they really think if they don’t get rid of cable their house will explode?

The crime is that there should be a serious debate here. There are solid arguments for and against various plans to modify the tax code. There are pros and cons to changing the minimum wage. And there are pluses and minuses to socializing various functions and services in society. Further, these are complex interwoven policies. You can’t address them in a vacuum. Rather they need to be considered holistically with other policies to further specific goals.

But silly arguments like these do not advance the discourse. Life is lived in the grey, not at the extremes. If you want to model your world using ideological purity rather than data and reason; if you want your emotions to swell at the sound of soaring rhetoric and nationalist pride; if you want to rationalize the “other” as the root of your plight; then maybe you should be following… HITLER. {FTW}


Guns and Gays and Hypocrisy, Oh My!

Phil Robertson and Dick Metcalf were both fired for expressing their views.
Phil Robertson and Dick Metcalf were both fired for expressing their views. Only one inspired outrage.

This is a tale of two men. Both men had TV shows, both men expressed their opinions. Both men’s employers cut ties with them. But only one inspired outrage for being discriminated against for speaking out.

By now, everyone has heard about Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson. He said some rather hateful things about homosexuals and African-Americans, which prompted the A&E Network to place him on “indefinite hiatus”. This prompted an immediate backlash from conservatives who were apoplectic that Robertson’s First Amendment rights were somehow being violated. This story dominated the news cycle and even launched petitions such as IStandWithPhil.com that argued:

“…the notion that a free-thinking American should be discriminated against simply for expressing a perspective that is in conflict with another is patently un-American and flies in the face of true tolerance and civility.”

In a parallel universe, Dick Metcalf had a similar experience. Metcalf is one of the country’s pre-eminent gun journalists. He was a columnist for Guns & Ammo, and had a TV show on the Sportsman channel called Modern Rifle Adventures. This is a guy with some serious NRA credibility.

However, in late October, Metcalf penned a column titled “Let’s Talk Limits”. In the column he stated, “The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.” The column doesn’t advocate for much beyond proper training for anyone having a gun. Still, the column inspired the ire of gun manufacturers who primarily sponsor both the magazine and the TV show on which Metcalf appears. The gun companies threatened his employer that Metcalf needed to be fired or they would take their money elsewhere. And so Metcalf was let go.

So the question is, where is the outrage? Why is there no IStandWithDick.com petitioning for the return of this gun enthusiast? After all, the issue with Robertson was that his right to express his opinion was being stifled… right?

The similarity of these cases, down to both victims being conservative icons of sorts, leaves only one interpretation for the relative silence from the political right over Metcalf’s dismissal. This wasn’t ever about freedom of expression. This was about support for a position. Those rallying for Robertson’s return were behind him because he expressed views about gays and blacks that resonated with them. They supported those positions, but lacked Robertson’s “courage” to say them aloud. Metcalf got no support because he was advocating a position that was anathema to that same group.

This was never about freedom of a man’s speech. It was always about support for a man’s views. I’m all for everyone getting to express their views directly, or indirectly by expressing support for others’ views, but can we at least be honest about our motivations? I have respect for anyone with the courage to stand by their convictions. But it’s simply cowardly to hide your true convictions behind other espoused ideologies you think are more socially acceptable.


Oh, if only I were poor…

Homeless-Family-Pic-2I envy the poor, or at least the far-right’s vision of what it’s like to be poor. You see, in the right-wing unreality bubble poor is no longer an affliction, a condition, or even an unfortunate happenstance—it’s a lifestyle choice. It’s kind of like being gay, but with a crappier wardrobe.

It turns out, the poor are only poor because they are good at hiding their assets in order to qualify for government handouts. It’s easier to play the system than work a real job.

Take the woman in the picture above. She could clearly be a paralegal at a law firm and have those kids in daycare. But instead she lounges outside with them, soaking up the fresh air and the stray dollars of the occasional sap walking by. She pockets all that money under the table, and then shows up at the welfare office once a week to plead her case and collect her stipend for her sloth. How do we know she’s an economic con-artist? If she were truly destitute, would she have luxury items like a stroller and 2 different colors of marker?  I think not.

But alas, I was raised with a work ethic. My parents taught me not to be dependent on anyone, and that hard work and determination could get me anywhere. So, I’ll probably never know the joys of hanging out on sidewalks all day raking in the cash, or of heading to the supermarket to buy T-bones and caviar with my food stamps.

Damn my mom and dad for giving me a conscience. Otherwise, I’d be on easy street—probably not driving on it mind you, but at least sitting on the curb with a clever cardboard sign. That would be the life.

And I’ve probably cursed my kids too. Like me, they grew up in comfortable suburban homes and got sent to good schools. They’ve never wondered where they were going to sleep at night or how they were going to get a meal that day. Hell, a food crisis in my house is running out of cheese sticks. But once they get a taste of the corporate rat race, the poor house is gonna look pretty damned cozy to them.

Woe unto my children, for they will never know the happiness to be found in the lethargic and slothful lifestyles of the destitute, resting comfortably in the hammock of social welfare programs. For they are condemned to work jobs and pay taxes and own homes and send their own kids to college some day. Oh, the humanity.

Fortunately, the Tea Party has a solution. Let’s cut out all these social handouts to the indigent, the working poor, the disabled, and other assorted barnacles on our great society. Let’s motivate folks to move back indoors, polish up their resumes, and fill all those open jobs. Tell that lady in the picture up there to scoop her baby up off the sidewalk and land herself a real man to take care of her.

And those that can’t turn that corner and pull themselves out of poverty by sheer force of will? Fuck ’em. Let ’em starve. Just like it says in the bible. We don’t need ’em anyway, and they’ll serve as an example of what happens if you pick your nose up off that grindstone.

Besides, getting all those people off welfare programs will lower the taxes on us hard working folks and assure my children will never again know tragedies like last Thursday… when we ran out of cheese sticks. Oh, the humanity.