Friday, September 26, 2008

Like v Vote

The New York Times is reporting today on disgruntled Democrats who are mad because Bill Clinton said he likes John McCain.

Let's get some context here. At the Democratic convention in Denver, almost every speech included the line "John McCain is my friend" or "I like and respect John McCain" - including the speeches by Joe Biden and, I think, Barack Obama. I noticed it because it seemed so unusual. But McCain has been in congress for a zillion years; he's an affable guy; and he's worked with both parties. He has a lot of friends and is widely respected.

That doesn't mean he should be president. Everyone likes Gwynneth Paltrow and that doesn't make her presidential material.

The reason I find this so interesting is a tendency in US politics to need to demonize the person you don't support. It's as if to not support someone, you have to think that every aspect of their personality, history and qualifications are completely bogus and horrible.

Sometimes, especially when there are ideological differences, we can't help but demonize a politician. I am frightened by Stephen Harper's ideology and I feel threatened by his agenda for my country, which causes me to have stronger than usual negative thoughts about him. That's just the way it goes sometimes.

What gets me is a growing sense that we are disloyal to those we support if we don't hate their opponent.

A case in point is Sarah Palin. I don't support Sarah Palin, but I did some research and found that much of the criticism of her is incorrect. She never tried to ban any books; her record on taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Alaska is actually quite good; her record on protecting polar bears is actually quite good; her actions as governor to protect gay rights were actually quite good (not because of her convictions on human rights, but because of her determination to follow the constitution); she is not an Alaskan separatist; as governor, she really did reduce waste and corruption; and there is no indication that she has tried to force her private religious views on her constituents. She is not as inexperienced as her detractors like to say and is the only one of the four in the race with executive experience (although her knowledge of facts and issues is shockingly lacking).

Yet when I mention any of these things in polite company, I get yelled at. I must hate her and think she is wrong in every respect, or I am somehow disloyal to the Obama cause.

I'm torn on what's going on here. I think it's a mixture of two things. One is the politics of hate that exists, especially in the US. The other is a need to demonize female candidates. (Or is it just a coincidence that the two female candidates in this US election process, Hillary and Palin, both were the objects of such hysterical hate?) In a couple of years, I imagine a bucklet-load of books will come out trying to explain what happened in this election campaign. While in the middle of it, I find the mood on both sides disturbing and inexplicable.

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