Monday, November 05, 2012

How my home builder reminded me that voting is pointless

The timing couldn’t have been better.

I’d just finished a load of laundry and was taking it upstairs when I grasped hold of the railing on the basement steps, and felt it wiggle. Like a loose tooth, it felt as though one good yank would pull the sucker clean of the wall. Upon inspection, I saw further cracks in the drywall surrounding it, and up and down the walls leading to the ground floor.

Terrific, I thought. Add that to the drywall already crumbling on the second floor, the holes in the garage walls (cleverly concealed from the home inspector before we moved in), the drafty doors, the sagging fences, the leaky garage roof, the splintered paneling and the walls thin enough to allow us to hear the neighbors playing World of Warcraft at 10 p.m. on a worknight. Some of this stuff is doubtless normal wear and tear, but much of it is the result of shoddy construction, and all of it will have to wait until other repairs are done on the condo I’ve owned since 2005 and rented for years now since I can’t get rid of it in the current market. It's enough to get you to start drinking vodka in the morning. Except I already do, so I guess I can't blame the house. 

When I got back upstairs and checked the mail, still juggling figures in my head and trying to decide whether the drywall repair could wait until spring or not, I found a nondescript envelope bearing the title “voter” next to my name. When I opened it, it turned out to be a letter from my builder. Advising me on how to vote.

I won’t quote the letter, but the gist of it was that my builder, reminding me of his credentials as a small business owner of the community who’d been building homes for fifty years and employing tens of thousands of people in the industry, had concerns over the direction the country was headed under President Obama and certain members of the House and Senate. He advised me to vote Republican, under the grounds that the country can’t afford another four years of reckless spending on entitlements and ill-advised programs. It closes with an urgent call to action: it’s time to take back the country for the next generation.
The basement wall is perfect symbolism for the 2012 election. The drywall represents my eroding trust in our electoral system, and the paneling is pure evil. 
 Take it back? I can’t help but wonder. Take it back to what? Back to military aggression, unaffordable tax cuts and a public docile from fear of terrorism, happily signing their library records away to the government and racking up credit card debt? What planet is this guy from?

Well, at least he gave me a better reason to break out the Absolut. Got to give him that. 

“Reckless government spending” is a line that’s starting to get old for a number of reasons. Mostly because “reckless” (or whatever derogatory term you prefer) is an epithet applied selectively, depending on whom you ask. Some argue that massive spending on health care for the poor and infirm is unaffordable while others argue that wars tend to be pretty reckless, especially if you decrease taxes while fighting them. But hey, my builder wants to build more homes. He’s throwing his weight behind the guy he thinks will get that to happen. If I had to bet, I’d say you’re barking up the wrong tree, but good luck with that anyway.

Actually, my builder’s letter infuriates me for a different reason: He’s forcing me to stick up for President Barack Obama.

Let me be clear: I am not making a partisan argument here. Vote your conscience. But as historian James Loewen reminds us, although we’re all entitled to our own opinion, we are not entitled to our own facts.

There’s a current of thinking that seems to be building steam: Things were great back in the aught’s (2000-2008-ish) because back then, we had President Bush and the Republicans in charge. Unemployment was low, the stock market was booming, consumer confidence was high and nobody was making any noise about hope and change. We were on top of the world, but then the Democrats took Congress in 2006, and Obama took over in 2008. Suddenly, the economy crashes, people lose their homes, we’ve got a massive deficit and China and India are killing us on the global market. So if we just get the right guys back in charge, we’ll be back in the good old days again.

All of that used to be called a “straw man argument.” Then it surfaced as a viral email debunked by Snopes. Now it’s circulating in my newsfeed.

Were I to rebut all of these points one by one, I’d be, at best, parroting finer minds than my own; at worst, outright plagiarizing them. But I hope it’s not untoward of me to point out that to accuse Obama and the Democrats of tanking the country after a mere 15 to 20 months or so in power is to severely overestimate their power. Remember that President Bush was in office for eight or nine months when 9/11 happened, yet to blame him and him alone for that would be idiotic. Rather, one has to take a wider perspective of our foreign entanglements, and once you do that, you go beyond one president and one party, and start to focus on the military/industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about in 1961. Ditto with the economy: anyone who can think their way out of a paper bag will have no trouble drawing a line from the Friedmanite/Reaganite overhaul of the 1970s/1980s to the deregulation and subprime mortgage vomit-inducing monstrosity that left us all holding the bag while the criminals went off scot-free, more powerful than ever and ready to do it all over again.

(Side note: My original mortgage lender was Countrywide. You’ve heard of them--at least they’re getting slapped on the wrist with a civil suit. But every morning when I wake up, I say a little prayer to the Gods of Retribution that the hookers those guys were frolicking with all had scorching cases of herpes.)

I’m willing to yell about all that to whomever wants to debate the issue, provided we’re interested in arriving at some kind of truth rather than just scoring points and trying to get votes for “our guy.” Hell, I’m no genius, and I need all the perspective I can get. Yet I hope that, by articulating the aforementioned points of view, I’m not forced, by shoddy logic, to take the role of de facto apologist for President Obama. We should all possess the requisite gray cells to qualify the issue here.

There are grave concerns and misgivings I have about Mr. Obama, but almost none of them are shared by anyone in our country’s mainstream political reporting, or, if they are, I haven’t heard of them. “Obamacare,” for instance? Less to be disliked for its “socialism” and more for its subsidies to the insurance companies while simultaneously expanding their customer base.

His foreign policy? Sure, it’s great that bin Laden is dead, although if you want to split hairs, we did commit a war crime. Meanwhile, drone attacks have  skyrocketed under the president from the level they were at under Bush, which is a pretty good way of sowing anti-American sentiment and future self-styled holy warriors with an antipathy for America. (Never mind that their accuracy is abysmal.)

His education plan? A complete train wreck: accountability takes the form of test scores and discounts external factors that have a much greater impact on a pupil’s performance. Race to the Top might as well be called Frankennochildleftbehind.

And don’t even get me started on fiscal reform and his explanations of it thereof. His opponents can scream about how taxing the rich won’t help all they want—that’s a sideshow to me (although if you decide to tackle long-term deficit reduction, the $90 billion a year we’d save turns into $900 billion over ten years, a much more serious figure than the $130 million or so we give to public broadcasting that Mitt Romney sees as so unsustainable). What we should really be talking about is a system of oversight that ensures we won’t have to bail out the banks any more. We should be talking about why Obama’s Justice Department failed to prosecute the worst of the financirati even when they practically had DNA evidence of their malfeasance. And would it kill him to hire economists without fingerprints all over the current crisis?

But none of that has happened, for a perfectly clear reason: Wall Street funds Democrats in addition to Republicans, as do pharmaceutical companies and education reformists/activists/lobbyists. All of them have deep pockets. The voters suckered into thinking there’s a tangible difference between the two political parties include, it would seem, my builder, who’s convinced that his guy will make a difference because he’s not going to throw any lavish cocktail parties and he’ll sleep on a sleeping bag in his office to save money. Sort of like…why, it’s like cutting Sesame Street to pay for a financial bailout, isn’t it?

If we hire a few hundred billion of him and then fire them all, we'd save billions!
In 2008, I was of the opinion that “Change” was a no-brainer: Rising unemployment, two wars, and a looming economic crisis? How the hell did that happen? No, no, we’ve got to turn this mess around!

Now, “change” is being marketed as Change to the stuff we did before the radical socialist took charge, and in order to swallow that pill, you just have to hit the right parts of your head hard enough to forget all the history that led up to the mess we’re in right now.

But if you try to correct the record, if you’re not careful, you wind up playing defense for Team Obama, and until my rental property is saleable, Countrywide is behind bars and drone planes are recalibrated to start dropping books all over the Middle East, I’ll pass, thanks. 

So anyway, Mr. Builder of my Home Sweet Home, I won't be voting for your guy. I'm not even sure I'll be voting for the one everyone assumes is my guy. Or anyone's guy. I don't think there is a guy for us any more, even if we use the term in a gender-neutral sense. But as long as there's guys like you to distract us with the bogus issues, I guess there'll be plenty of mud slinging and innuendo to spare for 2016-on. Now come over and help me fix this wall. You bring the plaster. I've already got plenty of vodka.

No comments: