Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Why I'm Leaning Democrat

I'm the kind of person who is both blessed and cursed to nearly always see both sides, so this exhausting campaign has given me a good case of whiplash. Between the presidential election and the gay marriage fight in California, politics have never penetrated as far into my heart and mind as they have during this weird, stressful year of 2008, and frankly I'm ready to be done with it, at least for a while. (And I must disclose that I did not get around to voting this year—I tried to do early voting one time, but the line was too long.)

At this point in my life, I find myself leaning more Democrat in some of my basic philosophies, and here's why: I've spoken before of my midlife crisis, which has largely involved coming to terms with the fact that I'm a functional person but not a successful person. I define functionality as being able to hold down middle-class jobs, pay bills, keep a household running, parent children, etc. I define success as having the drive and the intelligence to come up with a vision and execute it well enough to see rich financial returns, and I think good luck and timing play a big role in success as well.

With its emphasis on free-market capitalism, Republicanism seems to be the party of those who are successful or expect that they may someday become successful. On the other hand, the Democrat approach seems to focus more on making life better for the vast majority of us who concede that we are merely functional at best. I suppose Mormons like Republicanism because it seems to champion economic free agency, but I don't think it jives with the scriptures, which are full of admonitions to take care of the poor, be wary of wealth, and share and share alike. Yes, I know that when the government tries to provide too much social relief, it can become corrupt and unhealthy. I am totally against a dole, but I think anyone who is willing to work should be kept gainfully employed and, if necessary, assisted economically to enjoy a reasonable minimum standard of living.

Some years ago, I read a study about the relationship between income and happiness that made a big impact on me. Basically, the income we earn up until about $40,000 a year makes a huge impact on our happiness, because this income meets our basic needs. However, the income we earn beyond $40,000 makes increasingly less difference to our happiness.

I don't believe wealth should be totally equalized, but I'm attracted to the idea of establishing a baseline income level and then taxing the rich as much as needed to bring the working poor up to that level. I think the minimum wage should be raised as much as possible for adult workers, and then the government should facilitate making up income shortfalls for those who are working, if needed. I don't think anybody's first $40,000 of income should be taxed at all. And I think that everyone in America should be guaranteed quality healthcare, even if it means that the overall quality goes down a little.

I'm willing to work for my living, but I continually feel like I'm only one layoff away from experiencing serious economic hardship, especially if a long time passes before I can find another job or if my replacement job pays significantly less income. I want to live in a society where I can feel confident that as long as I'm willing to work, I can enjoy a reasonably secure, comfortable lifestyle. I fear becoming part of the working poor who don't make enough to cover reasonable expenses, including affordable health care, and I think the Democratic approach is a better safeguard against that than the Republican.

It seems like the main way that our nation has tried to improve people's lifestyles in recent decades is by making it too easy for us to go into debt, but of course that can't go on forever and is already biting us in the butt. I don't want outright communism or socialism, and I believe in private enterprise, but I think one of the government's main roles should be to keep things on a reasonably even keel economically, so the poor don't get poorer and the rich don't get richer at the expense of the poor and the functional middle class, which is what's been happening increasingly. I understand that the Democrats are the ones behind the deregulation that led to our current credit crisis, so they certainly don't have all the answers.

As far as war, I believe the government's main role is to defend our nation, but I think the real key is to stay as self-sufficient as possible, rather than getting ourselves addicted to foreign oil and then sending over troops to meddle in the Middle East. I don't think we should give aid to other countries unless we have a surplus in our own country, and I don't think we should be getting into preemptive wars or covert machinations to influence geopolitics. When dictators arise and start attacking other countries, and those victim countries ask for our help as in World War II, then yeah, we should help to the degree that we're able. We should focus on protecting our homeland from terrorists, not trying to weed them out in foreign lands. Personally, I suspect that our current biggest national defense problem is the fact that we're so indebted to China—I think this could easily end badly if China takes any steps that further harm our economy.

As far as moral issues, I know that Democratic liberalness on things like abortion and gay rights drives many Mormons to side with the Republicans. As for me, I lean libertarian as far as letting people do what they want as long as they don't directly infringe on the rights of others, and I think the Democrats are closer to preserving free agency in that way, although perhaps too many people are drawn to the Democrats simply because they like the permissiveness. As far as abortion, I don't think it infringes on other people's rights because, while biological life obviously begins at conception, I don't think spiritual life begins until much later—in fact, I think that aborted and miscarried and stillborn babies do not have human spirits permanently attached to them, and so these casualties just represent wasted baby flesh, not someone's mortal probation cut short.

I think gay couples should have civil rights, but sacred, godlike marriage should not be redefined, otherwise we're saying that we think God could be gay and still be God, which is ridiculous, especially for any so-called Mormon who purports to understand anything about our theology. However, I'm not sure I'm prepared to let this one issue overshadow Democratic economic strengths. Anyway, I think an issue like homo marriage should be left up to the people on a state-by-state basis, and if the majority becomes spiritually blind and godless enough to accept gay marriage, then they should get what they deserve, in terms of the consequences that will follow. I fully support the LDS Church's efforts to help the people of California think through the gay marriage issue and make the best choice—I would have been appalled if the Church had stood by and said nothing on this issue in such an important state. On the other hand, I fear that the success of Prop 8—assuming it passes, which it looks like it will at this writing, about 10:00 p.m. Mountain on Election Day—may bring a backlash against Mormons from those in favor of gay marriage, with some deep resentments that may come to fruition sooner or later. On the whole, though, I hope God will bless California for holding the line against this terrible perversion, at least for a few more years—again, assuming it passes.

So if I had voted, I'm about 90 percent sure I would have voted for Obama, even though I think he represents somewhat of a gamble and I have no idea where our country will end up under his leadership. Still, it feels to me like Obama is the right person for the job at the right time, at least in comparison to McCain and the Republicans, who have fouled things up so much during the Bush years. However, if I ever write a best-selling book and make a million bucks, I'll probably move over to the Republican side because I'll want to control all my own money. I could see myself selfishly thinking, "I'll help the poor when I'm damn well ready and on my own terms, probably through hiring them at minimum wage to clean my house and do my yard."

7 comments:

Montgomery Q said...

Sweet sweet Biggs.

I think youre basing too much on that one "$40,000 happiness" study. And not enough on just common sense.

You're saying, if i understand you, that people that earn more should pay more. Which I totally agree on. It should be based n a percentage of what you make. If your publishing biz takes off, you would be paying a lot more in a completely fair system.

What I cannot agree with is the idea that government should have the power to punish those that have built their income level up "with drive and intelligence" to reward those that haven't (including those that simply refuse to work, a demographic that is frighteningly large in our country).

"I don't think anybody's first $40,000 of income should be taxed at all"
Is that really fair? Working Americans not required to pay taxes?

And numerous studies have shown that conservatives give far more of their income to charity. WITHOUT the government saying they have to. Does the BOM say anything about being COMPELLED to help the needy? No, because every reasonable person knows it should come from within.

Bottom line: Republicans give. Democrats take by promising health care, housing, better jobs, etc., but charging you higher taxes to pay for it. Bush screwed things up by thinking like a Democrat, and many times not thinking at all. But it wasnt just him screwing things up. Look at our Senate and the House. Who controls the spending, and the laws that control our spending? Not Bush by a long shot.

But we can't fix our problems by electing a Socialist that has clearly said he wants to trim back our First and Second Amendment rights. Why did you write "I lean libertarian as far as letting people do what they want as long as they don't directly infringe on the rights of others" and still want the most liberal president?

Dammit, I'm in a pissy mood. I need to stop thinking about it. Love you, grandpa.

Christopher Bigelow said...

Damn, Montgomery Q, you're giving me more whiplash, because I can see all those sides of situation too.

You wrote: "What I cannot agree with is the idea that government should have the power to punish those that have built their income level up "with drive and intelligence" to reward those that haven't (including those that simply refuse to work, a demographic that is frighteningly large in our country)."

I don't think we should reward those who don't work--it's all gotta be work based. But most of us don't have enough "drive and intelligence" to really succeed in capitalism, and now that I've realized and accepted that I'm one of those people, I think the Democrat party is for me because I don't think it's right or fair to leave being poor or rich strictly to Darwinistic survival of the fittest, like the Republicans tend toward. The rich can still be better off than the middle class and poor, just not quite so much so. It's not punishing them so much as supporting and protecting those who are not so fortunate.

"Is that really fair? Working Americans not required to pay taxes?"

Just not on the first $40,000 (or whatever the proper minimum income level should be).

"And numerous studies have shown that conservatives give far more of their income to charity. WITHOUT the government saying they have to. Does the BOM say anything about being COMPELLED to help the needy? No, because every reasonable person knows it should come from within."

Yeah, I can see this, and if I had money this is no doubt the route that I'd want to see it go--I decide who to donate my money too, not the government. But with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer and many middle class people getting squeezed in the middle, I don't think this idealistic mindset really works. I know some people think that a conservative government gets out of the way of progress, but I'm not sure much of our so-called "progress" has really been good, judging by the overall direction the world has been heading. Yeah, we're more comfortable and entertained and overfed now, but I think it's out of balance.

"But we can't fix our problems by electing a Socialist that has clearly said he wants to trim back our First and Second Amendment rights. Why did you write "I lean libertarian as far as letting people do what they want as long as they don't directly infringe on the rights of others" and still want the most liberal president?"

I didn't know Obama wanted to cut our rights to freedom of religion and expression, and I guess I'm not surprised if he's pro-gun control, although personally I'm not. But Democrats are somewhat libertarian in their permissiveness toward things like abortion, gay rights, etc. aren't they? I don't agree with those things but think people should be free to pursue them and pay the consequences, if they so desire.

Montgomery Q said...

Wow, look at us. And the race is over, even.

Montgomery Q said...

And yes, I know that your welfare beliefs are based on work, but the Democrats' plan isn't.

Rich said...

Leaning Democratic is good. Go with it.

Scott said...

"But with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer..."

This is a pretty hackneyed expression that doesn't really hold water when you look at the economic figures. The so-called poor in this country have cars, tvs, dvd players, and computers with internet access. It may be true that the rich are getting richer at a faster rate than the poor are getting richer, but the quality of life for all classes is improving. Compare America's poor to the poor in 3rd world developing countries and you'll see what I mean. I think a majority of kids that fall into the poor category in this country are obese. How can anyone be poor and obese?

I agree that Democrat policies have the appearance of addressing the needs of the poor better than Republican policies, but I have a hard time reconciling the fact that even poor conservatives are more generous than rich Democrats (as a percentage of their income). Look at the charitable contributions of Al Gore, Barak Obama, John Edwards, and Joe Biden; it's pretty pathetic.

I think there are some big differences between Libertarian principles and Democratic policies. Democrats are preoccupied with the collective (and by that I mean jealosy, envy, and class warfare because they want a full account of what individuals have in terms of income/assets); Libertarians are preoccupied with individual freedom. Taxation is the primary means that government uses to control the freedom of individuals, and Libertarians generally have big problems with confiscatory taxation and income redistribution. I think income redistribution tries to artificially equalize the outcomes, but it will never be able to because of free agency and the fact that everyone chooses different things. Perhaps this is what you're referring to as Darwinistic survival of the fittest.

So if you think leaning Democrat is good, I won't argue with you because sometimes I see the point on certain issues, but I wouldn't confuse it with an increase of freedom. If you believe people should be free to pursue abortion and gay rights, then shouldn't they be free to pursue their own economic destiny without government interference?

Christopher Bigelow said...

That's some good rebuttal, Scott, and on many levels I'm with you. The logic of both sides can sway me at different times and in different ways--and in fact, I think the conservative/Republican logic may even sway me a little more than the liberal/Democrat side, overall.

However, my leaning more toward the liberal/Democrat side is more emotional than logical. It's based on my recently developed midlife fears, anxieties, lack of confidence, career disillusionment, pessimism, etc. Also, there's some envy of well-off people that I'm feeling now more than ever, especially as I hang around with my upper middle class in-laws and realize my family and I will never enjoy their opportunities and standard of living.

Theoretically the American Dream sounds great, but I just don't think most of us have the right combination of smarts, ambition, luck, and timing to really make a go of it—and I'm pretty certain I don't personally. So that's why I'm starting to think that it's more important for society to make life as good for as many of as possible than for it to focus on safeguarding the economic freedom of a relative few to become successful and rich. Yeah, the chances of that are better than winning the lottery, but not a lot more so.

I'm sure I've read some things about poverty rates rising, despite the increased availability of cheap fattening food and electronic devices, and about middle-class wages not keeping up with costs of living, which is a big part of why we have so many more two-income households now. Yeah, part of it is because we want big-screen TVs, but a bigger part of it is the economic forces that really are helping the rich get richer, and I've seen statistics showing that more wealth is now focused in a smaller top percentage of people now.

I can't complain about my life now, which is comfortable enough although I've been working too much lately on freelance stuff. I guess I'm just pessimistic about both my own professional future and the way the world is going, so I'd rather our society move more toward the social democracies of Europe than survival of the fittest. But hey, it's not like there turns out to be that much difference between Republican and Democrat economic realities anyway...