Week in Review 11/9/08: Elections and In-Laws

Depending on whether I have enough to say and how disciplined about it I end up being, this may or may not turn into a weekly post on here.  I’m a terrible procrastinator when it comes to writing, but maybe I can talk myself into spending a little time each weekend writing up a few thoughts about whatever caught my attention during the previous week.

On a national (and probably even world) scale, the biggest event of the past week was obviously last Tuesday’s election.  I haven’t really made it a secret in previous posts that I’m a Democrat and supported Barack Obama’s run for president.  Therefore, I was happy with the results of the presidential election.  After the past 8 years, it is definitely nice to be back on the winning side and I do have hope that this will signal a positive change in direction for the country.

I do think that President-elect Obama has a very difficult job ahead of him.  More so than in the other presidential elections that have taken place since I’ve been old enough to vote, I genuinely felt quite a bit of enthusiasm as I voted for him.  I was certainly very aware of his policy positions and agree with him on most issues, but I also have an impression that he is someone with a vision that could genuinely lead to correcting some of the biggest negatives that I have seen in our political system, particularly in areas of corruption and cronyism and a sometimes stifling fear of trying something different.   It is pretty clear to me that I am not alone in feeling that way about what Obama has to offer, but I also think that will prove to be both a blessing and a major challenge for him.  He goes into office with a remarkably supportive public, but he also faces the potential to disappoint dramatically if he fails to live up to his promise.

Of course, this election also represented an historic breakthrough as this country selected its first African-American president.  I was very disappointed, though, that I couldn’t help feel the euphoria surrounding that was blunted dramatically by the fact that a majority of voters here in California, among others, also decided to vote in favor of continued discrimination against homosexuals.  At least here in California, many of the arguments used in support of Proposition 8 were so ludicrous that I can’t  help but see it as simple excuse-making by those that don’t want to admit bigotry even to themselves.  I do still believe that the clear trend is in the right direction here and I was at least heartened somewhat by how close the vote was on Proposition 8, particularly with younger voters pretty decisively opposing the continued discrimination. I do believe this setback to be temporary, but I was truly hoping that this would be more of a year of breakthroughs on multiple fronts.

Shifting gears to my personal life, this week was dominated by one of the recurring events regularly experienced by those of us who do have marriage rights: a visit by the in-laws.  My wife’s parents currently live in Arizona and we typically manage two visits with them per year, usually with us making one trip out there (which we did last February) and them coming out here one time.  For this visit, they arrived last Wednesday and will be staying through tomorrow.  While they aren’t quite the constantly "on-the-go tourists" that my parents usually are during their visits, I’m still pretty tired after a weekend of company, even though it was a very pleasant and positive visit.  I think maybe I’m becoming too used my wife’s and my usual weekend ritual of tag-team napping, making the change of pace a bit harder.

It has been a good visit and I’ve been very pleased with the amount of quality time that they have had with their grandson.  Andy’s grandmother has particularly bonded very well with him, spending quite a bit of time playing toys and reading with him.  Both grandparents have put in some time working on drawing and writing with him and he has also enjoyed demonstrating his various computer games to them.  His grandparents also joined us for his weekly Gymboree class this morning and our usual Sunday morning breakfast at McDonalds.  This afternoon, we had an early birthday celebration for him where we had a small cake and they gave him his presents.  Tomorrow, grandma is going to accompany Andy for at least the first part of his day at pre-school. 

Looking forward to the week ahead, it is back to work tomorrow although it looks like it could be another rather quiet week there.  Between the upcoming holidays and the slowing economy, there aren’t a lot of active projects going on right now, which has kept the stress level and number of work hours somewhat more manageable the past couple weeks.  I don’t really anticipate that changing.  Other big events of the coming week include the appointment to get the crown attached to my dental implant on Tuesday (hopefully the last step of that long process) and Andy’s actual birthday and birthday party next weekend.

The Presidential Debates

I have watched the TV broadcasts of both of the Presidential Debates that have been held during this election and I am left with a strong feeling that I’d still like to see the candidates actually debate.  Both of the events so far have had strict rules and structure that have substantially reduced their value.  The result has been that each has ended up being closer to a series of focused stump speeches.  True discussion and interaction between Senators Obama and McCain has been almost entirely non-existent.

The basic format used in both debates was that each candidate would have 2 minutes to answer any given question, followed by a 60-second discussion period.  Those discussion periods ended up almost always being short follow-up speeches rather than any kind of true back-and-forth between the candidates.  Almost every time, both candidates went over the specified timings, despite the protests of the moderators, but that was almost always due to verbosity rather than any generation of discussion.

The two debates were extremely similar in content, with some of the responses even being pretty much word-for-word the same.  The second debate did have a "town hall" format where voters in the audience asked the questions, but the questions were still pre-selected by the moderator and the audience members were not allowed to follow-up with any other questions or even requests for clarification.  In many cases, the answers weren’t really precise responses to the question being asked and generally they weren’t called on it.

On multiple occasions during each debate, one of the candidates clearly indicated an interest in responding to a point made by the other, but was not allowed by the moderator who instead insisted that it was time to move on to the next topic.  This was particularly frustrating since both candidates spent a lot of time giving alternate characterizations of the other candidate’s positions, but there was never enough back and forth to get to the bottom of what each candidate really would do. 

It obviously isn’t going to happen this year, but I really would like to see a loosely-structured joint interview/discussion with the candidates without such strict rules.  If the candidates start expressing differing takes on each other’s proposals, then I would like to see them continue going back and forth with clarifications and responses until the audience really does have a good idea of what the actual proposal is.  The current format seems to be more about who can present a more convincing obfuscation than it is about truly understanding where anyone stands.

Either of the moderators so far (Jim Lehrer or Tom Brokaw) certainly could conduct a very effective discussion if they were simply allowed to use their journalistic instincts to manage a true discussion.  Both of the moderators (especially Brokaw) actually came off rather poorly in the debates, looking more like strict teachers having to enforce overbearing rules than like journalists.  I honestly have a hard time understanding why well-regarded journalists would even want to be involved in such restrictive events where the ultimate value is fairly limited.

In this day where most people have access to hundreds of TV stations as well as the vast resources of the Internet, debates that seem to be intensely restrictive in time and content seem like a major anachronism.  I think one of the most important steps to bringing more truth and relevance into political campaigns is to better utilize today’s media to truly let the public get to know and understand the differences between the views and proposals of the two candidates.

Obama vs. Clinton and the Primary System

I’ve been resistant to delving into political topics on this blog, mostly out of fear that I might expose too much about my own ignorance. :)  I do tend to follow political debate (particularly at the national level) quite a bit, though.  As a registered Democrat that will almost certainly end up supporting and voting for whichever candidate becomes that party’s nominee, I have certainly been taking a lot of interest in the 2008 primary season.

I disagree with the increasingly widespread commentary accusing the Democratic Party of self-destructing simply because both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are still active candidates with more than 3 months remaining before the party convention and with several states still having yet to have their primaries.  As I see it, the Democrats are prompting a fair amount of criticism and doomsday predictions simply because the candidate selection process is working essentially as designed.  This primary instead seems to be illustrating how the basic method being used to select candidates usually doesn’t work very well and has largely become an outdated relic of a very different time.

I think that the result of the Republican nomination is much more troublesome, although very typical of the process for both parties during the typical modern election, including all the ones since I’ve been eligible to vote.  John McCain was widely accepted to have clinched his party’s nomination after the March 4th round of primaries, even though the primary season still had several months to go.  Much has been made about the voters of Florida and Michigan being disenfranchised in the selection of the Democratic candidate due to those states violating party rules regarding scheduling, but it is that really worse than the fact that the Republican primaries in 10 states have ended up being basically irrelevant?

The extended, highly staggered primary process made quite a bit of sense in a time when traveling from state to state could take days or weeks and when 24-hour news networks and the Internet weren’t available as a means for the candidates and parties to get their views, positions, and even personalities quickly and widely disseminated to every part of the country.  In today’s era of air travel and mass communications, though, campaigning for a simultaneous, nationwide primary would certainly be feasible and would avoid large portions of the population from being essentially disenfranchised from the selection of the candidates.  There might be a grain of truth in the concern that such a system could pretty sharply reduce the importance and influence of smaller states and rural communities, but the current system usually seems to have largely the opposite effect, which really seems to make even less sense.  I really hope that this year’s primary will prompt some serious discussion of this long overdue change.

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