Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Project's outline. Your thoughts?

Earlier today, I wrote a preliminary outline for "The Project".  Obviously, over the next year, as I write and research the topics, I'll revise whatever elements I feel need to be.  Let me know what you think of the outline, and what you would like to see included.

  1. How the current systems of primaries, caucuses, and other nominating conventions work; history of nominating candidates; the difficulties with write-in campaigns and why they are more democratic (and the answer to the problem).
  2. History of political parties in America; a brief rundown of the parties, past and present, how they came to be, their abuses of the nominating and electoral systems, and how those abuses may be rectified by the proposed reforms.
  3. Other attempts at reforms, past, present, and planned; why they did/did not/could/could not work; what lessons can be learned from them.
  4. The presidential nominating system; why the two-party primary schedules by their very existence ruin the prospects of even the most serious third-party bids.
  5. Exactly how the new system would work.
  6. The need to eliminate party identification from election ballots at every level; voters should learn (and remember) for themselves who the candidates are before they arrive at the polls, rather than wait for the ballot to inform them of who the major (and minor) party candidates are; voting on issues rather than parties; how, in just one generation, it could eliminate the stigma of party labels from politics.
  7. How this relates to eliminating the practice of dividing legislatures into "majority" and "minority" parties, and reforming leadership positions in legislatures as a consequence.
  8. The fates of national and local parties in the wake of such reforms (and why that may keep them from ever supporting such reforms); how national parties may more closely resemble the Tea Party; increased influence for and from "single-issue" parties and candidates.

I'm also considering adding a section or two on the role of the media throughout history in perpetuating not only the two-party system but parties in general.  Also, the role of the courts will no doubt be greatly affected by the new election laws and practices (should they ever be implemented, that is).

There you have it; eight to ten chapters, not very long, but hopefully very profound.  What do you think?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I'm writing a book

I've been writing fictional stories of one kind or another since I was old enough to write.  I currently have several novels planned, in fact, in addition to the short story series I'm developing for my website, Fourth-day Universe.  In all this time, though, I've never seriously considered writing a work of nonfiction until now.  I've had vague plans about publishing a collection of my blog posts, some day, depending on the success of the blog itself; but this is a far more deliberate and specific project.

I posted a pair of polls over the summer asking two questions:  Would you support altering election laws so that candidates' party affiliations and identifications are removed from the ballot, and Would you support changing the ways that state and federal governments operate so they are no longer divided into "majority" and "minority" parties.  For a while, the responses were overwhelmingly "yes" to both questions; but as the window for answering drew to a close, the responses grew more even.  The first question ended up perfectly split, 50-50, while the second question drew 64% "yes" and 35% "no".

I asked the questions because I feel they are important steps both in reducing partisanism in Congress and increasing voter participation during the entire election process.  Last May, I wrote a trio of posts entitled "The Beginning of a Solution, Parts I, II, and III."  In them, I wrote of the need to reform the way in which this country nominates its candidates for elective office.  The primary/caucus/convention system has more than its share of flaws.  I intend to explore the alternatives and even present my own.  I also wrote about how allowing Congress and state legislatures to be divided into majority and minority parties gives a virtual stamp of approval on partisan warfare.  My book will explore the possibilities of eliminating this practice, which, in conjuncture with reforming the nominating process, would hopefully ease the pressure to conform to national party standards.  In all, the goal is to create an environment where representatives pay more attention to their states and districts than they do to their "leadership".

Those who know me and/or follow my blog know that I'm both passionate about writing and highly opinionated.  I hope you've at least been enlightened if not entertained or educated by my posts.  However, as virtually any of my teachers or professors (or parents) could tell you, while I'm highly intelligent, I'm not highly organized.  This isn't usually a problem when writing fiction or even blog posts; my style tends to be more organic.  Fortunately, I'm intelligent enough to realize that my normal method of writing won't be as productive when writing non-fiction.  As soon as the elections are over, I'm going to begin researching my subject in earnest, as well as outlining the book itself.  You'll be able to read updates on my progress on my Twitter account at FreeExofIdeas.

I'll also take time every now and then to update the blog on the more important issues, including major presidential addresses such as the State of the Union.  But my target date for completion, if not publication, is late-2011/early-2012 before the presidential primaries and caucuses begin, so don't expect to see many posts here during the next year.

I haven't decided on a title yet; I imagine that will take care of itself.  For now, I'm calling it "The Project". (I know; not terribly imaginative, is it?)  Wish me luck.

The people have spoken (so get used to it).

The polls are in, and whether the majority of America wishes for a more conservative government or not, it is certain that the majority of primary voters do.  Not only have plenty of conservatives won nomination fights (and we can definitely call at least some of these primaries "fights") over their more moderate opponents, but participation in Republican primaries has eclipsed turnout in Democratic contests.

Notable examples include Carl Paladino, the GOP nominee for New York Governor, Marco Rubio, who long ago forced Charlie Crist into an independent bid for the open Florida Senate seat, and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware.  Notable exceptions include Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman in California, Terry Branstad in Iowa, and Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire.  Arlen Specter, of course, is a special case in that he was rejected by both conservatives and liberals in Pennsylvania.  That particular Senate seat will go to either conservative Pat Toomey or Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak, both of whom are seen as sufficiently "pure" by primary voters.

That's really the standard these days for nominating candidates, isn't it?  Before you think it's just the Republicans (or rather, Tea Partiers) who do this, remember that Barack Obama won his party's nomination over a much better known and qualified Hillary Clinton by outflanking her on the Left, especially on the issue of the Iraq War.  Remember also two years earlier when Joe Lieberman, once the Democrats' nominee for vice president, couldn't even get renominated because of the same issue (though he could certainly get reelected).

It's a simple fact that all decisions, including who our choices will be in November, are made by people who take the time and make the effort to vote.  In 2008, there were more people voting for Democrats, whether conservative, moderate or liberal, than for Republicans of any kind.  Now, it seems more conservatives have gone and will go to the polls this year.  Once again, purity seems set to win over pragmatism.

That's not to say these candidates aren't pragmatic or even good ones.  Many have strong business backgrounds, which will no doubt prove very useful as we work to rebuild the country's economy.  Many have never held public office before, which can be both a help and a hindrance.  While they may need a certain amount of on-the-job training, they won't feel as constrained by "the way things are".  And, in the case of the ideologues on both sides among the new candidates, they'll be more resistant to the "culture of corruption" in Washington.

These "upstart candidates" have caused more than a few headaches to both the Democratic and Republican national parties.  While candidates like O'Donnell were challenging "establishment picks" like Mike Castle on the Right, the Left invested millions of dollars (and man-hours) defending their own choices, such as Michael Bennet in Colorado.  I think it's a good sign.  While the national parties may be watching the "big picture" of nominating as many "electable" candidates as they can, the voters are focusing on their own big picture:  the reality that they'll be stuck with whomever is nominated as their candidate and probably their representative in Washington.  If their choice of a candidate happens to conflict with whomever the national party thinks can win and give them that final tie-breaking vote in Congress, then they say, respectfully, "Screw you" to the national party.  What's in a name?  As the Bard himself taught us, nothing.  Remember, Arlen Specter was once supported by the RNC, and he ended up betraying them.

So, forget about electability and national strategy.  Ignore the implications of nominating O'Donnell over Castle.  Trade one man's big picture for another's.  Here's my big picture:  these elections are so the people can decide who their candidates will be, not so the parties can.  I am no fan of the primary system, but as long as both major parties seek to perpetuate it, I say let it work against them and for the people.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

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A different perspective today

Nine years ago on September 11th, I was in Utah as a missionary for my church. LDS missionaries don't generally read newspapers, watch TV, or even listen to the radio, so as far as I knew when my fellow missionary and I left our apartment, this was just another day to preach the gospel of Christ. When we arrived at our first appointment that morning, though, I began to get hints that this day was different.

Our appointment came out of his trailer to meet us. We acted as we normally do, cheerfully greeting him, until he stopped us with the words, "You don't know, do you?" He took us inside and showed us the news report. I could see a building, unrecognizable to me at first, with billows of smoke coming out of it. I don't think any of us knew what was really happening just then, other than that a plane or planes had crashed. The full significance of the event took a long time to set in to my mind.

Most missionaries stay in the field for two years, and I was only halfway through mine when 9/11 occured. For an entire year after, I managed to avoid most of the furor and fear that had gripped the nation, because, like I had been for an entire year before, I was "removed" from the world. I didn't know what the Department of Homeland Security was, who al Qaeda were, or what we were doing to fight them. The first real effect I had felt from the attack was nearly a year later when it came time to fly home and having to take off my shoes before airport security would allow me through.

What was I doing that year while America tried to reset itself after such a horrific event? I was preaching the gospel. While most people had spent the first year after 9/11 trying to decide how to respond to the attacks, I had spent it responding to questions about Christ. While others wondered who had done this and why, I wondered whom I would be teaching next. While others had their focus on worldly matters, I focused on spiritual matters. I spent the second year of my mission in much the same way I had spent the first year. Though I never actually heard President Bush's speech about the need to continue on as we had before the attacks, I was already taking his advice.

I had always known that growing up in the church had given me a different perspective on life, and it certainly has in this case. The scriptures remind us, in many different ways, that vengeance is God's prerogative, and that ours is forgiveness. We're told repeatedly that the law of God is love, for our enemies as well as our neighbors. In the case of the nation of Islam, they are sometimes the same thing. I've said before and still believe that the authors of terror and murder deserve whatever punishment they have coming to them; but that doesn't mean we should hate them. When a group or nation declares war on us or our way of life, it is our responsibility to defend ourselves, and even those who cannot defend themselves; but we should never do it with hate in our hearts. We were enemies with Adolf Hitler, with Mussolini, and with Hirohito, but when World War II ended, we helped Germany, Italy, and Japan rebuild, and now we're strong allies with each nation. We were enemies with Saddam Hussein, but now we have what could be a strong ally in Iraq.

Did Islam itself attack us? Even if it did, we should not hate them, anymore than we should hate each other for how we each choose to respond to the attack. This controversy over the "Ground Zero Mosque" is embarrassing to every one of us. Those who oppose building the center have, in many cases, legitimate anger and pain in their hearts, and that should be respected, not derided, by those who support it. On the other hand, many who oppose it do so for no other reason than they hate Islam. Prejudice and hatred should be fought just as ardently as we fight terror and fear.

Pastor Terry Jones, the man who caused so much controversy himself lately, said this day he would not follow through on his planned Koran-burning. I believe that is the right decision, though I may wonder if he made it for the right reasons. Nevertheless, his proposed burning has sparked outrage across the globe. A riot in Afghanistan resulted in the death of a protester. Westboro Baptist Church, the same church that protested outside of a gay soldier's funeral, threatened to go forward with their own burning if Pastor Jones did not (no word yet on if they have). And just now, there are reports of British Muslims who have burned an American flag along with a picture of Pastor Jones in response to the planned, if canceled, Koran-burning.

This should be a day of remembrance, not vengeance; a day of understanding, not blindness; a day of love, not hate. As President Obama reminded us today, "We are not at war with Islam". Our duty is to remember those whom we have lost, to honor their memories. We do that, as both Presidents Bush and Obama remind us, by coming together as a nation and as a community. We are strongest when we stand united, as we did after the attacks nine years ago, as we have done in every moment of great distress in our nation's history that ultimately lead to victory. The only times America has failed have been when we divided ourselves against each other.

Let us all come together now. We are not Muslims, Jews, or Christians; believers or atheists; Republicans or Democrats. We are Americans. This is a truly great nation, one that has stood as an inspiration to people across the world for centuries now. When one of us attacks another, over our religion (or lack thereof) or our politics, we are all damaged. As a missionary, I learned that people would look at me as an example of my church, and that, however unfair it may be, my behavior would reflect on the church itself. How does our behavior as Americans, on this and every day, reflect on America?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

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