Why I’m Voting NOTA

I’ve voted for a candidate in every presidential election since 1976.  In that 40 years I’ve voted for candidates from both parties and even an independent, John Anderson, in 1980.  This year I’ll break that streak.  I’ll go to the polls this morning and will gladly make my views known on down-ballot races and state and local issues — but when I’m asked about voting for President, I’m choosing None Of The Above.

noneoftheaboveVoting for Donald Trump was never a possibility.  I’ve got old-fashioned views when it comes to the President:  I think character counts.  Trump’s character is about as ill-suited to the presidency as I can possibly imagine — and it’s not just his appalling comments about women or the ugly mean-spiritedness you see lurking below the surface, either.  People elected to serve as President should approach that enormous job with a measure of humility; Trump offers nothing but overwhelming arrogance and bombast.  Presidents are asked to make decisions with far-reaching consequences and should do so based on careful study and reasoned reflection; Trump is the king of the knee-jerk reactions.  These aren’t small failings.  In an increasingly dangerous world, these are character flaws that go to the essential core of the job.  I envision the bumptious Trump in a meeting with world leaders, and I cringe at the message it would send about America.

I tried to get behind Hillary Clinton, which is where other members of my family and many of my friends have landed.  I really did.  But I couldn’t get there, either.  I find the Clintons’ seemingly endless rapacious appetites totally off-putting, and the whiff of corruption in the high-dollar speeches, the Clinton Foundation donations, and other activities also seem ill-suited to the presidency, where the individual’s integrity should be beyond reproach.  I was amazed at the recklessness of Hillary Clinton’s email practices, but even more disturbed by the reaction to it by the candidate and her followers — first by steadfast denials, then by attacking the accusers, and finally by grudging, forced, clearly insincere apologies.  Presidents are going to make mistakes, and when they do they need to accept responsibility for them and demonstrate accountability.  I don’t see that quality in Hillary Clinton, and I think it is a very important one.

I looked at the third party candidates, but they are minor figures who lack the experience or the training for the most important job in the world.  It didn’t take long to exclude them from the mix.

So, no candidate is getting my vote this year.  No one is going to notice that there is one fewer vote being cast, among in the millions that will be counted this year — but it’s the only way I’ve got to send a message that the choice this year is utterly unacceptable, and that it should never happen again.

Making Up Your Mind: Voting Based On Naked Self Interest

Recently I went out to lunch with Dr. Science.  As has happened in many conversations this year, talk turned to the election.  Dr. Science knows that I am struggling with the decision on who to vote for, and he made an interesting pitch in his ongoing effort to get me to overcome my deep misgivings and vote for Hillary Clinton.

The argument was stated with clinical, Dr. Science-like rationality:  (1) we’ve both worked hard for years to save money for retirement; (2) almost all of our retirement savings is invested in the financial markets; (3) it seems as though everyone involved with the financial markets is forecasting a massive stock market plunge if Trump is elected and a stock market increase if Clinton is elected; and (4) why wouldn’t you want to cast your vote to affirmatively select someone whose election would not crush the value of your retirement savings?

francois_de_la_rochefoucauld_loneliness_2247In effect, Dr. Science was arguing that undecided voters should focus on their own, naked self-interest and vote for whichever candidate they believed would most benefit them personally.  I found his straightforward candor refreshing.  The conversation reminded me of the scene in Field of Dreams where Ray, after having built the baseball park in his corn field, suffered the sarcasm of his neighbors, and risked losing his farm, asks the ghostly ballplayers:  “I’m not saying ‘What’s in it for me’ but . . . what’s in it for me?”

I’ve never voted for a candidate based on how I thought it would affect me, personally —  I’ve always tried to vote for the candidate who I thought would do the best job for the country as a whole.  There’s something that strikes me as unseemly about focusing solely on self-interest in deciding how to vote.  And yet, with the awful choice presented in this election, maybe naked self-interest should be permitted to tip the balance between voting for someone and not voting at all.

My conversation with Dr. Science was one of several conversations I’ve had with people about deciding how to vote — conversations that I’ve never had before because I’ve always made up my mind early and never wavered.  I’ll write about some of the other conversations in the few remaining hours before Election Day arrives.

Bad Timing

In case you forgot, here’s a friendly Webner House reminder:  daylight saving time ended at 2 a.m. this morning.

6360638997895923221214868310_1575252Unless you are one of those nerdy Daylight Saving Time fans who actually stays up on Saturday night until 2 a.m. so you can change your clocks in complete compliance with the time change, the shift back to standard time means you will need to walk around your home, changing every clock that hasn’t already changed by virtue of its connection to a network.  So, make sure you get to that clock radio next to your bed, the clocks on the microwave and the oven, and the clock that is pretty much completely hidden by the books in your TV room.  And don’t forget the clock in your car, either!

This year it seems that the change back to standard time has come later than ever.  That’s because, about 10 years ago, the federal government shifted the change to standard time back a week, from the last Sunday of October to the first Sunday of November, and in 2016 the first Sunday of November falls on November 6.

The time change has two unfortunate consequences this year.  First, it’s going to get dark a lot earlier at night, which means we’re heading into the grim period when it’s dark when we head to work in the morning and dark when we come home at night.  Second, it means we get an extra hour of time to hear about the presidential campaign before Election Day finally arrives.

Just this once, couldn’t we have banked that extra hour until the Sunday after Election Day?

One Wretched Week To Go

The calendar tells us that today is November 1.  Normally, those of us living in the Midwest would feel a certain grim foreboding at the turn of the calendar’s page, because November is the gray slayer of the last remnants of summer and the bringer of cold, bitter weather.

november-014This year, however, the arrival of November is blessedly welcome — because it means this wretched presidential election is almost over, and we have only one week of it left to endure.

With one week to go, we should pause to consider, again, just how awful this election has been — but of course no one wants to think about that, because it’s just too depressing.  We’ve ended up with a crass, blustering, know-nothing political dilettante running against an uninspired insider who seems baffled that the campaign isn’t a coronation.  We’ve seen recordings of unforgivably crude behavior and a failure to provide basic information, like personal tax returns, on one hand, and allegations of corruption, insider politicking, and a lack of true personal accountability on the other.  It’s been a campaign rocked by planned leaks, video of a candidate apparently fainting and being dragged into a van, charges of sexual maulings and misconduct, and investigations of pay-for-play and tawdry business practices.  Oh yeah — and we saw a debate where the ultimate nominee Donald Trump talked about the size of his hands.

I know that presidential campaigns have always been down and dirty, but this campaign, and the political climate generally, seems especially destructive.  Important national institutions that were once viewed as separate and apart from politics have been brought deeply into the toxic mix.  The Supreme Court has become a forum to resolve political disputes and has been left short-handed for months because Congress won’t consider a nominee.  Former military officers are making commercials for one candidate or another, giving the sense that the campaigns are trading on the apolitical traditions of the military to try to lend much-needed credibility to their attacks on their opponents.  Now the FBI is being harshly criticized as a politicized entity because of its announcements about its investigation of the mystifying email practices of Hillary Clinton and her staff while she served as Secretary of State.  And, as the campaign nears its conclusion, we are reminded, again, that a vulgar embarrassment like Anthony Weiner once served in Congress and was viewed by some as an up-and-coming star.

So November, I am glad you are here.  We’ve got just one more week to go — let’s hope we survive it.  And, when the election is finally ended and one of these candidates ends up as our next President, let’s hope the country can survive it, too.

Yard Sign Vandalism

A few days ago the Washington Post carried an interesting confession by a suburban Mom in Maine.  She admitted and she and two of her friends became so enraged by the presence of a bunch of Donald Trump signs on their street that they went out one night and tore them down.  Unfortunately for them, their act of vandalism was seen by the police, and the next day she received a summons to appear in court, because the owner of the property that displayed the yard signs — who just happened to be the chairman of a Maine PAC supporting Trump — was pressing charges.

trump_yard_signsWhy did the woman suddenly engage in an act of vandalism?  Because she hates Trump, and is angry about his crass comments about women, which remind her of her own experience with a crude boss who propositioned her for sex, and she thought that the number of yard signs supporting Trump were destroying the “equilibrium” of her neighborhood.  She writes that she and her friends “felt assaulted by the number of signs. The idea of “cleansing” our streets seemed like the fastest way to restore balance and alleviate our election stress.”  Now she regrets her conduct and recognizes that she momentarily snapped — and will have to face her day in court.

As the Post article notes, this election is raising temperatures nationwide, and the hard feelings are being acted out through Facebook rants, yard sign thefts, acts of vandalism — all the way up to tossing a bomb into a Trump campaign headquarters.  It’s sad to think that this wretched campaign might bust up friendships or family relationships, and it’s even sadder when suburban Moms decide — even if only momentarily — that they have the right to trample on a neighbor’s exercise of their rights to free speech.  Whatever you might think of Trump, you have to at least acknowledge that his supporters have the right to at least express their opinions, just as you have the right to vehemently disagree with those opinions — and if you don’t acknowledge that reality, then we’re really in the process of losing something fundamental and immensely valuable about America.

But here’s the saddest thing:  the Maine Mom hasn’t even met the man whose yard signs she stole.  She didn’t try to talk to him to tell him how she and her friends felt, and he didn’t try to talk to her before deciding to press charges.  You’d like to think that neighbors could at least talk to each other and try to bridge the gap, before resorting to stealing yard signs on one side and going to court on the other.  Maybe if they’d sat down face to face they might have realized that they were dealing with a human being, acquired an understanding of how the other person felt, and perhaps changed their mind on how to proceed.

But these days, it seems, no one talks anymore, and the first response is to escalate — which is how the courts in Maine are going to be hearing a case involving a suburban Mom who stupidly stole some yard signs because she thinks Donald Trump is a jerk.

Buckeye Statis

Every four years, since at least the 2000 presidential election, the people of the Buckeye State have braced themselves.  They know that, as residents of a “battleground” state, they are going to be subjected to an onslaught of campaign ads and campaign appearances,  questions from pollsters and reporters who will clog the streets, and the disruption of traffic and everyday life that naturally comes along with regular visits from presidential and vice presidential candidates and their surrogates.

unnamedAnd, as part of that process, every four years politics becomes a much larger part of the daily lives of Ohioans than it would be otherwise.  People talk about the election with their friends, debate the choices, and post yard signs and maybe even attend a rally or volunteer for their candidate.  It’s as if, with the pressure of “battleground” status, Ohioans feel a certain obligation to the rest of the country and think hard about how to cast their vote.  And good-natured discussion with your friends, family, and colleagues about the choices was a big part of the whole decisional process.

This year, though, has a decidedly different feel to it.  There’s not as much activity from the campaigns.  One night last week both President Obama and Donald Trump were in Columbus for speeches, which resurrected some of the hectic feel to which we’ve become accustomed in presidential election years, but it also reinforced how things have changed since 2012, and 2008, and 2004:  in those years, visits from the competing campaigns were virtually a daily occurrence.  This year, not so much.

And this year the vibe of the people of Ohio is different, too.  There are still some true-believer advocates for both candidates in Ohio (although in my neck of the woods you won’t see any pro-Trump signs), but for the most part the population seems to be sad and depressed.  People don’t want to talk about the election, or the candidates, or anything having to do with politics.  The only passion comes when people start talking about how deeply flawed the candidates are, and how rotten the choice is, and how the process really needs to be changed so we don’t end up with such a terrible choice, ever again.  Sometimes this feeling comes out in strong words about what a disaster it would be if one candidate, or the other, were elected — but it is always strong words against a candidate, and never strong words for a candidate.  The only real energy seems to be negative energy.

What does this mean?  It means people talk about the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cleveland Indians even more than they would otherwise.  It means you try to avoid any mention of the election at lunch or at social gatherings, for fear of loosing another eruption of that terrible negative energy.  It means you really don’t want to live in a battleground state anymore, and would rather just forget about the whole thing.

What does it mean about how Ohioans will vote come Election Day?  I don’t know, but I do think I wouldn’t really trust the polls this year.  I think we are dealing with an electorate that is deeply guarded about their feelings and trying to work through a bleak, deep reservoir of disappointment and bile about parties, processes, and candidates.  I’m skeptical about how many Ohioans are sharing their real feelings with pollsters.  Pollsters just remind us about how the system has let us down.  Who really wants to share their true feelings with walking, talking reminders of a failed process?

Meanwhile, Back In The Real World

This week Aetna announced that it would be withdrawing from many of the states in which it offers health care plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges.  Aetna participated in exchanges in 15 states, and it will be withdrawing from 11 of those 15.

mw-de672_aet_20_20150202162433_zhIt’s more bad news for “Obamacare,” which has seen other major insurers back away from offering plans, too.  Aetna says its decision is prompted by substantial losses it is experiencing on the exchanges, all of which arises from the fact that the pools of covered individuals has turned out to be sicker than was originally forecast — and therefore more likely to need expensive care.  If fewer insurers offer plans on the exchanges, there obviously will be less competition, and less choice.  As Aetna’s decision reflects, however, the effect will vary on a state by state basis.

In the meantime, premiums on the exchange plans are going up — and the “individual mandate” penalty for not having health insurance is ratcheting up, too.  In 2017, the average penalty will be $979 per household.  The question is whether the threat of having to pay a $1000 penalty will drive more people to enroll, and whether those currently uninsured people who do enroll will be healthier and therefore help to hold down the costs of the plans for the insurers who offer them, so more even insurers don’t exit the plans.  Ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed, the question has been whether the exchanges can avoid the “death spiral” in which enrollment shrinks, leaving only sick people in the plans, causing ever-greater losses and ever-increasing premiums that simply can’t be sustained.

The Affordable Care Act is unquestionably the signature domestic policy achievement of the Obama Administration.  It’s also another huge government program seeking to force behavioral changes that is anathema to both fiscal conservatives and social libertarians.  In any rational world, a presidential election would be a forum for discussing whether, and if so how well, “Obamacare” has worked — and what alternatives would be.

Of course, we don’t have such discussions about actual policy issues or the real-world performance of important initiatives like the Affordable Care Act in this election.  No, we’re too busy talking about Donald Trump’s latest idiotic foot-in-mouth-episode, or Hillary Clinton’s health issues, or other extraneous topics.  This is the most content-free presidential election in my memory.

We need to remember that the real world is still out there.