Getting through this

I have been composing my post for today all morning, mostly unsuccessfully. There’s nothing I can really say that Jay hasn’t already, and much more eloquently than I could have, but I also don’t want to let this day go unmourned. The hurt, the anger, the fear, and the sadness need an outlet, or might just lose it. They need to be expressed, but I’m not going to guarantee that they’ll be expressed with much coherence or grace today. Like Pam, the word that’s currently bullying it’s way in front of all the others that want to come out is “FUCK!” Still, I’ll give it a go.
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I thought I should tell you, in case you haven’t heard it directly, that our European friends are deeply sorry for our loss. They’re in my email and voice mail and they’ve called, and they want us to know that they’re really proud of the hard work we did to try to prevent this from happening, they know we didn’t just sit on our fat American asses and let them take it, that we tried to make a difference. They’re as mystified by it as we are and they want us to know if there’s anything they can do to help.

They know. And they are really sorry for our loss.

When reality fails me

While I am reality-based, many of you know I am a person of faith as well. Reality is failing me today, so I ended up at Saint Mark’s on the way to work. The letter below, which I just emailed to my family, is the result.

The bit at the end will not sit well with some of you, but the battle ahead will be as much for the soul of America as the ballot box. So we can’t ignore the role that religion will play, or the role of people of faith in making sure that religion becomes, once again, a positive force in our country.
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The Pottery Barn presidency

I sent this in to the Seattle Times Backyard Blog this morning… we’ll see what they do with it.

OK my Republican friends… you have the White House and strong
majorities in Congress. Do what you will, but please don’t carp about
obstructionist Democrats. And please tell your President to stand up
and start taking responsibility for his actions. Please let the buck
start stopping with him.

Just as Colin Powell invoked the “Pottern Barn Rule” in Iraq–as in
“you broke it, you bought it” (which iss not actually Pottery Barn’s
policy but you get the idea)–so is it in play here. There will be
nobody to blame the next four years on. So good luck, godspeed–and
know that a loyal opposition will be taunting you with our
“reality-based” outlook. Unless Bush starts publicly admitting that
God is telling him personally how to run the country, a bit of reality
might actually be a worthwhile contribution to the public discourse.

On a final, personal note, I’m sorry that I lost this election for the
Democrats. Watching as ten states banned gay marriage, it became
painfully clear that conservative voters who turned out for “moral
values” and against the “homosexual agenda” made the difference, just
as that blasted Karl Rove said they would. I’m sorry that David and I
selfishly wanted hospital visitation rights, protection for our joint
property, and the right to pay our taxes together. Apparently, this is
so repugnant to Americans it swamped all other considerations. So it
looks like our status as “walking, talking wedge issue” is ratified.

At this point, the marriage vow that David and I made is what is
holding us together and keeping us here. As we went to bed to bad
news, we said, “Whatever else happens, we have each other.” I would,
honestly, prefer to leave the country. Or rather, I feel that it has
left me and moving would just be a matter-of-fact recognition of this
reality. It would be easy to move to David’s native Australia–and my
Mother, stuck in Oklahoma, is egging us on, with the proviso that she
wants to join us.

But David, God bless him, wants to stay. Hearing him talk of his love
for Seattle, our home, and our friends here, I realize it would break
my heart to leave. Maybe it already is broken. And maybe that’s the
“Pottery Barn Rule” that really matters–your heart belongs to the
country that breaks it.

This is my country, however much so many voters want me to be a
second-class citizen. I can still vote, still march, still protest,
and still raise my voice in celebration of all that is good and
beautiful here. From wherever I go, that’s what I will be doing. So
this is no end, just a new chapter. Thanks to the Seattle Times for
the chance to write, and thanks to everyone who has been reading along
the way. From here on out, my friends and I will be on
trying to make sense of all of this. Because blogging, like politics,
is a way of life.

How voters have ruined democracy

So it looks like the election, whatever the result, is going to be very close. Once again, just as in 2000, the margin between the Democratic and Rebublican presidential challengers will be close to 50-50. How has this happened again? We’ve seen this not just in the US, but also other major democracies — recent elections in Australia and the UK have also been just as close.

I blame polling. Not the polling booths of election day — I’m referring to those surveys, focus groups, and think-tanks that modern politicians use to gauge the popular will before the election. Let me explain. Think of politics as a game (I know, not hard to do) where the objective for each party is to modify its policies in the run-up to an election in response to polling, focus groups, and suchlike, in order to maximise its percentage of the popular vote. In winner-take-all democratic systems like that of the USA and UK, the game is played within a system where there are two contending parties. As this game plays out over time, each party will quickly identify those policies which, if adopted, will cause its popular vote to drop below 50% and thereby lose the election. If so, the logical choice for that party is to adopt the policy of the opponent, or something close to it. The result? On major issues that are relevant to most of the electorate, the parties converge in policy. What’s left are those issues that the parties are willing to stand upon on principle and won’t lose them the vote. Sadly, in modern politics, the desire to win far outweighs the propensity to stand on principle, and so all we are left with to differentiate the parties are the “wedge issues” at the extremes of politics.

This leaves us with the paradox of modern politics as reflected in the current US election: the two major parties are very similar in the major issues (the economy, the war) but differ wildly in the wedge issues (mainly social issues). And the parties, according to polls, are very, very close to 50% each. Since each party converges to 50% support, election results are no longer driven by any real choice in policy, but rather intransient and essentially random factors. These include the effect of third-party candidates, reliability of polling machines, and which party can most effectively get its supporters to the polling booth.

The irony is, that this is the epitome of democracy. Today, on every major issue, the policy of the ruling (or elected) party represents the will of the majority. Likewise, pluralities determine policy on wedge issues. Problems arise when the will of the plurality determines policy for the otherwise uncommitted majority. Even when the plurality is the majority, the majority can still be objectively wrong.

For this reason, strict democracies aren’t a great medium for social progress. (The famous quote sums this up well: a democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner.) When slavery in the US was abolished, much more than 50% of the population was against doing so. (In retrospect, we should all agree that the majority was objectively wrong here.) But slavery was abolished because the US was then, much more so than it is now, a representative democracy. We elect leaders and entrust them to make decisions that will benefit us not just now, but also into the future. But today, those leaders are driving by the popular will through the proxy of the poll, rather than by their own judgement. Could slavery, if it existed today with the same popular support it did then, be abolished by today’s politicians? The current reactions to the gay marriage issue makes me fear not.

And so we come to the irony of ironies: the voters, via the pollsters, have ruined democracy as we know it. From now on, the decisions that affect our lives in fundamental ways will be driven by Nascar Dad, New York Liberal, and Flyover State Mom.

I am so depressed.


Midnight: Just got home from the post-election “party.” We closed up shop in Shoreline at about 8:30 after the last of our poll watcher data came in. We had CNN on and the mood visably deteriorated as the results started to come in.

About 1/2 hour ago I was sitting next to one of the teenagers who came up to Everett with me to volunteer for a day. “What did we do wrong?” She asked. “We didn’t do anything wrong,” I said. “And neither did you. You were there and you worked really hard – I SAW you do it.”

But I wonder. I talked with her mom for a while at about 10pm. We both wondered if things wouldn’t have turned out differently if the party machinery wasn’t so fucked up. But now, I’m going to bed. I’m going to try, for now, to believe that I did all I could for this election. Washington is a Kerry state right now, and Patty Murray kept her seat. That’s what I worked on and for now, for the next 24 hours, it’s going to have to do.
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