“So, why are you voting for Obama,” I get asked a lot. It has come up for several months now, ever since I decided to share my preference in this fall’s election. I have never shared it all before – my opinions. I have never shared it publicly in any of the elections when I have voted – since 1964. And I have been watching elections since the time of Eisenhower. Here are my recent political actions. In 2004, I re-fired President Bush. In 2000, I fired him for the first time. As usual people don’t do what I want, so he stayed in office. My vote expresses my values. Your values should differ. Here in Idaho, most of my clients are voting for John McCain, and I support their voting their way.
I usually find it difficult to share these thoughts by talking, because I get interrupted much too soon. (Many of the people I see on a daily basis are clients, and I think it thoroughly against my ethics to talk politics in the office.) Writing provides for a more complete presentation of my thinking. It’s kind of long.
About the United States
I am proud of the United States. I think of my country as the longest running, most successful, democracy on the face of the earth. I am fully aware of lots of stumbling that it has done and is still doing. I don’t think you can learn to do something new without stumbling. Many of our stumbles, and I think of this as “my” country and thus “my” stumbles, are not nice and are in many cases pretty awful. I am not proud of them. But I am proud of the spirit that continually learns from mistakes – even if slowly. We are still forging a way toward durable democracy and I like that.
Recently I spent time reading about how our country was formed and have come to admire those who developed the Constitution of this country. I gather that they worked hard in a very trying time. Trying to form guidelines for something new is tricky. They sought some form that was a “win” for everyone. They looked forward to the evolution of the system. They put off for the future the terrible and divisive issue of slavery. They seemed to have struggled long to find a solution to the problem of balancing the powers of separate states and a federal government. Their resolution, I think was brilliant. They put the “power into the hands of the people” not the leaders. What genius!
They wrote it so simply in their Preamble: “We the People of the United States, in Order to
form a more perfect Union,
insure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common defence,
promote the general Welfare, and
secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity….”
While they visualized a governmental structure that included dynamic balances between three differing functions, I think the one thing they missed was the emergence of what has been called the fourth wing of government – the media. I enjoy watching the dynamics between people using the media as instruments of propaganda, or as a means of creating collective discourse. The history of and challenges in the media are a fascinating story. And I really am enjoying the growth of polls to let us all reflect on ourselves frequently.
And the whole system is still evolving. We get to participate, by learning and voting and sharing. I look at voting for President using this as a framework.
My acute focus on “Being Dialogical”
In the 1960s I found myself in the middle of war in Viet Nam. I had a lot of time between actions to discuss with my fellows what my country meant to me. At my level in the chain of command it was unclear what we were being asked to do by our country . The United States purpose in the South China Sea seemed a bit abstract, but the shells we fired, and that were fired at us, were very concrete! When, in the Tonkin Gulf our radar lit up “with the whole Chinese air force coming our way,” the questions of what were we fighting, and maybe dying, for became very real.
The most steadfast answer to what we were doing I found was that we were fighting for a country where Free Speech was guarenteed and protected. I was fighting so that people at home could talk freely about anything. I did not risk my life for mind control or censured speech. I did not fight for political correctness. I fought for respectful sharing of everything – respectful discourse. I raised my weapon in support of the expression of disagreement – agreeably.
Years later, I was to see this same dedication in my work to bring people in relationships into peaceful membership. As I healed my own relationship, and learned to guide others in Marital Therapy, the primacy of “being dialogical” became almost a mantra for me. My work became to share everything and share it nicely – modeling it for others. The principles in marriage and in operating a democracy are, for me, the same. Democracy emerges in both, and thrives or dies.
In 1999, my discovery of MasterTalk just became a small yet poignant addition to this purpose of mine. MasterTalk becomes a clue to the probable absence of respect for Free Speech. Dialogue, with an absence of MasterTalk, is to me democracy in verbal action. As I began to use this tool, MasterTalk, as an indicator of democracy, I noticed how seldom it is used in politics. I noticed how few political candidates or pundits or surrogates knew about “Being Dialogical.” I began to believe that the progress of becoming a more effective democracy can be measured by the awareness in leaders of dialogue. I think we have a long way to go.
Role of the President of the United States
So here we are coming up to another learning experience in the evolution of our country. The world watches how we go about it. We wonder how we go about it. Make for a wild civics class.
In my reading of the forming of the Constitution, I became aware that George Washington, who was very involved in the writing, did not even consider running for the office of the President. In those days, I gather, political parties were seen just as a way of organizing the discussion. Someone had to send to George’s home to let him know he was elected. I admired this separation of Legislative and Executive.
In fact, four years ago when George W Bush very barely won re-election and announced that he had a mandate, I fired him. The idea that a President is the head of a political party seems a vast mistake to me. It seems the exact opposite of the balances set forth in the Constitution.
As I vote, this is what I think are the roles of a President, the job description:
- Protects/Projects the country. This means to me several things. He/she manages the Military, which is a non-dialogical tool of our democracy. He/she acts as a single voice for our country in the world, modeling the standards of our democracy.
- Protects the Congress and the Judiciary. He/she protects and facilitates the quality of debate among all branches of our government. He/she encourages transparency so that citizen oversight and input is encouraged.
- Administers faithfully the laws passed by congress and approved by the judiciary. This seems at least partially a non-dialogical activity.
- Protects and treasures the ever evolving Constitution, which changes in the continuing dialogical debates among the people and the divisions of the government.
Evolution of US Elections
I have been watching and participating in elections since 1960. I recall the election of 1952. For me the most dominant change in the last 50 years has been the intrusion of marketing into the process. As I began to look around at the world as a young man, I became aware of two congruent energies: Communist (and eventually American) propaganda, and Madison Avenue. More and more I could see the efforts of people to “sell” their products or ideas to people who were less aware. I watched the success of advertisement campaigns lead to using the same techniques in political campaigns. In Viet Nam and later in business I realized that ideas and products are sold by clever promotional techniques rather than whether they were good ideas or valuable products. This meant I had to be on guard all the time for those clever “advertising types.”
It has seemed to me that more and more that the really good marketing people (read “high paid,” or “political operatives,” to be silly) began to consult with political campaigns. Pretty soon everything that was being said in a campaign seemed “spun” to manipulate unaware people. And then, in the last 20 years or so, it seemed to me that the actions of politicians in office became more and more part of their next campaign – fodder for the “spin doctors.” Until, at least for the last 8 years, I believe we have been in a year round campaign process – constantly faced with manipulation of perceptions and stories. While I don’t see this as a particularly valuable movement in the growth toward durable democracy, I do not see it as a terrible stumble either. More, to me, it seems a stumble that had to be made in order to being corrected. And correction is on the way – though slowly.
It also seemed to me that along the way, this marketing driving campaign process created an active myth. Like the snake oil salesman who promised that his product could do anything (magically), the political campaigner, under marketing guidance, began to more and more speak “undeliverable promises.” Eventually this has lead the presidential campaigns to what I think is complete confusion or worse. Remember, my belief is that the roles of the president are very different from that of a king. The president’s decisions, certainly domestically and also internationally, are made in behalf of “the people” via dialogue with members of Congress and with legal support from the Judiciary.
But under this pressure from the year round selling of the presidency, a shift has taken place. I think we have witnessed an increase in a “back room” mentality, where decisions are made in behalf of one faction of the people, and then brought forward through the filter of marketing to “sell to the people.” This seems to me to not be about consulting with the people, but managing the people. The president is “seen” as a leader, but becomes more of a necessary figure-head, managed and manipulated by those “back room,” and hidden pushers. And behind the scenes is what? secret groupings or societies? Trilateral Commission, Skull and Bones, The Council on Foreign Relations, The Bilderberg Group?
And I see it as emerging from the insertion of those brilliant marketing people, originally hired and paid by businesses, into politics – particularly presidential politics
I have enjoyed witnessing this great stumble. I think it pretty visible. We see the use of “talking points” repeated over and over. Of course they are nothing more than slogans that marketers have used for half a century – the more repeated the more people believe them. What is the difference between “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should” and “Democrats are Tax and Spend?” Watching for the slogans lets me see the manipulation. Watching the spread of slogans lets me see the organizations, political or media, that are part of the marketing propaganda machines.
In the last 10 years I have noticed the creation of teams within politics and the media that work together. They join together in disingenuous spreading of slogans. I believe a blatant example is Foxnews, though there are many others.
And I think we have seen the emergence of the particularly pernicious marketing via “Anger.” This was well used by propaganda merchants during the rise of the 3rd Reich and is well documented. Give frustrated people (the German people) ) someone or something to focus their anger on (Jews), and you can lead them anywhere. The technique is commonly found on talk radio. Originally I would point at Rush Limbaugh as a prime example, but now there are so many of both conservative and liberal manipulative persuasions. And this, what I call “evil,” works. Example: Many businesses plan to ship jobs overseas to gain cheaper labor, improve profits. But they realized this would take jobs away in this country – particularly among 20–40 working men. The unemployed would be angry and frustrated. Give those jobless a target to be angry at. Use media (here is where Rush, Sean and Bill are geniuses) to sell “anger at anyone” except the profit making businesses. Focus anger at “gays,” “enemies overseas,” “women’s rights,” “big government,” “migrants,” “Hollywood,” “liberals/socialists,” etc. And, voila, the frustrated unemployed do not notice their wages going down and the disproportionate rise of the wealthy investors and business owners. Ah well. Correction is in the wings.
For a moment let me speak of the two major political parties in this mess. I feel a general unease about the Republicans. Their hidden system seems very very good and durable. They are good at campaigning and I have a sense of “weak” presidential candidates managed by very bright hidden puppeteers. I actually feel comfortable about Democrats. Their hidden machine(s) seems often in complete disarray as each candidate seems to have to build a new one. Still they are easier to understand and penetrate. I often find myself trusting their disorganization.
My Political Party
You may wonder what Party I prefer or feel I belong to. You have probably made your decision for yourself and made your judgment of me. However, you may get a kick out of my position. I do not see myself in either party. I don’t feel comfortable in either. I was raised in Boston, Mass. At that time the city seemed run by a remarkably dishonest Democratic political machine. My parents considered themselves Republicans who read Foreign Affairs magazine. Thus I thought, “Republicans are thoughtful and Democrats are crooks.”
I moved west to San Francisco, joined the Navy, and lived in Long Beach for a while. There I found Republican machines. I also saw a lot of extremists (John Birch, etc.) up close. I learned that, “Republicans are rich crooks.” Then I moved to Montana, met a lot of farmers and ranchers and found that, “Republicans can be poor crooks.” Over these years I have voted Republican, Democrat, and Independent. This last spring I attended the Democratic Caucus in a nearby town. Drove in a snow storm to see it. First ever caucus. After my war experiences and the development of my beliefs that you can read on this website, I felt very uncomfortable at a Democratic caucus surrounded by non-dialogical Democrats. Here I was in the middle of finger pointing, blaming people. Just the ones I don’t want to live around. No. I am not happy in any party.
At the same time working against or for a particular party seems silly. In both parties, I experience there to be a vast majority of thoughtful, patriotic, and kind people. I worry about those who commit crimes, and particularly those who incite others to commit crimes. I hold respect for anyone’s position, and stand against crime. I think this is the same as the foolish of blaming all Muslims for the criminal actions of a few, ets. I don’t the a war on terrorism (drugs, etc) but the continuing development of excellence in enforcement of laws.
What I want in a President
With all this background, I think this part is pretty simple. I want a person (he or she) who is profoundly dialogical, who understands what I think is the role of the President, and who sees himself/herself as serving the people by making government transparent.
My read on Barack Obama
My first step was to read his book(s), and listen to the audio form with him reading them. This way I could get the best sense of who he was. I liked him. I then watched him with his family, looking for the signs of integrity and respect with those he is intimate with. I watched and am still watching his interactions with associates. I listen to him in public. My judgment is that he ain’t perfect, but he is damn close to ideal for me.
I really like that his experience is in community organizing. I really think we need that kind of experience in Washington DC. Boy, does our community need origanizing!
By the way, an added benefit of having Obama as president I hope would be a continuing focus on education about the Constitution, and … well… perhaps a grown-up course in Civics.
My read on Hilary Clinton and John McCain
I have listened to both of them. Basically I follow the same steps with each that I did with Obama. My judgment is that I like both, but I see them as expressions of the existing manipulative political system. Neither seem very dialogical and both show signs of being manipulated by marketing handlers, good at changing their words, doing what they are instructed to do to win. Their visions are more toward their parties rather than toward “the people.” I repeat: I like them, I don’t blame them, I don’t trust either of them to do the tasks I see are before us all.
My wishes are that when elected Obama would…
Four things come to mind.
- When elected, or perhaps when sworn in, he renounce his position in his party and become fully a president of the people. This for me would be a clear token of changing the old system that has gotten so far out of whack. Also it makes it easier to do a lot of bi-partisan things.
- Determine to veto any bill passed by congress that does not have significant bi-partisan support. Force congress to dialogue.
- Perhaps form and be part of a consistent effort to teach everyone what a marvelous Constitution we have, and how the parts of government as designed by it to work smoothly, and how much better off we are by following the design rather than either “sneakily going around it” or manipulating it.
- Somehow evict the hidden business manipulators and operate transparently. I don’t know how, but do it!
My Political Poster