Often and apparently because of my interest in the Earth’s environment, it is assumed by those with opposing views that I am a political “liberal”. Whatever that label means and whether or not it applies to me does not change the validity of the science I discuss, for course. As I have said many times, Mother Nature will not pay any attention whatsoever to our political preferences. Nevertheless, for those who suggest my environmental stances are politically motivated, I will provide here a brief summary of my political preferences. Perhaps the simplest way to do that is to reveal who I have voted for in the past – with the assumption that you all recall the political stances of those candidates.
Throughout my life, I have done my best to identify and support those candidates for office who have had the most relevant experience and have shown themselves to be responsible and knowledgeable with respect to existing realities and problems. I have paid less attention to candidate’s ideologies whether they be on the Right or Left of the political spectrum. I think it is appropriate for the pendulum of political dominance to swing back and both as needed for correction of the controller’s excesses. Following this guideline, I have supported individuals from both the Democratic and Republican parties. In the process, I have both gained and lost respect for both parties. While I have paid attention to politics since about 1960, events that have occurred since about 1992 have been particularly important in determining my present respect for and lack of respect for both parties and the candidates they put foreward.
You will recall that George H. W. Bush (Bush Sr) had a commendable first Presidential term from 1988 to 1992. The first war in Iraq (Desert Storm) had been an unqualified success and Bush Sr’s popularity was sky high one year before the election of ’92. In addition, Bush Sr was one of the most experienced public servants of the USA, having served eight years as the VP for President Reagan, Director of the CIA and as a congressman. His international connections were invaluable in ending the cold war with the USSR during the first years of his Presidency. He was also kind and universally respected.
Then in his last year prior to the ’92 election, he did something he deemed necessary for maintaining the financial integrity of the country – he raised taxes, thereby reversing his previous “read my lips” stance of “no new taxes”. While my own respect for him was increased by that courageous and responsible act made right before another Presidential election, too many within the GOP withdrew their support of him – for that same reason. Now let’s consider what was happening on the Democratic side in the run-up to that election.
In the Democratic primaries, a race ensued between a set of experienced US Senators, including Paul Tsongas, Tom Harkin, and Bob Kerry, and a young governor from Arkansas, named Bill Clinton. Among these candidates, I ranked Clinton at the bottom because he did not seem to be sufficiently realistic and responsible. Unlike the other Democratic candidates, he boasted that he could solve all of America’s problems, including poverty, medical care and an economic recession, with relative ease and with little additional expense. This glad-handing approach was to earn him the nickname, “Slick Willy” among Republicans and I thought the term was appropriate at that time.
Bush Sr then lost that close Presidential race to Clinton in 1992 and for this, I placed the blame squarely at the feet of a GOP which did not provide sufficient support and enthusiasm for Bush Sr at that critical moment. That election was also complicated by the presence of a strong third party candidate, Ross Perot, who collected about 19% of the popular vote. Of those votes, an approximately equal number were stolen from liberals and conservatives and Perot also got about half of the votes of moderates. I voted for Bush Sr and was proud to do so. I thought he richly deserved to continue as the leader of the USA at that time. Because my view was not sufficiently shared by the GOP, however, we opted to do an experiment with a relatively unknown and much less-experienced Democrat.
As we now know, soon after being elected President Clinton abandoned some of his most progressive projects, including public health care, and moved to the political center. He was then fortunate to be serving during the financially remarkable “dot com” era that persisted throughout the 1990′s. Had Bush Sr won that election of ’92, he and the Republicans would undoubtedly have been credited with the prosperity of that decade. Again, I feel that the Republicans have only themselves to blame for not having the Presidency during those financially golden years. Yet, what you mainly hear today from the ultra-conservatives is a lot of mindless bitching about Clinton’s dominance during that decade with essentially no recognition of why he won the election of ’92.
In the election of ’96, the GOP put up another excellent, very experienced, and responsible candidate named Bob Dole. By then, however, Clinton was well entrenched, had earned strong broad-based support and his country was riding a wave of unprecedented financial well being. While I liked Bob Dole a lot, by then I thought it best to allow Clinton to serve a second term and voted for him this time. The side-bar smearings of Clintons, such as the Lewinsky affair and the bogus Whitewater scandal served to show me that the Republicans were increasingly not able to focus on the substantial issues of the country.
Then in 2000, Bush Sr’s son, Bush Jr won the Presidency in an unusually close race with Al Gore. Gore was not as effective campaigner and Bush Jr managed to win in spite of his relative inexperience and a background that suggested he might not have been a sufficiently serious person until he was “born again” at the age of 40. At the same time he was the son of George Bush Sr and there was hope that some of his parent’s maturity and wisdom might have rubbed off on him.
I am now ashamed to admit that I voted for Bush Jr in that critically important election of 2000. At that time, Al Gore (surprisingly today) did not come across as being any stronger than Bush Jr on environmental issues. After that election, however, Bush Jr reneged entirely on his commitments to those environmental issues and, as we now know, Al Gore became a leader of the climate change movement.
Thus, we were stuck with Bush Jr who led us through that most unfortunate first decade of the 21st Century. Bush Jr had inherited a financially sound USA in 2000 and for that reason, quickly lowered taxes. He then initiated wars in two middle eastern countries, managing to “break” both of them but failing to establish viable governments in either. After thousands of deaths in those two wars and trillions spent, few benefits of our efforts are apparent today and the number of terrorists hostile to the USA has greatly increased throughout the middle east. The enormous expenses of those wars were left on our national credit card for future generations to address. Under his reign, a new pharmaceutical program – also not supported by tax increases -and the encouragement of poorly-backed home mortgages added to our nation’s financial obligations. Annual surpluses soon turned to deficits during the Bush Jr era and in 2006, the USA fell into its greatest depression since 1929. While blame for all of this can be spread to include others, Bush Jr was, in fact, our country’s President for those first eight years of that decade and the Republicans had control of both houses of congress for the entire first half of Bush Jr’s term.
Thus, the GOP’s orchestration of the first decade of the 21st century left a distinctly poor impression on most, including many within the Republican Party. To add to this impression of irresponsibility, in the primaries of 2008, the GOP picked a candidate for the Vice Presidency whose qualifications were unbelievably weak and untested. At that moment, Independents such as myself suspected that the GOP was no longer a credible organization. For that reason, it then appeared that the Democrats would be returned to the White House no matter which candidates they chose. Thankfully that happened. The Bush Jr era was finally over and there was hope that responsible adults might possibly begin the repair the mess that Bush Jr had left behind.
On the democratic side in 2008, I would have very much have preferred that Hillary Clinton would have been selected as a candidate for the Presidency. She had far more experience than Barack Obama and the latter would have been better served by gaining more experience in less important posts. It is ironic that Obama did to Hilary Clinton in 2008 what Bill did to his Democratic competitors back in 1992. By skillful use of the youth and charisma, both of these men wrestled their Presidential nominations from far more experienced competitors. But so be it – that is what happened on the Democratic side and that is where we are today.
So back to the central question of this essay. Where am I politically at the present time? While I still try to be an Independent open to candidates of both parties, since 2008 it has been increasingly difficult for me to consider the offerings and prevailing views of the GOP. By 2008 I could not have held the GOP in lower esteem and my view of it has been lowered still more ever since. The ideologists of its Tea Party wing have prevented the GOP’s backing of socially responsible candidates. The likes of Palin, Bachman, Limbaugh and Hannity remain the face of the GOP and that suggests that it will not be taken seriously by citizens who are interested in finding solutions to the real and enduring problems of our country. With respect to the most dire of these problems, that is climate change, a lingering requirement for the GOP’s endorsement of any potential candidate is that they either deny or ignore that issue! It is no exaggeration to say that the GOP of today is “scientifically brain-dead” on the subject of climate change and proud of it.
Thus, today I tend to give little support to GOP candidates. They suffer from serious self-inflicted wounds and have much improvement to do before the grown-ups in their midst will emerge as candidates. While the GOP does have such people, they rarely get to first base within their selection process.
Still I also do not give automatic support to Democratic candidates, many of whom are far less than they could be due to the controlling interests of Corporate Powers and Big Fossil Fuels, in particular. Thus, I guess I have become a skeptical Democrat who looks for what I perceive to be the most experienced and socially responsible candidates within their ranks. Such people at least have a chance of achieving the support of their party.
The world is now a small place relative to the number of humans that inhabit it. Both our national and international views can no longer be simply “us versus them”. A far more comprehensive and enlighten ideology is needed if our planet is to continue in a manner that is suitable to human beings. “We must all hang together – lest we hang separately” as Ben Franklin once said. While I am not sure that the Democrats are capable of achieving this lofty goal, an even sadder admission is that the present day “Party of Lincoln” seems to be incapable of even envisioning it. In 1860, Lincoln squarely faced the greatest lingering issue of his country and moved towards its solution through an exceedingly painful process of compromise, persistence and sacrifice rather than via any rigid ideology. Thus, Abraham Lincoln remains one of my models for political leadership – even though I presently have so little respect for what’s left of the party he created.
Again, my own political views are of little consequence in affecting the future and I have related them here only because some consider me to be a knee-jerk liberal – which I am not. For what it’s worth, of all 20th Century Presidents, my views are probably most like those of the Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, whose name is synonymous with the “Progressive Movement” of the early 1900′s and is also commonly called the “Father of the Environmental Movement”. Both he and Lincoln faced down the real problems of their times using both conservative and progressive approaches.
I will finish here by declaring my favorite Presidential candidate during my lifetime who did not win the Presidency. My vote there would have gone to Hubert Humphrey – who lost to Nixon in 1972 – if he had not become LBJ’s puppy dog at the end of his career and continued to support the war in Vietnam long after he should have known better. It was sad to see his long and exceedingly productive career end on such a sour note. He was a man of unmatched energy and commitment to our country’s long overdue social improvements set in motion by Lincoln 100 years earlier. If not for his cold-war-induced miscalculations on foreign policy issues, he would have ranked among the our most successful politicians of the mid 20th Century. In that election of 1972, I reluctantly voted for Hubert primarily because his opponent appeared to be very weak on the character/credibility scale.
Thus, my vote here will go to Humphrey’s 1964 replacement in the US Senate, Walter Mondale, who lost his quest for the Presidency in the 1984 electoral landslide of Ronald Reagan (prior to Reagan’s second term) while receiving 44% of the popular vote. While Mondale was considered to be too liberal for many of my conservative friends, the extraordinarily high character and vast experience of both Walter and his spouse, Joan (affectionately known as Joan of Art) would have ensured that their presence in the White House would have been another high point in American history – even if a Mondale Presidency would have been quite different from that of the very popular Reagan. Both of these men were oozing with charisma – one of the American Hollywood type and the other, one that would have played better in Oslo. By that point in my own life, however, I had found that works such as those produced by Ingmar Bergman to provide much better reflections of modern life than those of the Cowboy Westerns. So, it goes without saying that I voted for the Norwegian. While I consider it somewhat unfortunate that we had two such credible and experienced candidates running against each other in 1984, I also wish we had that problem in every presidential election.