Monday, November 03, 2008

I BELIEVE.

Our reasons for voting a certain way are a product of many factors – culture, religion, upbringing, life experiences – and each and every one of our votes count. Despite a genuine relief that this will all be settled in 24-36 hours, I am excited and heartened to see that this will likely be the highest voter turnout in U.S. history. Hooray for the USA!

So, that aside, on the eve of one of the most important Presidential elections in recent memory, it’s time for me to get personal.

Candidates, ads, robocalls, signs, debates, rallies, polls, policies, propositions, partisanship, party-affiliation, religion, falsehoods, parsing, scare-tactics and accusations aside, here’s how those many factors in my life have affected who I am, what I believe, why I am so passionate about the choices I made on this year’s ballot, and who I voted for this year.


Let me start with some background because I know some of you don’t share my passion for politics. Here’s why I am so damned passionate.

I grew up watching the six o’clock and ten o’clock BBC News, listening to my parents and grandparents shout their dissent or agreement at the tv-set, and one of the first things I learned to read in any length, was a newspaper. My mother came from a working-class family of staunch Labor Party supporters (in the UK, the left-wing party) and she was the first to part ways with their political philosophy and vote Conservative. (Ironically, I am RIGHT wing in the U.K.) Although they never had long, intellectual debates about their differences, they were frequently discussed. At the age of 8, I remember sitting with my mother watching the General Election results come in and cheering as Margaret Thatcher won a second term.

My favorite game as a kid was “spin the globe”, where I would close my eyes as my mother or granddad spun a globe and I would stop it randomly with my index finger, learning about the country, it’s president or prime minister, culture, and political philosophies. As a kid, I poured through Encyclopedia Britannicas, delivered annually by the door-to-door encyclopedia salesman, thirsty for knowledge about how other countries compared to my own.

At school, one of my favorite subjects was history because I loved hearing about how different leaders and social trends impacted society as a whole through the years. When I went to college (not the same as University, btw), I studied Government and Politics to learn about different political philosophies and electoral systems. Then, at University, my degree was in Media & Cultural Studies, which focused a lot of time on the relationship between culture, media, and government in countries all over the world.

To say I have had an active interest in learning about politics, political view-points, political systems, and cultures, would be an understatement. I am fascinated by the interplay between them and consider myself an ongoing student of all.

It’s also not a small factor that I grew up Britain, where discussing politics with the people around you is as normal as turning on the kettle when a friend comes to visit. It’s well accepted that everyone has a political opinion in the U.K., and that they’re going to express it, whether you like it or not. There are very few apathetic voters where I grew up – historically 70% of the electorate votes (around 20% more than in the U.S.) and even the newspaper you read says something about your party affiliation. It’s not uncomfortable to discuss politics or opinions in the U.K., even if there is a difference of opinion or a confrontation. For some reason the Brits just don’t take it personally. I can’t explain the difference – it’s just too deeply engrained in our DNA.

It’s been a difficult transition for me to make, to learn that Americans’ attitude towards politics is very different and I can’t say that I’m all that well ‘transitioned’ – although I am more like a Roman in Rome than I used to be. Whether through age or being beaten into submission, I have learned when to keep my mouth shut for the most part. Yet, for the ‘other’ parts, I still believe that political dialogue is essential to a democratic society. No more so than in an election year.

Just look at how the increased dialogue in the past 20 months has resulted in a record voter registration this year! Despite all the mud-slinging and the general election fatigue (which even I am experiencing at this point), I am excited that Americans are more engaged. Just yesterday, my ‘other husband’, George Stephanopolous, predicted an 80%+ voter turnout! So, although I disagree with the Prop 8 voters on one side of the street corner around here, I’m heartened to see that people are out there, standing up for what they believe in and willing to engage one another in the process. This is the stuff democratic societies are about and I find it thrilling.

Finally, I’ve also had the great blessing of being able to travel quite a bit in my 33 short years (with, hopefully, many more travels to come) and some of my experiences have been humbling. I have seen just a small taster of what happens in countries where democracy is just an 8 letter word, where governments don’t care about their citizens, where corruption is rife, where the rich lock themselves behind guarded gates and the poor celebrate over a loaf of bread. I know there is much more I didn’t see and much more left to experience, but it makes me feel even more fortunate that we have democratic system in place in this country that allows us to have a say, however removed it might sometimes seem, in how our country is run and what kind of society we want to live in.

For all those reasons, I give a damn. Like I said, it’s in my DNA.

So, here’s what I believe:


I believe that saying that government can’t be trusted as a reason to claim disenchantment with the political process or as a reason not to vote, is a cop out.

In my experience, these people are (a) usually not in need of government help and (b) finding a convenient excuse to absolve themselves of their financial and moral obligation as citizens of their country to help their neighbor and make the society they live in a better place. If you don’t vote and/or find other ways to get involved in your community or government to make a difference, you don’t get to complain. It’s like going to a restaurant, allowing your friends to order for you, and then complaining you don’t like your dinner. Either order for yourself or get in the kitchen and make your own meal.

If you really don’t care at all, fair enough. I don’t believe you but that’s just me. You may not care right now but it’s just because lift hasn’t dealt you with a hand that has made you care… yet. Lucky you.

I believe that government has a role in providing a more even playing field for EVERY citizen who wants to and is able to work hard.

I look upon government as a good parent. A good parent doesn’t want to run your life for you but wants to provide you with the most optimal conditions for success and with every available opportunity that they can possibly offer. Of course, at the end of the day, you still have to take responsibility for your own life and your own actions. You have to work hard and take advantage of those opportunities provided to you.

If you try hard and fail or if circumstance takes a turn against you, you know that your parents will be there to give you support while you get back on your feet and a second chance at success. When you become a success, you turn around and you share some of that success with them, because without them you wouldn’t be where you are today.

Yet, you cannot take away the fact that some people will do better than others. Some are more talented, some have a higher IQ, some are good with their hands, some are good with their minds, and some are just more willing or able to work hard. All these factors – and more – affect how we are rewarded financially for the work we do and the extent to which we can (or want to) live-out “The American Dream”. Unlike socialists, I don’t believe that an even playing field means an even outcome for all, regardless of their abilities or effort. We need janitors and garbage men as much as we need the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets of this world. Without people at every link in the chain, our society would come to a grinding halt.

Unfortunately not every child is born into this world with the same opportunities which, in this country more than any, usually means wealth. Further, some people are born with, or later in life are afflicted with, disability or disease and are physically or mentally restricted in what they can achieve. Still others work hard and, through no fault of their own, experience a life-changing event that pushes them back on their heels - a natural disaster, a sick relative, injury, or unemployment, for instance.

For all those people, whether they are born into poverty, at the bottom-end of the industrial chain, physically or mentally limited, or stricken by tough times, I believe we are all collectively responsible, as compassionate human beings, for ensuring that these people have access to basic needs and rights. In a democratic society, the way that we can collectively ensure that this happens is through government.

I believe that some of the most important of those basic rights are:

  • Access to a good education from kindergarten through college – no matter what your economic situation and without having to send you or your parents into tens of thousands of dollars of debt.
  • Access to guaranteed, affordable health care – affordable meaning that there is a basic level of health care available to every single citizen at a price they can reasonably afford (without choosing between new shoes for your kids and sending them to the doctor), and regardless of their pre-existing conditions.
  • The ability to meet the basic economic needs for your family – a roof over your head, basic utilities, and food to feed your family – without having to leave your children home alone after school so you can go to your 2nd job to make ends meet. So, I believe in a social welfare net based upon true need and, whenever possible, designed to be short-term, with built-in accountability to assist people with lifting themselves out of their situation.
  • A free, fair, and democratic society, ensured through the constitution and national security, where nobody is treated differently under the law because of the color of their skin, their religion, their beliefs, their sex, or their sexual preference.

I believe in voting based not upon what is economically convenient for me, but what is right for my country, my community, and my fellow neighbor, who may not be as fortunate as me.

In an interview with Good Morning America last weekend, millionaire rock star, John Mellencamp, said it well,

“If I was to vote my interest, I’d be a Republican. But I don’t vote my interest, I vote for what I think would be the best and most compassionate for the country. America used to be a great place. It’s not now. I mean it will be again, but it’s not now.”

I’m fortunate enough to be doing fairly well in my life. I’m not rich by either party’s standards – yet - but I hope to continue doing better and better as each year goes on. And I believe that, as I do better, I should pay more taxes. Not just more but a higher percentage of my earnings. I feel that it is my moral and social obligation to contribute to the overall wealth and well-being of this country and its citizens, the better I do for myself.

Now, I don’t like paying taxes, don’t get me wrong. I squish my nose up at that portion of my income that I never get to see, just like you. But taxes are a fact of life. I can go to another country where I can pay less taxes but, guess what, I doubt if I would want to live there. For instance, Ukraine has a 13% tax rate for all its citizens. Want to live there? Syria’s top tax rate is 15%, so how about a move to Damascus? I don’t see you packing your bags. Or how about Bulgaria? Just 10% in Sofia. Thought not.

Sure, it’s possible to continue living in a society where the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer, with the "haves" pretending the "have nots" just need to pull themselves up by their boot-straps and get to work. Sure, we can go ahead and keep erecting walls and security gates around our high-end home communities so we don't have to see or pass by those people who are trucking themselves from their 2nd job at 2am. But when almost 20% of the country’s wealth is concentrated in only the top 1% of Americans and the gap is only growing, eventually the walls will need to get bigger, the gates will need to get higher, and the American dream will be just a memory of the 1950s, post-war generation.

As Michael Kinsley of Time Magazine said regarding Barack Obama’s “spread the wealth” comment, in last week’s issue:

“We may disagree on how much to spread around and how to go about it. We all tend to think that it's someone else's wealth that needs to be spread around and that it ought to be spread in our direction. But the principle that the unequal distribution of wealth is a legitimate concern and government policies should mitigate it has been part of American democracy since at least the New Deal. In fact, it is a commonplace that the moderate wealth-spreading of the New Deal saved American democracy. Today collecting checks from people and issuing checks to other people--or the same people--is the government's main domestic activity.
Although it was an off-the-cuff remark and one that Obama probably regrets, he actually put it well, avoiding the suggestion of envy or class war, which are the usual accusations about such talk. Spreading it around is "good for everybody," he says. And who disagrees? Or would you like to live behind locked gates and hire guards to protect your family from kidnapping, as in places where they spread it around even less than here?”


There is a price to living in one of the most advanced and privileged nations on the planet. The price is taxes. And, in comparison to many other countries across the world, American’s pay very little in taxes. Many nations’ top income tax rates exceed 40 or 50% (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_rates_around_the_world), while in the U.S., the top individual income tax is only 35%. That’s without taking into account all the deductions that enable us to lower our effective tax rate. Plus, on the whole, even our highest sales tax is lower than most other countries. My point is, it’s not that bad right now and we could all afford to pay a little more as we do better.

So, if someone told me that we could, for instance, provide health care to the 47 million uninsured and a further 25 million who are under-insured then I’d sure pay more.

It’s easy to say you won’t pay more taxes because you don’t trust the government to do the right thing when it’s not your son who missed-out on the scholarship and now can’t afford to go to college; or your 5-year old with leukemia who you can’t afford to have treated because your husband just lost his job and health insurance; or your sister whose husband left her with two kids and who works two jobs to pay the bills while her children are left roaming the streets after school; or your struggling grandfather who has had to remortgage his paid-for home just so he can afford his heart medication.

It’s easy to forget that your ability to drive to work is, in part possible, because the government somehow builds and maintains the roads you use to get there (albeit rather poorly, due to chronic underfunding). Or that the teacher who helped you pass algebra works 12 hour days preparing lesson plans for her students is paid for by the government and has seen her salary fail to keep pace with inflation or with other degreed professions (http://www.nea.org/edstats/losingground.html).

So, for these reasons, I believe in paying my fair share which is, to say, more. I don’t think that some of these critical services in America are up-to-par in comparison to the overall wealth in our country and I want to improve that. I’m willing, no I want to, pay for better. I think we all deserve better.

I believe with every fiber of my being that everyone is born equal and should remain that way under the eyes of the law – black, white, rich, poor, male, female, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, heterosexual, homosexual... America is a pluralist and secular society by law and one of the reasons I’m here is because of that. You couldn’t pay me to live in a theocratic country like Saudi Arabia, where women are second-class citizens and laws are based upon a set of singular, constricting, religious beliefs.

I have friends who are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, American, Indian, Chinese, Philippino, Australian, Italian, British, Latino, white, black, half-and-half, Rebublican, Libertarian, Green Party, Democrat, straight, gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual. I don’t say this because I “label” them that way but to illustrate that I live what I believe. I love them because they are also so different and they each bring to me a different outlook on life, a different way of viewing the world. My life is richer for the variety. I don’t expect them to live their lives the same way I do and don’t judge them negatively for being or doing things I don’t personally believe in. I think America is, at its core, the same way – just read the constitution. I believe we should vote to preserve that variety, that pluralism, even if it sometimes conflicts with our own personal beliefs.

I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I am NOT “pro-abortion”. I counter that there is no such thing. I think that there are enough unwanted children in this world, living with abusive or neglectful parents or, if they’re ‘lucky’ in foster care. Children that turn to drugs, or crime to masque their demons or make-up for the lack of love in their life and who, it has been statistically proven, often turn into abusive parents themselves. They deserve better. No child should be brought into this world that is really not wanted. To me, it’s just selfish to do so. Which is not to say that I think abortion is the ‘right’ answer for anyone – only a woman herself can make that decision. I believe that very few women make that decision easily or without a whole lot of soul-searching.

I also believe that trying to reduce the number of women having to make that choice, is the right thing to do. For this reason, I support safe sex education in schools and at home.

Abstinence programs do not work. Every study I have ever read shows that abstinence education is followed by a rise in teen pregnancy rates. Maybe once-upon-a-time, we could create a beautiful bubble of childhood innocence around our children but that’s not the society we live in these days. Abstinence education in today’s society is akin to trying to lock the gate after the horse has bolted. We just can’t be that naïve any more. Believe me, I wish we could. If children aren’t taught about sex in a mature and responsible way by adults with facts at their fingertips, they’ll teach each other through rumor and experimentation. Our kids should be taught to respect their bodies, to respect the beautiful intimacy of a sexual relationship with someone you care about, that it’s not ‘wrong’ or ‘shameful, that they have the right to say no, and about the consequences of irresponsible sexual behavior. Then, (if all else fails) how to protect themselves from pregnancy or disease.

Turning off the tv, screening calls, monitoring internet usage, and hovering over our children like hawks is not going to cut it. They still go to school, they still talk to other kids, and (especially in today’s media rich environment) they’ll still find a way to find that information you so desperately seek to hide from them. We have to stop trying to hide stuff from them and start providing them with a foundation of values that enables them to make better decisions on their own. And, I believe, if we don’t like the reality of responsible parenting in today’s society, we should move somewhere where we can indeed close our children off from society as a whole.

I believe there is no such thing as the perfect candidate or the perfect President. If you’re waiting for that unique individual to come along who represents everything you believe before you vote, my recommendation to you is: start raising the money to run yourself.

As just about everyone within 6,000 miles knows, I voted for Barack Obama this year. But, despite all the energy around his campaign and my belief that he will be a great President, he wasn’t my first choice. I voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I actually liked her and Senator Edwards’ health plan much better than Obamas (still do).

I don’t agree with Obama that the middle class needs a tax cut. Tax cuts, as an overall policy, take billions of dollars away from federal budget that could collectively be put to much better use elsewhere, and provide only minimal relief to working Americans. We’d do much better investing in health care, education, social security, and re-tooling our workforce for the jobs of tomorrow, than giving Joe the Plumber $1,000 next year. $1,000 over 12 months is just $83 a month. That barely pays one month’s electricity bill and certainly wouldn’t feed a family of four for more than a week (even then, that would be pushing it). The point is, on a family-by-family basis, it achieves very little. Collectively, that money can be put to a lot of good use for the future of this country.

I’m fed-up with feeding our short-term needs to win elections and wish we would start thinking about investing in our country for the long term. This country as a whole seems unwilling to make any sacrifices in hard times. Our economy is in the pooper. The stock market hit the floor, the government is bailing out banks, people are losing their jobs and houses, 47 million people don’t have healthcare, 25 million are underinsured, 37.3 million live on or below the poverty line, services are being cut at the local level, states are facing record budget shortfalls and yet the average American who is still doing fairly well, has not been asked to sacrifice or offer up a single thing to help. We’ve spent too much time indulging our immediate desire for consumer goods, over-leveraging ourselves with credit, and building and buying houses that are too big for us - now we’re paying for it. We all are just a little bit responsible for the cause and we all should be a little bit responsible for getting the country back on track. If we want a better America, we should be willing to pay for it, or suffer the consequences or our own selfish, short-sightedness as we see our country left behind.

But I understand why Barack is promising it. Republicans throw the “he’ll raise your taxes” accusation at Democrats every election year and voters, who naturally don’t like paying taxes, turn in the other direction. In order to achieve all the other things on his agenda, Obama has to first get in office. His tax cuts are a smart political move. It’s just a shame that the only way to get elected in this country is to promise tax cuts.

I also don’t agree with Obama’s plan to place a moratorium on foreclosures. If people can’t afford to live in the houses they’re in, then they shouldn’t be living in them any more. A whole lot people in this country made some bad financial decisions in the last 5 years, for whatever reason, and there are consequences to those decisions. If you’ve lost your job or suddenly fallen chronically ill and can’t work, of course you deserve some relief and some breathing room. But if you just went along with a stated-income mortgage to buy a house you couldn’t really afford and are now faced with foreclosure, I’m sorry but THIS is not the government’s responsibility. We should be providing relief based upon need not providing a get out of jail free card to irresponsible home owners.

So, I don’t agree with Obama on everything. I’m sure there are other things but those are the ones that come to mind. At the end of the day, we don’t get to vote for the ideal candidate, we get to vote for the best candidate that’s running, the one that most closely (but not perfectly) represents our values and beliefs.

This is just a snapshot of what I believe.

Of course, I also believe in reducing our carbon footprint, saving the Polar Bears, preserving the rainforests, protecting our historical landmarks, freedom of speech, tighter gun control, abolishing the death penalty, providing relief to Darfur, reforming our immigration policies to actually make sense, nuclear non-proliferation, opening diplomatic relations with our enemies, extracting ourselves from the Iraq war and re-tooling our troops for 21st century warfare, and much, much more.

Thus ends my personal statement of what I stand for. Just remember to vote what you believe on November 4th.

2 comments:

CGBCYouth said...

That's a loooong post...good thing I knew that that's the kind of person you are: passionate, articulate with words, and try to cover all viewpoints when stating yours...

While I am voting for McCain, I'm not really that excited about him. Truth is, I was really hoping that an African American can make history--too bad he's in the other party haha....

Anyway, I'll be off early today to cast my vote, and I'll take Noelle with me to "education" (not brain-wash...) her as well.

e said...

cgbcyouth: we may not agree politically, but I'm glad that you're going to the polls and making your voice heard, and that your daughter is learning at a young age how important this is. You are not brain-washing her, you're involving her in the most important aspect of a democracy. She may grow up and disagree with your views, and she'll have that freedom because this is a democracy. (And hey, if it doesn't go your way, you get to complain all you want because you voted!)

TV: I couldn't have said it better myself. My comment is not too interesting because I agree with everything you say. I am conflicted, however, on whether or not the middle class tax cut will help or not. But generally, I tend to agree that it would do exponentially more good invested in, say, social security or health care. But you make a valuable point about Obama needing to get elected before he can really effect change, so I'll take it.

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