Ukraine reminded me why I won’t vote for Hillary

In Uncategorized on March 10, 2014 at 2:10 pm

I think there’s every chance that Hillary Clinton will win the 2016 Democratic nomination. Unfortunately, her recent contribution to the unfolding Russian annexation of Crimea reveals that she remains a seriously flawed politician.

On March 5, in the early days of the crisis, Hillary called Vladimir Putin a “tough guy with a thin skin”—a bizarre insult, given that Putin is in reality playing cold, calculating realpolitik. She went on to compare Putin’s occupation of Crimea to Hitler’s annexation of neighboring countries in the run-up to World War II. The comparison isn’t totally inaccurate, and has been repeated by other credible sources; but the directness of Hillary’s reductio ad Hitlerum forced her to spend the next several days “walking back” her comments, pointlessly diverting attention from the actual, ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Hillary presumably weighed in on the crisis to bolster her credentials for the 2016 campaign, but her contribution—aggressive, badly thought-through, counterproductive—neatly summarizes why she would make an ineffective president. It shows that she has learned little from the days when she failed to move health care reform forward by threatening to “demonize” dissenting members of Congress, and that she has not matured through her tendency to cloud important situations with bluster and personal embarrassment. It’s going to take a lot for her to win my vote.

Election day

In Uncategorized on November 6, 2012 at 11:33 am

Today is the presidential election, and I have a few thoughts. First, I’m predicting a decisive win for Obama. Calling a landslide prior to the election is in almost no one’s best interest: it reduces the election’s value as a news item (so media outlets won’t do it), encourages voter apathy (so campaigns won’t do it), and exposes the predictor to the possibility of looking extremely foolish (so people with reputations won’t do it). Probably for these and similar reasons, all elections look close beforehand; but I’ve never thought we were anywhere near to electing a President Romney, except perhaps for a few days after the first debate, when the electorate seemed to wonder if Obama still wanted the job. In my opinion, Obama heavily outclasses Romney in political acumen and personal authenticity; his vision for the country seems basically right rather than almost completely wrong; and his performance during his first term more than qualifies him for a second one. So without any evidence, I trust that the aggregated judgment and intuition of the American people will produce an Obama victory.

Second, I wanted to remark on and celebrate the tolerance of most Americans during this election, which, it has been delightfully easy to forget, is between a Mormon and a black man. For such an election to be fought mostly on the issues, both political machines must have calculated that attacks against a candidate’s racial heritage or religious faith would disgust rather than energize voters. How strange and admirable that we struggle more to accept Romney’s personal wealth in a time of national hardship than we do his conviction that Jesus will one day rule from Missouri. Noticing these markers of progress as we work to develop a literally catholic culture makes me excited to live in this country.

Last, I’d like to express my gratitude for and faith in the American experiment itself. This country is like a family, and like most large families we experience a great deal of conflict, much of it extravagant and harmful. But particular occasions—weddings, funerals, reunions—can bring families together, and at these occasions the power and sanity of the family bond becomes apparent. Tonight is a reunion for this country, and even if half of us go to bed horrified by the judgment of the other half, we will have had the opportunity to glimpse the enduring strength of the American fabric. That’s something to celebrate.

Feeling; gay rights; “Bad Religion”

In Posts on July 28, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I can’t stop listening to Channel ORANGE, the recently released album by the American R&B artist Frank Ocean. Perhaps my favorite track is “Bad Religion,” a ballad exploring Ocean’s unrequited love for another man. He recently performed it in what I think is a devastatingly beautiful live version. Besides just wishing that everyone within earshot would listen to the song (and the whole album), I’m writing about it because it subtly shifted my politics on gay rights.

I’ve always been for gay rights, of course: I have no reason not to be, and it’s consistent with my understanding of how society should be organized and what freedoms the people in it should enjoy. But I’ve also maintained a robust respect for opposition to homosexuality on principled (for example, religious) grounds, partly out of a sense of historical context. Homophobia has been the unquestioned norm for nearly all of history, including during much of many Americans’ lifetimes; even if those prejudices need changing now, what sense is there in demonizing people who are simply continuing to hold the beliefs with which they were raised? Gay rights will be as unquestioned in fifty years as women’s suffrage is today; why fill the intervening space with conflict and ill will?

This was before “Bad Religion,” performed live on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. What was missing, or at least absent, was the visceral feeling that gay people truly love each other in precisely the way that I feel love. That feeling makes it difficult to see opposition to homosexuality as anything but the unconscionable denial of gay people’s rights by individuals who may be well-intentioned—I haven’t forgotten that part—but whose opinions are plainly wrong and cause real and unnecessary harm. “Bad Religion” certainly isn’t a work of political art; but the truth and humanity of its exploration of unrequited love is maybe the most powerful kind of political statement. If you can listen to it and still dismiss gay love as somehow false or different, I simply don’t know what to tell you.