Saturday, September 1, 2012

#Election2012: Why I'd Vote #NOTA

In some electoral systems, there is the option to vote NOTA - none of the above. Like many other voters, I wish I could exercise that option in November. I suspect that voter turnout would be a lot higher than usual if we did have NOTA on the ballot.

This year, as we teeter on the edge of a fiscal cliff created by entrenched partisans who believe that they can score votes from it, Americans are cursed with two almost equally clueless tickets. Neither side offers realistic solutions: this election is all about rallying a small number of base voters in a few swing states. There is high probability that the electoral college will pick one winner and the popular vote will pick another.

This is the least national, least engaging election I've ever witnessed. Part of the problem is an old issue: our winner-takes-all electoral system makes several populous States completely irrelevant, e.g. California, New York, and Texas, all of which have very important fiscal and immigration issues that matter to voters.  Because of winner-takes-all, campaign and super-PAC spending is focused on the swing States.  Want to make a difference in this election? Sorry, you'll have to move to one of the swing States. But before you pack your bags, let me warn you that in a swing States like Virginia (where I live), you will be subjected to an unrelenting barrage of annoyingly thin propaganda. And much of that propaganda comes from sources we can't even trace.

Another reason why this election isn't engaging is because of the longstanding deadlock in D.C., which shows no signs of abating. Almost everyone expects that neither side will win with sufficient margin to pursue their strategies. The impasse is due in large measure to our two historically inept leaders in the House and Senate, both of whom will almost certainly still be on the job after November.  Thanks to the anti-leadership of Boehner and Reid, Congress now has the lowest approval in all recorded history- around 10% in a recent Gallup poll. That will continue, regardless of who wins in November... unless, perchance, the margin of victory is very large, which appears very unlikely at this stage.

The two tickets offer me very few compelling reason to vote for them:

Romney and Ryan pledge to reduce federal spending to 20% of GDP in their term. This is complete nonsense. The number is currently ~30%, and reducing it as quickly as they say will guarantee depression. Apparently, Mr. Ryan actually wants sequestration to happen. I know firsthand how disastrous that would be, but nevertheless I admit that almost wish that it would happen, simply to discredit these people and flush them out of the system. Unfortunately, the issues that the Republicans should be pursuing are apparently on the back burner: simplified regulations, a simplified tax code with fewer loopholes, a realistic debt and spending plan, and immigration reform. Regarding this latter item, about which we've heard so little: the U.S. has always relied on immigrant influx to spur growth, and the current situation is no exception. That we have so many legal immigrants unfairly bogged down in bureaucracy is an outrage.  And why the Republicans haven't embraced this cause, particularly when they flounder in their attempt to court hispanic voters in must-win Florida... it boggles the mind. It's as if the Republicans actually want to lose.

Meanwhile, the Democrats continue to engage in pandering of the worst kind. If you want to predict what President Obama will say at a campaign event, just ask yourself what you most want to hear and, yes, that's precisely what he'll say- regardless of reality.  You want lower unemployment? Want to close Guantanamo? Don't like wars? Want universal and affordable health care?  Want to tackle the national debt? Sure, he'll promise all of those things. Ask for specifics and... crickets. Apparently, his proudest accomplishment (apart from sinking Bin Laden) is a healthcare Bill that is a beautifully wrapped gift to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Our healthcare premiums continue to rocket upwards, even as medicare is imperiled. Yes indeed, many citizens previously not covered by insurance are now covered, and that is a great thing. However, the cost of the Bill actually exceeds the cost of providing that insurance; the coverage is far from universal or affordable; and the cost of providing coverage to employees has become a major source of concern for small businesses. In the memorable words of Biden: "this is a big [bleeping] deal." Indeed, and the American taxpayer who will ultimately be [bleeped] by this Bill - the Administration's proudest accomplishment of the past four years.

So the Democrats seem to want to give everything, and the Republicans seem to want to take everything away, and pragmatists are ignored by both. In this season, there are few things to encourage the American voter.  One item worth mention is the Simpson-Bowles plan, which the President abandoned and which Paul Ryan voted against. I do take a lot of comfort from the fact that pragmatists like Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles are quietly toiling away, behind the scenes, on realistic plans to restore American fiscal credibility and international competitiveness. Unfortunately, neither of these fine statesmen are partnered with either ticket in 2012, and so it appears that we have four more years of poor fiscal stewardship, stagnant domestic growth and several fiscal shocks ahead. But mark my words, voters will come back with a vengeance in 2016. If the economy unravels as I fear it might, all of our current leaders will be swept aside in short order. It's just a matter of time.

So, maybe get-it-done pragmatists like me just need to wait four more years. I still wish that I could vote NOTA 2012, though. At least then I'd have a reason to vote.

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