Tag Archives: politics

Patrick Henry on Experience and How it Informs the 2012 Race

Patrick Henry—you know, patriot, founding father, revolutionary, etc.—once said: “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.” He was looking at the lot of the common man under European monarchies and he knew, like his fellow enlightenment thinkers Donne, Locke, and others, that it was time for a change. Of course, this was when the idea of representative democracy was coming into its own, and its great experiment, the United States of America, was about to erupt as a great beacon of hope in the West. Henry’s words were a call for change, in his case revolutionary change. In last night’s debate, we that same message, though not quite as simply nor as eloquently put.

As he has in his previous debates, Mitt Romney stuck to a simple, straightforward message: The foreign and economic policies of the past four years have left us weakened and unable to properly meet the challenges we face around the world. He backed up that assertion in a way that would make Patrick Henry proud; he cited the experiences of the last four years.

Obama had a slightly more difficult job: He had to defend his policies in the face of Iran’s constantly developing nuclear technology; our obscene levels of national debt, unemployment, and general economic ruin; the resolute resurgence of Russia and China; our inability to properly deal with Al Quida…in other words, the experiences of the last four years that were the direct result of his policies. As a result, he did his best to go on the offensive, citing apparent flip-flops on the Romney side and doing his best to criticize his proposals for the navy, at one point reminding Romney that we no longer use bayonets as much (he’s wrong about that), and describing the aircraft carrier in terms that made me wonder whether or not he’d actually seen one. I have to wonder whether or not that kind of snarky absurdity helped or hurt him.

We’ll learn that as the dust settles and we look for changes in the polls. However, partisanship aside, this debate was instructive in one respect. Experience counts. We have all experienced the last four years, we have all seen what has happened both here and overseas, and we have all felt the direct consequences of Obama’s economic policies in our wallets. For true believers on either side, the actual results don’t matter, they will argue that their guy has won. Happily, neither group is enough of a voting block to elect a president. For the rest of us, this debate was a reminder to look at the experiences of the last four years and ask a question: Do we want more of the same?

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.–Patrick Henry

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The Honest Politician

Everyone likes to think that their guy is honest. If you are a democrat, odds are you thought that Joe Biden was more honest than Paul Ryan; if you are a republican, odds are good you took the opposite position. That goes to two things: the credibility of the candidate, and the bias of the audience.

In my October 4, 2012 entry, Romney and the Joy of the Simple Message, I discussed how a simple, straightforward message that can pass the test posed by Ockham’s Razor by relying on the fewest number of assumptions is best, and how Romney’s jobs first message, in passing that test, was the more credible, a fact that certainly contributed to Romney’s victory. We saw much the same from Ryan, though he dealt with more topics than Romney faced, and that approach served him well; but we saw something in Biden’s performance that can serve as an example to writers, orators, or anyone else who tries to convince others that their point of view is correct.

Early in the debate, the issue of the terrorist attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, came up. When confronted with the issue, Biden made up excuses, including a slowly evolving intelligence assessment that began as the “riots against that anti-Islam film” story but eventually settled on the truth, that it was a terrorist attack that had nothing to do with any film, Islam-related or not. He claimed that no one asked for more security, and then went on to attack Romney for his reaction to the killings.

This exchange is so telling, and makes such a clear object lesson on the necessity of honesty, because the truth came out a week before the vice-presidential debate! The news has been filled with stories of the spin that the Obama Administration has tried to put on the Benghazi attack, along with proof that the embassy staff were begging for additional security as well as proof that those pleas fell on deaf ears in Obama’s State Department and, likely, elsewhere in the Executive Branch.

When so confronted, Biden had two choices: He could argue and lie, knowing that the truth was already out there; or he could admit everything and have a mea culpa moment on behalf of Obama and himself. Biden chose the former, and that was a fatal mistake. The history of politics has taught us that the cover-up is always worse than the shame or guilt being hidden; the lie is always more damaging to the liar. The old biblical canard, “the truth shall set you free” is true, and ought to be the watchword of writers, artists, and politicians alike.

For most folks who do not fall within the “democrat true believer” camp, the obvious lie about the embassy attack destroyed any credibility Biden had. Therefore, the question to be asked is, given the notoriety of the issue, and the fact that the truth is already out there, why not make the integrity move, take responsibility, and seek forgiveness? Also, why not do that on some of the other issues, where we already know the truth in spite of the Obama Administration’s various explanations. Biden would have done his ticket a real favor by being honest with the American People, and he would have bolstered his own credibility in the debate, perhaps to a point where his grins and grimaces would not be front page news this morning.

So, how does this apply to writers? Simple: Readers know when you are lying. Treat them with respect and tell them the truth, and you will be amazed at how your work takes off!

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Whenever we write to persuade, we usually like to cite evidence. In fact, anyone who has gone through an English Comp class will recall that their professor insisted upon it. In our deeply polarized society, there are many strident voices making arguments from both sides of the political divide, and most people rely on their preconceived notions and “guts” to determine which side is right. That means that both sides are essentially preaching to their respective choirs and to people too lazy to think about what they are hearing.

Take a good, long, hard look at this nation, the problems we face, the leadership we have, and tell me that this thoughtless attitude by the public, an attitude fostered by our media and the political class, has done us any good whatsoever. So take that look, I’ll wait…

Still waiting…

Stepped out to have a Coke…

Now I am back…

Nothing? Didn’t think so. Let’s face it, we cannot afford to be this lazy or ignorant any longer, we cannot take things at face value any longer. We have to begin to think for ourselves again. For example, let us take a look at the hot-button issue of gun control.

If you were confronted with a statistic that told you that in a given year, almost 100,000 people are shot or killed with a gun (www.bradycampaign.org), your visceral reaction as a typical human being would be something like “That is terrible! Something must be done!” No argument there, it is terrible, something must be done. That is the reaction that the Brady Campaign would like you to have. Then they would like you to give them money to support their anti-gun efforts. If we were talking about 100,000 innocent people, then Brady would have a good argument. The problem is that we are not talking about 100,000 innocents.

According to the FBI, which does like to break down the big numbers into demographic components, we learn that the vast (and by vast, I mean overwhelming) majority of these shootings are related to drug crimes and gang activity among young males. In other words, it is bad guys shooting other bad guys, or cops shooting bad guys. Are there tragic shootings that fall outside any youthful drug or gang activity? Absolutely. There are accidents, suicides, there are other crimes, but if the gang and drug crime are eliminated from the statistics, the remaining shootings barely amount to anything (Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Justice, www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs).

The problem is that both sides of this debate use the same statistics from the same sources and, depending on the emphasis they place on certain data, or fail to put onto other data, they can make the statistic demonstrate anything they want, whatever happens to coincide with their own position.

Mark Twain was right. When it comes to deceit, there indeed lies, damned lies, and statistics. If you rely on those—any of those—then you are lost. There is, however, a solution.

Do the unthinkable: Open your own eyes and look for yourself.

If you want to know which candidate has a better plan for your life, forget what they are saying to explain your current situation and use your own common sense. You pay too much for gasoline, so ask yourself what would most easily and simply lower those costs? Here is a hint, oil is a commodity, so the more there is, the less it costs. You want to know whether or not private gun ownership is a good idea or not, then look at places (stick to Western cultures where the issues are similar to your own unless you enjoy comparing apples to oranges) where guns are banned and see what happened. Great Britain and Australia come to mind at once, and both saw violent crime—rape, armed robbery, home invasion, etc.—rise dramatically.

Sure, it is all anecdotal, but it does get you thinking, it does make you question, and this day and age, those are two very good things to do!

Let me know what you think.

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Your Programs Failed: Some Thoughts on Tonight’s Debate

I was having a fairly animated conversation with a friend of mine who is so far to the right he makes me seem almost liberal. He was smug about how Obama’s policies have entirely failed and how that is all he has to run on. I asked him, “What makes you think his policies failed?”

After a moment of sputtering, he answered, “Look at gas prices! Look at the unemployment rate! You know the only reason it’s so low is that so many people dropped off the unemployment lines. Look at the taxes, the way businesses are going down the tubes, Government Motors….” he went on like this for a while and eventually wound down, finally asking me how I could find even a little achievement, a little victory, in anything this man has done since taking the presidency.

At the heart of this issue is the fuzzy, imprecise language that Orwell was railing against. People keep talking about Obama’s policies as if they actually know what those policies are. They assume that what they hear in the media is the truth, rather than propaganda, that Obama is trying and that his hands are tied by Republicans and the problems he inherited from Bush are so much worse than anyone could have imagined. They accept all this and fail to ask the one question that would explain everything we have seen since 2008. That question is, simply put, “What are the actual policies that has Obama been pursuing since his election in 2008?”

If we assume the man is not stupid, which he clearly is not; and we assume that he had a plan for the nation, which he did (remember Joe the Plumber and “spread the wealth” or “energy prices would skyrocket under my plan” from the last election?) then it has to be assumed that what we are seeing is part of an overall vision that Obama has for the country. I will leave it to you to decide what that vision is, but tonight I will be listening for Romney to ask the right question, and to demand the honest answer.

I hope he does, but I have my doubts. After all, isn’t he a politician, too?

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Some Advice from George Orwell for this Political Season

As we wind down to Election Day, we have to parse the language the candidates use to find their real meanings, and thanks to the dismal state of the English language, it is now easier than ever for our politicians to say one thing and mean something else.

George Orwell was worried about this when he wrote:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.

Click here for the rest of Orwell’s discourse on the political effects of the deterioration of English.

 

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