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Sticking a Toe in some Political Waters

Posted Jan 23 2009 6:16pm
So sorry for the sparse blogging but the semester has solidly begun! Everyone's pretty frazzled but I finished the to-do list for tonight with enough time to post up a blog.

I do hope that readers of my blog appreciate that I tend towards taking a challenging stance when it comes to politics instead of coming off as polemical. With that said, I would like to do some of my own vetting of what I have observed around the recent VP nominations.

As a 20-something, most of my political friends tend towards the strongly Democrat ideal-minded youthful zeal that can really only be equated with 20-something rhetoric. One friend utilized an AIM status message of "SARAH PALIN IS A MORON" while another friend employed a Facebook status message "wonder(ing) if 'Sarah Palin' will come into use as a term for a right-wing extremist vastly under-prepared for a particular job." At best, the first could be shouted out at a drunken party whereas the second seems to be a distortion through extreme language.

Make no mistake about it: the 2008 election goes beyond historic significance. Looking at the last 3 Presidential elections (2008, 2004, and 2000), I think the desire for change in the political process has strong, Constitutionally-supported merits, particularly as major slates war within themselves to determine their standard bearer. Personally, I happen to have followed the 2000 and 2008 elections with enough critical observation to notice that many candidates in the front-running of the slates espoused significant goals to govern our country better that did not become significant after the party opted for another candidate. Two examples come to mind immeidately: McCain in 2000 and Ron Paul in 2008. Specifically, the rucous about how delegates can be sent to the DNC to vote for various candidates in the 2008 election brings the question of primaries to the forefront anew. Yet beyond that, the Democrats have a younger black man leading the way and the Repulicans have tapped a younger woman as VP.

Going first to consider the Obama-Biden ticket, I struggle to appreciate the internal consistency of the campain with Biden on the ticket. How can Obama be running on a Change ticket with a running mate with strong congressional leadership as chair (a position reserved for the most senior member of the majority party) on two BIG DEAL committees? Drawing the comparison to McCain for a moment, it appears as though Obama picked the running mate that looks the most like McCain of any of the prospective candidates Obama vetted.

In considering the McCain-Palin ticket, I have to hand it to McCain for swinging the pendulum of NY Times coverage to the Republican ticket with the announcement of Palin. We are left to wonder: Who is this relatively obscure governor from Alaska? And the media has been doing their job to satisfy our curiosity in the very slanted ways that media outlets provide election coverage. However, from my position as a woman scientist, I question the logic here because one thing I have observed from a great deal of blog reading is that men often tap women who lack experience for major posts as a way to prove that a woman cannot handle the job. I struggle to see past the potential for tokenism and imposter syndrome as it relates to McCain's tap of Palin.

However, in the same way that Obama chose a running mate that looks a lot like McCain, McCain appears to have chosen a running mate that looks like Obama. Now I get back to my friend's criticisms of the Republican VP...

To begin, Sarah Palin embodies the conservative Republican ethos through and through in many of her political positions. Resisting her on her Pro-Life stance is restricting a Republican party plank. Resisting her because of her support for fossil fuel exploration is restricting a Republican party plank. You do not get tapped as a viable VP pick if you do not agree with the party ideals; along the political spectrum, I do believe it is absolutely fair to cry that Palin lies further right than McCain. However, among my estimation, it appears Palin falls between McCain and the extreme conservative Right of the "Moral Majority." I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine what field of view is appropriate to visualize that claim. In my mind, to label Palin as an "extremist" would require her to be further right than the Moral Majority.

In terms of gauging her experience, I feel that as a continental state dweller my entire life, I could no sooner judge appropriate governance of Alaska than I could of Hawaii. I do know that the oil industry represents a huge portion of the economy in Alaska, and it seems reasonable that a person concerned with stimulating the economy in Alaska would investigate expanding the oil industry. She has been governor for a short period of time, but in moving from small-town mayor to governor, Sarah Palin apparently quickly touched on something in the heart and minds of Alaskans. (Switching genders and populations and "from Senator to presidential nominee" I could write the same sentence about Barack Obama.)

To be sure, I think evaluating congressional persons as potential presidents tends towards greater transparency because you can look at their voting record on both foreign and domestic issues. We know how Senators Biden, McCain, and Obama interact with the war on Iraq, domestic energy policies, NCLB, etc because we can access their voting records. The voted on bills form a part of the public record, and we can read the text of the bills should we desire to know why votes seem to "flip-flop." Evaluating Governor Palin's voting record is a bit touchier because she operates in the political environment of the state of Alaska. Generally speaking, most people I know don't follow the political affairs of Alaska. To gather evidence to support political position claims means doing some data mining to address the voting record. Lacking familarity with the debate around the bills and the state constitution of Alaska, it may be necessary to determine how a governor's veto interacts with a bill and specfically what the bills said that were vetoed.

For instance, a news source (one of the NY Times, CNN.com, or ABC News, I forget) reported that Palin signed a bill to extend some benefits to same-sex couples while also permitting a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between one man and one woman to enter the ballot. As I, Academic, am reporting these facts unverified, I would consider it to be a prudent investigate the nature of my claim if you, voter, found this issue to be important. Similarly, Palin's Pro-Life stance has been vehemently criticized. If this issue was important to me, then I would check both her veto record and the bill text vetoed because occasionally pro-choice bills have been authored in a way that legitimizates abortion in any number of contexts. Moreover, I would investigate if Palin had a line-item veto as governor to determine the exact nature of her voting record.

In political debates, I like to see things focus directly on reported facts, speeches, or quotes from debates to motivate political claims. For instance, I am personally troubled by the idea that Palin took 3 days off of work when she had her latest baby. How could such a person advocate for concerns around parental leave and worker's benefits? Moving to the Democratic side of the aisle, Biden's seemingly flippant remarks throughout his Senate career strike me as problematic.

My strong encouragement for every registered voter this election season: Do your homework. Dig deep to know why you are voting for a candidate by looking at their own records. If neither political party seems like a viable option for you this election season, investigate your state's policy on allocating electoral college delegates and consider voting for a 3rd party that you think should be in the dialog.
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