I grew up with this set of ‘rules’ about public decorum. I don’t always follow the rules, but still expect everyone to share my understanding. And so sometimes I answer the question I’m asked, instead of answering the questioner’s real concerns. And sometimes, in my enthusiasm, I interrupt or finish others’ sentences. I can’t always stop myself, but I know it’s wrong. I’ve usually excused myself because either I was really comfortable in the discussion, and we were all bouncing ideas around, or the other person was rude, first.
I knitted all through the two presidential – and one vice-presidential – debates so far, and fully intend to knit through the last one. I didn’t throw popcorn or make (too many) snide comments. When I became agitated, I got up to pour myself some cold water. (Being well behaved is not why I took up knitting, but knitting helps me to control my impulse to speak out when I’m not part of the discussion.)
But in the clear light of this lovely October morning, before it’s bright enough and warm enough to go rake leaves, I come back to why I found the debate last night less than inspiring.
So I’m going to be talking to Obama and Romney, here, but what I have to say counts for all other candidates, too.
Look me in the eye and say that
First, neither of you hit the mark with me. I felt that you were more interested in male posturing than in actually giving a respectful response to those asking questions.
When asked about ensuring jobs for new graduates, both talked about high-level solutions. And both gave hackneyed responses. Do I believe that letting wealthy folks keep more money will result in jobs? A resounding NO. Do I believe that manufacturing jobs will really come back? Another resounding NO. Do I think either of you really has a plan to move the country into the 21st century – a century where we, as a country, may face global poverty and increased risk of war? Absolutely not. You offer me solutions that worked – sort of – in the past. But I’ve read my history.
The Reagan tax cut helped increase the wealth divide in our country. The Bush tax cut pushed things farther in that direction. The constant drumbeat of ‘less government’ hasn’t resulted in a better country – more financially resilient, more educated, more open to change, more moral. (And when I speak of morality, I’m not talking about religion. I’m talking about respect for others – their lives, their property, their thoughts. We ain’t there and don’t seem to agree that we want to go there.)
And don’t tell me that our economic future relies on bringing manufacturing jobs back to the US, and leave off all the other types of work there might be for a young graduate. I don’t believe that those jobs will come back without serious damage to our country – because people in China and India are bright, educated, and willing to work without benefits and for much less pay. Just as people in Mexico and Japan once were. We’re in an era of transition – help me understand what the options are for moving forward. Acknowledge that a broad range of skills will help us adapt new technologies. Set an aspirational goal: how we’re going to do something positive and achievable in the next four years. Or decade – I can be flexible in my aspirations.
For that matter, although it wasn’t mentioned in the debate, don’t tell me that someone wanting a future can ‘borrow from your parents’ or can ‘become an entrepreneur.’ Not everyone can, and not everyone wants to. Give me options that everyone can use.
One person bluntly asked about security in Libya. The results – a ‘he said, he said’ that might have been fun for someone watching, but wasn’t for me – didn’t shed any light on the issue. And no one answered his question. Is it true, as I’ve read, that the embassy asked for a few more staff members, or for a contingent of marines? Were the embassy staff fearful or not? And is it true, as I’ve heard, that the people in the crowd that night had heard about the infamous video from Egyptian colleagues, and believed that destroying the embassy was the right thing to do? Are these the same Libyans who destroyed the Italian embassy? (For those of us not paying attention, Libyans attacked the Italian embassy in 2006 in protest to a cartoon, killing 11.) Maybe attacking embassies is a culturally acceptable practice in Libya – the US, British and Italian embassies were all attacked just over a year ago, causing great damage. And maybe, with this history, improved security would have been a smart idea. I just don’t know.
But instead of arguing exactly when the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘terror’ left Mr. Obama’s lips, the question should have been answered effectively and could have led to a serious response about foreign policy, without a digression into how much each candidate cares about people.
And seriously, how aggressive do you think we – your voters – need you to be while you stand on a stage? As a piece of stagecraft, it failed. The constant interruptions were distracting; the efforts to dominate were frustrating.
Mr. Romney mentioned his five point plan, but never got around to talking about the points – unless the point is to somehow reduce taxes without reducing governmental revenue (and all of the neutral financial wizards say his plan won’t work). At the last debate, Mr. Romney talked about shifting responsibility for some items – like health care – from the Federal government to State government. What a concept. No one called him on where the states were supposed to get the money to manage the program (different states have different economic situations – doesn’t he know this?) and no one called him on whether it was rational to offer one type of health care in one state – government sponsored! – and a different type of health care in another. It reminded me of the ‘vote with your feet’ remarks from back in the Reagan era. You know, if your state isn’t doing well economically because of Federal policies, don’t try to fix things, just find a different place to live.
Mr. Obama made me much happier by actually talking about some details. But mostly, he talked about the details for Romney’s plan, not for his own.
Agree to disagree
Both candidates forgot that primary rule of politics. So listen, guys. It isn’t about you. It’s about us. The decided, the undecided, the employed, the still-looking, the young and the old. The men and women who want to believe in the future – a future you are responsible for getting us to.
I see the biggest issue in government right now – local, state or Federal – as politicians who want to make a statement or see the other position fail. This leads to one big loser – us. The folks who elected you.
We want government to work. We want you to work together, find solutions to our problems, and provide the services we expect. We don’t need a congress that’s out to ensure the government fails so the incumbent president will lose. We don’t need a legislature that has no willingness to listen to the other side, and moderate positions. Compromise means we all win; it shouldn’t mean we all lose. (Remember Reagan and his ‘glass half empty’? Well, don’t keep giving us the half-empty glass, or the barn full of manure, for that matter.) We may want the pony, we may prefer the full glass, but we need to see a hopeful future. Congress worked hard – no matter who was in control – to ensure that there was insufficient improvement over the last four years. Show me how you can improve this without deepening the divide.
For me, there was way too much testosterone and entirely too much ego last night. I don’t care whether you like or respect each other, I care that you respect us enough to actually listen.