Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Different Kind of Storm

Everyone is taking a break from the usual pre-election programming to concentrate on Hurricane Sandy, which just blew through Manhattan and is probably soaking my home state of Pennsylvania right now.  The news media went into full-blown apocalypse mode for this, with the kind of breathless whirlpool of coverage usually reserved for assassinations or major earthquakes.  Even days before, they were sounding the warning claxons about "Frankenstorm" making its way up the east coast and putting a real damper on everyone's Halloween.  And is "claxon" an awesome word or what?

Some people are already saying that the unusual trajectory this storm has taken is related to global warming and the huge, unprecedented reduction in the Arctic ice sheet, which alters ocean currents and air temperatures in such a way that big, weird storms which move in new, unexpected pathways will start becoming more frequent.  While it's still probably premature to link the two events, I think there is a great deal of truth in the idea that human-caused climate change will alter the planetary weather engine in ways we can't even yet imagine, and more unpleasant things like these loose-cannon superstorms are in our future.

The other big storm of late has taken a temporary back seat to the march of Hurricane Sandy, and that is the presidential election, now just one week away.  It seems like this election has been going on for years, and this last week will no doubt be the most intense week ever, with everybody pulling out all the stops when it comes to trying to sway the last two or three undecided voters out there.  It's beyond me how anyone could be undecided about who to vote for.

I've heard people on the radio say that there's "not much difference" between Obama and Romney, and that statement completely blows my mind.  In my opinion the two candidates could not be more different, both in style and substance.  Obama seems so intellectual, so measured, controlled and sincere; Romney so aloof, privileged, entitled and hypocritical.  There is little question that given their backgrounds, Obama truly understands what the middle class people, who are in many ways the backbone of this country, have greatly suffered due to the economic collapse of 2008-2009.  He really "gets" what they're going through and empathizes with them.  Romney, on the other hand, has had every single thing in his life handed to him, coming from a family of privilege and power, and is completely and utterly clueless about what average people have to go through to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Likewise, the vice presidential candidates are quite different.  Biden is loud, gregarious, sometimes prone to embarrassing gaffes and misstatements, but given his background you have no doubt he understands what it is like to go through very rough periods in your life and still manage to triumph over adversity using little more than sheer strength of character.  Paul "Lyin" Ryan is an uber-nerd, someone who's obviously much more comfortable around masses of fiscal data and reports than around people, and comes up with a witches-brew of spending cuts to government programs which aid the poor, the elderly and students (to name a few) in order to fund massive, unnecessary defense spending and more tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy one-percenters, who already have so very much but still want to take more and more.

The differences even extend to the candidates' wives.  Michelle Obama is beautiful, sleek, intelligent, articulate and very easy for anyone to relate to.  She has such great poise and presence, and in my opinion has been one of the most notable and successful First Ladies in recent history.  Ann Romney, on the other hand, is brittle, imperious, condescending, sharp-tongued, elitist and thoroughly unsympathetic to anyone outside of her own socio-economic class.  With her fake, painted-on country-club smirk and mannerisms, you just know she sits around drinking appletinis with her wealthy cronies, cackling about how pathetic poor people are and complaining about how hard it is to find qualified domestic help these days who won't expect to be paid more than $5 an hour and won't steal you blind behind your back.

There is so very much riding on what happens next Tuesday, but to me one of the most important is the future of the Supreme Court.  Latest prediction is that the President-elect will get to choose at least one and possibly two new Justices, and that will directly affect each and every one of us for decades to come.   Right now the Court is split 5-4 in favor of upholding Roe v. Wade, but it would only take one Court appointment to reverse that to 5-4 in favor of overturning it.  Then you can absolutely certain that anti-abortion zealots would push a test case through the lower courts and into the Supreme Court, and Roe v. Wade would be scrapped, sending the abortion question back into the states, where many if not all of the red states would outlaw it completely.  That would be an astonishing tragedy and catastrophe for anyone who holds dear the concepts of freedom and government not making decisions in such an incredibly personal thing such as family planning.

Another very important thing, related to the Supreme Court, is their horrific and spectacularly awful Citizens' United ruling, which unleashed a torrent of untraceable, unaccountable money into a political system already mortally choked and corrupted with cash.  One of the most wrong-headed and destructive rulings ever, a top priority should be to overturn it, with a constitutional amendment if necessary.  The choice of President could not be more important to this vital legislative task.  One candidate will fully support reversing the ruling, and other candidate will do everything he can to keep it in place, because as he famously stated, "Corporations are people, too."  I will leave it up to my discerning readers to figure out which candidate is which.

Funny thing about these neoconservatives, they will scream unmercifully about how the evil, incompetent and corrupt government is blatantly interfering in everyone's lives and making choices for them, but they are perfectly fine as long as this interference is with the right to abortion, or marriage equality, or any number of personal-freedom issues they personally oppose.  They seem to think that government is evil and satanic if it messes with something they believe in, but perfectly fine and proper if it goes after things they don't.  According to them, it's okay if government restricts the freedoms of people they don't like, but it is a horrendous abomination if it seeks to restrict their own freedoms and choices.

Thus is the ultimate contraction in the conservative point of view - as long as government is doing what I like (or conversely, attacking things I don't like), it can have free rein and untrammeled authority to do whatever it pleases.  But just let the government try to do something to curtail something in which they fervently believe, for instance, gun control - outlawing the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons comes to mind - then people scream that government is a vile, cancerous conspiracy hell-bent on destroying the very fabric of this nation.  Government-provided farm subsidies could not be more "American", but affordable health care is "socialist."  It is this cultural and political schizophrenia, this infinitely subjective cherry-picking of what is right and what is wrong, that ultimately dooms neoconservative thinking to the intellectual trash-heap.

One week to election day, and is Hurricane Sandy a metaphor for the shitstorm that may be released on this country as a result - one that will last not a couple of days, but for four long years.

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