Monday, November 10, 2008

You're Smarter Than That  

The election season has been difficult for all of us, but especially for conservatives that bring a rational rather than partisan approach to the table. I was speaking to a good friend tonight who's quite frustrated about how things turned out, and he mentioned how irritated he was at a demand by the ACLU that Obama close Guantanamo Bay "with the stroke of a pen".

We talked about it for a while, with things getting quite heated, but from my perspective it was clear that our differences about how to treat the enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay were the result of real substantive disagreement on issues that were not simple, as opposed to the frothing cariactures of the right that I have often heard from those on the left.

However, there was one little quip that bugged me. When I said I voted for Obama because "McCain's choice of Palin demonstrated his values to me", my friend told me that I was "smarter than that" and that I should realize that the choice of a VP is always a bone thrown to a minority member of the party.

Well, that is one theory, but it isn't the whole story. In my recent memory, at least two Presidents have picked running mates designed to enhance their experience (Bush+Cheney, Obama+Biden), one picked them to appeal to their fan base (Bush+Quayle) and at least three picked running mates that reflected part of their values.

Yes, Palin was more conservative than McCain, and Gore was more liberal than Clinton, but both McCain and Clinton spoke louder than words by selecting someone that reflected key positions that they held: Palin is a sterling, if even heroic defender of the pro-life cause, and we all know how Gore turned out as a proponent of environmentalism.

I think the best example though is Reagan's selection of ex-CIA director Bush: to me, that was a clear reflection of the values Reagan expressed after his service on the Rockefeller Commission's review of U.S. intelligence agencies in 1975, something that arguably later reflected some of Reagan's actions in office. A VP may be designed to appeal to a group of voters, but the choice of a VP still reflects the P's values. The candidates can say a lot, but who they pick for that slot says a lot to me about what they care about and what they're likely to do.

If McCain had selected Condoleeza Rice, I would have voted for him without a second thought --- but the slice of the party McCain was reaching out to was not centrists worried about national security (and pleased to have the chance to vote for a black man or a woman or both). The slice of the party McCain picked was the religious conservative wing, a group whose influence I feel is corrupting on the entire body politic. I would feel about the same if Obama had picked an actual Communist, a group that had a similar corrupting influence on an earlier era.

And, admittedly, it's only because McCain and Obama were such a toss-up up on issues that mattered to me that could I afford to let the decision rest on the choice of the VP. When the case was more clear - as in Bush vs Dukakis - I sucked it up and voted for Bush, even though I didn't approve of Quayle.

But the candidates were very close. I did a lot of research on this campaign. I read the bios of both candidates. I researched their tax policies, the economic effects, their foreign policy stances, their decisions. I followed up on information provided by partisan friends on the left and on the right, and read sources as diverse as the National Review Online and the New Yorker. I went through the positions of both candidates with a blue pen ticking off what I did and didn't like, and they came damn near close to even. So I didn't make this decision blind, or just on the basis of Palin.

But she sure didn't help. Left or right, you're never going to win me over appealing purely to your base.

-the Centaur



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