A Philosopher's Blog

Congratulations, Mr. President

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 6, 2012

I am writing this on election day, so I do not know who has won. However, no matter who is elected I will still hold to these words.

Congratulations on your victory, Mr. President. You have a tough time ahead of you. We are still involved in war. While the economy has improved since 2008, people are still suffering. We can also expect trouble from Iran and other parts of the world.

As always, you can count on me to support you when I have a good, logical reason to do so. My commitment has consistently been to the good of the country and not to a particular political party or ideology.

Naturally, you can also count on me to be critical when I have good, logical reasons to do so. I am not mindlessly committed to a party nor in the thrall of a specific ideology. As such, when I have a legitimate disagreement I will make it clear in a rational and fair way.

I want you to succeed in bringing America out of the economic trouble that remains and I want you to lead us safely and boldly through the times of trouble that are sure to come.

I believe in America and I believe that we can work together to do what must and should be done.

Congratulations-enjoy your victory, for soon you must get to work.

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Crist Goes Independent

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 2, 2010
A cropped version of :Image:Charlie Crist.
Image via Wikipedia

Being a resident of Florida, I have been following the saga of Charlie Crist. Crist is currently governor of the state but wants to be a senator. A while back it seemed likely that Crist would secure the Republican nomination. However, as the Republican party began steering across the hard line and towards the Kingdom of No Crist decided on a more moderate course. He even accepted federal bailout money for the state.

His moderate leanings (which some claim were the results of pure politics rather than an ideological commitment to being a moderate) prevented him from passing the purity test. This resulted in his failure to secure the Republican nomination and his decision to switch to being an independent. This has created that rare American political beast: a three way race. Michael Steele has expressed his dismay over this and his remarks seemed to indicate that the way elections are supposed to work is that there is a Democrat running against a Republican (with the Democrat losing). Crist claims, of course, that he is doing this for the good of the people of Florida. The more cynical seem to be inclined to say that he is doing this for the good of Charlie Crist.

While I am always suspicious of the motivations of politicians, perhaps Crist does have a good point. Some pundits have pointed out that while Crist could not win the primary, he actually stands a chance in the general election. If this is true, then it makes sense for him to leave the Republicans and run as an independent. After all, if a significant number of voters want to vote for him, then he should have the opportunity to run.  Otherwise, the primary system would seem to serve to deny people the chance to chose the person they want and to give those who dominate a party that choice. Actually, even if most people would vote against him, then he should still have that opportunity-this is supposed to be a democracy, after all.

This situation does raise questions about the primary system as well as the two party system. As I see it, the current system actually limits democracy. I infer that this is exactly what it is supposed to do. As noted above, Steele seems to think that the race should be limited to a Republican and a Democrat (“The voters out there should be given a chance to have a clean call between the Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee, Congressman [Kendrick] Meek”). However, I do not think that these two parties have the right to claim a joint monopoly on the election. That is, to say the least, against the very notion of how a democracy should work.

While I am not a major Crist supporter, I do think that he should run as an independent. I am not just saying this because I tend to be a Democrat. Rather, I am saying this because I think that the two party system restricts choice and impairs our democracy.

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Rebranding the Republicans

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on January 20, 2009

After their recent defeats, the Republicans are busy trying to figure out where they went wrong and how they can get back on the path to victory.

Based on what I’ve seen in the news, a popular view is that the Republican party strayed from its true conservative roots and this led to their downfall. This does have a certain degree of plausibility. After all, the Bush administration violated many of the classic principles of conservativism: small government, respect for basic rights, respect for the rule of law, and fiscal restraint. These violations led directly to many of the terrible problems we face now and these problems helped contribute to the downfall of the former ruling party.

Of course, it is also important to consider that people also chose the Democrats for positive reasons. That is, they voted Democrat rather than merely voting against the Republicans. As such, to capture such votes the Republicans would need to offer what the Democrats promised.

While there is reason to believe that a party can orchestrate its return to power (people often cite the Reagan era victory as an example of this), one very important factor seems to be the failures of the party in power. To be a bit cynical and to grossly oversimplify things, one party ascends as the other falls into decay. This decay often arises from the corrupting influences that the folks in power are exposed to. Naturally, those in power often fall victim to the arrogance and laziness that power can breed.

At this time, the Democrats are in power and Obama has promised America great things. This is, of course, a time of great optimism and hope. I believe that Obama will do his best to deliver and I hope that he will accomplish great things.

However, if history is any indication, the Democrats will eventually squander their victory, spiral into decay and thus open the door for the next Republican victory. Then it will be the Democrats turn to wait for the Republicans to go down the drain once more.

The McCainator

Posted in Humor, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 7, 2008

A little something for my conservative friends:

It was 2029 in the Obamanation that had once been America. The human race was running out of time. With the Same Sex Marriage Chapels running twenty four hours a day and mandatory abortion, it looked like there would soon be no humans left.

But, though the world was a gay, gunless wasteland, resistance had not been extinguished. A few brave men and women fought on against the oppressive Liberalnet system. Gathering their meager resources, they were able to build a time machine and send a single soldier back to the past. This soldier would kill, in the past, the one person responsible for the ruin of America. This would, it was hoped, set things right.

In a flurry of pyrotechnics, the McCainator appeared in the past. Well, what was then the present. What was…I mean is now. Whatever. Hell, you know what I mean.

A bit dazed and really naked, the McCainator was confronted by four young men. They whistled at him and called him “sweetcheeks.” After killing them, he decided to dress in their rather fashionable clothes. He then when in search of guns, lots of guns.

Arriving at what he thought was a gun store, he went up to the counter and spat out harsh words to the foppish young fellow.

“The 12 gauge auto-loader. The 45 long slide with laser sighting. Phase plasma rifle in 40-watt range.
The Uzi 9mm.”

The fellow looked at him and replied, “dude, what are those?”

“Guns. I need guns.”

The fellow thought for a moment and said, “Oh, I remember my dad talking about those in the before time. We haven’t had any guns since 2008. I sell bongs and sex toys now.”

“Wait, this isn’t 2008?”

“No, dude. This is 2012. The fourth year of our savior’s reign.”

“Damn! They didn’t send me back far enough!”

The McCainator suddenly reached past the dude to grab the biggest bong.

“Hey, you can’t do that!”, yelled the dude.

“Wrong”, said the McCainator, whacking the dude in the face until he cried out for socialized medicine.

“I’m a maverick. I do what I want, bitch.”

The McCainator went back to the future and made sure the eggheads got it right this time.

After getting guns, lots of guns, he went looking for his target.

To make sure he got the right one, he’d ask before shooting: “Are you Sarah Palin?”

Will Voting Work in Florida?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 3, 2008

First, let me be clear that although I live in Florida, I am from Maine. However, that did not protect me from taunts and jokes about the 2000 election mess. Or the 2004 election mess. Or the more recent pre-emptive jokes about how voting will be screwed up once again in Florida.

Of course, the taunting hurts because there is truth behind it. But, while the other states point and laugh at Florida, they need to remember that they also have their share of voting problems. How many of these problems (like voting machines that seem intent on only allowing McCain votes) are the result of intentional corruption and how many are the results of incompetence or just the usual things that can go wrong in huge, complex events remains to be seen. I suspect that much of it will be just accidents and innocent foul ups. But, I’m sure corruption will play a role as well. That, like apple pie, is an American tradition.

I’m working on my witty replies to the taunts that will start on November 5th (or maybe even on the 4th). I do try to avoid resorting to violence, but it can be tempting. For example, in 2000 here is how my reply worked:

Taunter: “Hey, can you people in Florida count?”

Me: “Yes. That was one punch to the face right there. Amazingly, I can count quite high…perhaps to infinity. Would you care to see that?”

Taunter: “Ow, my face! No!”

Me: “Very wise, Mr. Gore. “

Is the White House Ready for Black Man?

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 7, 2008

While Obama is enjoying a growing lead in the polls, my students still ask me if I think that America is ready for a black President. Some of them also express concerns that the election will be stolen from Obama or that he might be assassinated if elected. While these are both legitimate worries, I will just focus on the first concern in this blog.

The question “is America ready for a black President?” can be taken as meaning many things. When people ask it now, they often seem to really be asking “will Obama win?” The answer seems to be: it is possible.

The question can also be taken as asking whether the majority of Americans are willing and able to set aside the consideration of race when voting for President. The answer to this could be yes, but Obama could still lose.

Interestingly, some people I have spoken with about this think that unless a person votes for Obama, that person must not be ready for a black man in the White House. However, this need not be the case. After all, a person could set aside consideration of race and still prefer McCain to Obama (or another non-black candidate to a black candidate). For example, a voter might believe that McCain can keep America safer than Obama or she might be pro-life and consider that a decisive issue. In this case, it is not that the person must not be ready for a black President. She just prefers McCain to Obama.

Obviously, if someone votes against Obama because he is black, then he would not be ready for a black man in the White House. As such, you would have to know why a person did not vote for Obama to know whether they were ready for black man as President or not. Naturally, this will be a hard thing to determine: few people will come out and say that they vote based on race.

One obvious way to get some insight into whether America is ready for a black President or not is to look at how the election turns out. If Obama wins, then the answer would seem to be yes. If Obama does not win, then things are far less clear. The explanation for such a hypothetical loss could be race or perhaps not.

Since people are unlikely to admit to racism, one method that can be employed if Obama loses is to compare the election results with the poll results. If the poll results indicated a commanding lead and then Obama does not win, then one explantion could be the Bradley Effect: Some voters say (in polls and surveys) they will vote for the black candidate, but cannot overcome their views of race and actually vote against him/her. If this is how it turns out, then this would indicate that America seemed to be ready for a black President but was not. Of course, this would be a fairly weakly supported conclusion. White candidates running against white candidates sometimes poll well and then lose the actual election (like Kerry) and that obviously cannot be attributed to racism. The same factors that lead to such situations for white candidates could occur for a black candidate and race need not be a factor at all.

So, if Obama wins, the answer to the question would be a clear “yes.” If he does not win, then the answer is less clear. Perhaps America is ready for a black President, but perhaps not enough people want that black President to be Obama.

Ayers, Keating, Character & Issues

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 6, 2008

Obama has recently taken the lead over McCain, leading to another round of negative tactics.The pundits are generally taking the view that McCain is trying to get the focus off the economy and onto character. Presumably McCain’s people think they can win in the character area while they are not confident about what will happen if they stick to the issue of the economy.

Over the weekend, Palin accused Obama of being pals with terrorists. This charge is, of course, based on his association with Bill Ayers who was part of the 1960s radical group popularly known as the Weathermen. The evidence seems to be that Obama had fairly limited contact with Ayers. Further, while Ayers was a 1960s radical, he seems to have settled down into a pleasant academic and bourgeoise existence by the time he met Obama.

One reply from the Obama camp was that Obama did not know Ayers’ background. While this is possible, it strikes me a very implausible. First, it seems odd that he would not ask any questions or take steps to learn about the man. Second, it seems very odd that he would be unaware of such history. The group is famous-so much so that I knew about them as an undergraduate. Of course, I was a poli-sci and philosophy major with an interest in radical politics, so perhaps my knowledge was unusual.

The reply should have been to point out the fact that when Obama met Ayers, Ayers was not a terrorist. Rather, he was (and is) a middle class academic who has a radical past. Naturally, if Palin has evidence that Ayers is still a terrorist, she needs to provide that information to law enforcement so they can arrest him. If she is merely talking about events from 40 years ago, then she really has nothing new or damaging to say.

In the case of McCain, people in the Obama camp have pointed out McCain’s involvement in the Keating Five incident. This was a serious scandal and had some rather unpleasant economic consequences. However, compared to the economic disaster of today, it was but a tempest in a teapot. The investigation cleared McCain of any wrong doing, but did note that he had shown poor judgment. After that, McCain made a serious effort to restore his reputation.

I think that McCain’s involvement with Keating is a far more serious matter than Obama’s association with Ayers. After all, Obama became involved with Ayers decades after the fact while McCain was directly involved with the Keating incident. Further, McCain’s poor judgment in the matter was officially established. Despite that, I think that the incident should not hang around his neck like an albatross. McCain seems to have taken serious steps to repair his reputation afterwards. However, his actions in regards to the current economic crisis have not been helping him and the shadow of the Keating Five is being cast over him today.

Naturally enough, both of these attacks are intended to raise concerns about character. While many people complain when the discussion turns from issues to character, I think that the character battle is critical. Issues are, of course important. But, when a politician gives you his position on an issue, he is just saying what he might do or what he (allegedly) thinks now. Politicians are not known for keeping their promises, so issue based voting can be risky. After all, voting for a candidate because they say X on and issue does not entail that they will do X. Character more clearly reveals what a person will do. So, I think it is actually useful to put some emphasis on character-that will help inform the public what the candidates are likely to do if elected. Of course, much of what is said about character is lies and damned lies, but some truth will come out. Interestingly, we can learn a great deal about the candidates’ characters by what they say about each other. Petty, mean people say petty mean things regularly. Great people do not need to sink to that level, though they might be tempted to do so. So, bring on the negativity-let us see just how mean, petty and vicious you candidates can be.

Small Town Values

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 4, 2008

McCain, Palin and the Republicans have been pushing the theme of small town values. Since McCain and Palin are politicians and not philosophers, they have been rather vague about these small town values. Being from a very small town (Old Town, Maine) and also being a professional philosopher, I thought I’d step in and help them out. After all, that is what we small town folks do.

The view that small towns are havens of moral goodness and cities are cesspools of moral decay has along tradition behind it. When America was a rural nations, people praised the virtues of the rural folks. Philosophers even got in on the game, perhaps the best known being Rousseau. On his view, the youth should be raised in the country and kept from the corrupting influence of the cities. Of course, the belief in small town virtue seems to be mainly the result of a romantic view rather than the result of a proper investigation. In this regard, it is similar in other ways to the wonderful myth of the noble savage.

As noted above, I grew up in a very small town. I also did my undergraduate degree in a small town (Marietta, Ohio). I’ve visited many small town in America and know people from them. I’ve also visited big cities ( such as New York, Boston and Pittsburgh). I did my graduate work in a big city (Columbus, Ohio) and have met many big city folk over the years. While this does not count as a thorough empirical investigation, it does give me a basis from which to assess small town and big town values.

Based on my experience, a person’s place of residence is not a good indicator of their ethical values. I know of plenty of small town folks who are not good folks and I know plenty of big city folks who are morally upright. Naturally, I know plenty of good small town folks and bad city folks. Of course, my experience could be biased in some way and my sample is fairly small: just the thousands of people I have interacted with over the years. As such, it would be wise to not just rely on my experience and judgment.

Of course, there are some reasons to suspect that small town people might be better behaved that city folks.

One factor to consider is that people in small towns have additional incentives over city folk to behave better. As a small town person, I can attest to the fact that what a small town person does in his small town (or beyond) becomes generally known fairly quickly. The anonymity of the big city is absent. Further, a small town person has to interact with the same people regularly in his small town. Big city folk can find other people to interact with if their reputation goes bad with one group. While it might be believed that these factors merely make small town folk better at concealing their misdeeds, it is also reasonable to think that these factors help habituate small town folks to behave better. It is not that small town people are better-they are just better observed and have a harder time avoiding the consequences of bad behavior.

Another factor to consider is that the small populations of small towns means that they have a smaller number of corrupting people and influences. Hence, there is less chance that a small town person will end up under a corrupting influence. Also, bigger cities have more money and the sort of things that tend to attract those with lower moral standards. Hence, it is not that small town folks are morally better. It is just that small towns provide fewer opportunities for the corrupters and the potentially corrupted.

The above is, of course, speculative. Considering the two factors does not tell us whether small town folk consistently behave better than big city folk. To determine this, some empirical investigation would be in order.

One empirical way to examine the question of whether small towns have better values (and follow them) is to look at the crime rates. While this is not a perfect measurement, it does serve to provide a reasonable indicator of the moral conditions in an area. This is especially true in regards to crimes that are not economically based. After all, the frequency of rape in an area says more about the moral values of the inhabitants than does the frequency of speeding tickets.

Interestingly, Palin’s state Alaska does dismally here. Alaska leads the United States in incidents of forcible rape, is 5th in aggravated assault, and is 17th in murder. In contrast, my own home state of Maine has an extremely low crime rate. As with towns in Alaska, Maine towns tend to be small and even our biggest city, Portland, is a rather small city. As such, I certainly hope that Palin is talking about the small town values of my home state and not the state she governs. Of course, perhaps the conditions in Alaska are such that it is harder for those small town values to influence behavior. After all, everything is supposed to be tougher in Alaska. Presumably this applies to not engaging in criminal activity, too.

Based on my own experience and arguments, there does not seem to be a special set of small town values that make small town folks better. As such, the appeal to small town values is what sensible people know: just an empty piece of political rhetoric.

VP Debate Results

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 3, 2008

The VP debate between Biden and Palin went pretty much as expected, although it was well worth watching. Both candidates came across as likable and made no major errors. These days, that is considered a win.

Biden, restricted by the set time limits, managed to avoid his usually Achilles heel: talking to long and getting off message. Overall, he came across as competent, informed and ready to be VP. He did have a disconcerting tendency to refer to himself as “Joe Biden” rather than using the first person approach. I tend to associate that sort of thing with large egos and/or mental illness, so that worried me just a bit.  Biden also did the usual thing politicians do: if he didn’t like the question or if it didn’t fit his talking points, he just talked about the topic he wanted to talk about. While the moderator did a competent job, she should have been more aggressive about keeping Biden (and Palin) on the question.

Palin went into the debate with one main goal: damage control. After her horrible interviews she needed to establish an image of competence. She had clearly been well coached and had an array of pre-packaged responses ready to present. This shows that she can be trained to repeat what others have told her and that she can handle basic questions when properly prepared. Even somewhat more than Biden, she would go to her talking points rather than focusing on the actual question.

The consensus seems to be that Biden won the debate and that people liked Palin. It is not clear how this will impact voting behavior, if at all. In general, both candidates accomplished the main goal: they came across as up for the job of VP and made no serious mistakes.

The VP Debate

Posted in Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 2, 2008

Tonight is the debate between Biden and Palin. Naturally enough, the media is speculating about how it will play out. Being an experienced debater (two state championship titles-Maine and Ohio), I think I might as well present my own assessment.

In Biden’s favor is the fact that he is an experienced politician. He also seems to have a quick wit and a sense of humor, which will help in presenting that critical positive image. On the minus side, he is famous for his gaffes and mistatements. The debate setting provides him with an excellent opportunity to add some truly memorable gaffes to his collection. Of course, the gaffes never quite seem to stick in a truly harmful way. Perhaps Biden has a small piece of Reagan’s teflon coating in his pocket. Or perhaps he seems like such a likable fellow that people tend to see the gaffes as mere quirks.

The debate setting also helps Biden in that the time limits help deal with one of his main problems: his tendency to ramble on. Once he gets rambling, he tends to get off message and sometimes (like in the infamous clean coal incident) he says things that contradict the official positions he is supposed to hold. Biden, I suspect, will be saved by the bell tonight.

One challenge Biden does face is the fact that he is debating a woman. For all the talk about equality and women being just as good as men, it will cost him points if he is seen as being too rough on her. After all, many people still feel in terms of the classic gender roles, even if they consciously try to think in terms of the more liberated new roles. Of course, he cannot be too easy on her or otherwise act in ways that might be perceived as patronizing. That would also cost him points-especially with female voters.

Biden thus faces a serious challenge. He must come out ahead of Palin without seeming too aggressive or patronizing. He cannot fully treat her like a male oppponent (this would be seen by some as being too aggressive), but also has to avoid seeming to treat her in a special way because she is a woman (which might be seen as sexist or patronizing).

In Palin’s favor is the fact that some people find her likable and that she is clearly a fighter. On the minus side, her recent interviews have been horrible. They seem to show that she is woefully unprepared for the job. For example, other than Roe versus Wade, she does not seem to know anything about the Supreme Court decisions. Even more disturbing, she doesn’t seem to know what she reads for her news about the world. While she did great when reading a pre-written speech in a friendly setting (the RNC), she does not seem to be ready to think on her feet. This bodes ill for her performance in the debate.

She has, however, been coached extensively and this might help her. Also, she seems to do poorly when she is closely handled by her keepers. If she is able to be herself, she might do very well. Or she might not. After all, it is unclear who the real Palin might be-there is just not enough known about her.

She can use the fact that she is a woman to her advantage. As noted above, Biden has to steer between the Scylla of appearing too rough and the Charybdis of appearing patronizing. If Palin can push him either way, she can score political points.

Of course, the importance of the VP debate might be overblown by the media. Perhaps they will have a ho-hum exchange that will have little or no impact on the polls. Even if it is a memorable event, it also might be fairly insignificant. After all, people seem to be most influenced by the Presidential candidates rather than the VP candidates.

In any case, I’ll watch the debate. But, it will be mainly for the reason people watch Nascar: I’m hoping for a memorable disaster.