The other day I was asked an interesting question. It came from an old friend from many years ago. She is a person whose intelligence and perspective I respect and whose opinion I value. She knew me well in the very early 1970’s when I supported McGovern, hated Nixon, and lived a very, let’s say Bohemian, lifestyle.
“How can the person I knew then like Romney now?”
I saw and responded to that question after a particularly frustrating day at work and I am afraid it became a disjointed rant rather than a thoughtful response. She deserved more. The question has succeeded in causing me to think long and hard about who I was, who I am and why these two pictures appear so different to her. This open letter, a copy of which I am sending to her, is my attempt, not to explain so much, but to explore why I have made this seemingly unlikely choice.
Let me begin by describing who I was then, from my perspective. When I met Pam I had just blown into San Francisco for the second time. It was 1974 and while I drove in that time, my main mode of transportation back then was hitchhiking. I have crossed this country from water to water four times, hitchhiking three times and driving once. (That doesn’t count the times I have flown over Middle America). I supported myself cooking at whatever restaurant or club would put me on, by picking up what odd jobs or tasks I could, and by panhandling. I lived in the moment with a generally free and easy manner. I was the hot dog cook at Candlestick Park, and a macramé artist in Embarcadero Square. The group of people I lived with were special. We shared a lifestyle and an “I can take care of myself, just leave me alone” kind of attitude, living each day as fully as possible.
My philosophy and political position then was very simple. I hated Richard Nixon more than I can describe. To me he embodied everything evil in the human race. He placed his own success above that of any other consideration; above country, above humanity, and most of all, above the interests of me and my friends. He aggregated and exercised power in a way I had not imagined could be possible in the United States. Don’t get me wrong, this did not mean I was a Democrat. Lynden Johnson was only slightly less problematic. He succeeded in doing no less damage than Nixon, but I never got a sense of evil or a sense that he was putting his own interests ahead of the country’s. A huge feature in my politics then was the Vietnam War. I don’t remember now how I arrived at the number, I used a calculation that included personal notes, government statistics, and some probabilities, but the wall in Washington DC, on which the names of the Vietnam War dead are inscribed, includes 461 persons with whom I personally interacted. And I didn’t go to Vietnam. I have tried three times but I have never been able to get close enough to that Black Wall to check. I break down before I can get within 50 feet. Even as I write this, I am crying for those I, we, have lost.
I served, with no distinction whatsoever, with the Marine Corps as a hospital corpsman. It was no serendipitous accident that I was a corpsman. From my earliest memories of my Mother I have had one, singular, absolute principle. The Abrahamic tradition states it succinctly…Thou shalt not kill. I do not recognize exceptions or corollaries to this mandate. I will not kill another human being. I will not support the killing of another human being. This has put me in conflict with both parties over the years and with many of my friends. Because of this I cannot support any war. I cannot support capital punishment, euthanasia, or abortion. I do not view the murder of Osama bin Laden as anything more than revenge, No better than the retribution killings that make tribal warfare in the Middle East the root of most of the political turmoil over there.
While that was, and remains, my “Prime Directive”, it is not my only consideration. I believed then, and I believe now, that the American people are different from any other group in history. Not on the individual level, but in the aggregate. I have travelled extensively. I have cooked on every continent except Australia and have met and talked with peasants, fishermen, shopkeepers, government officials, and even one head of state. What makes us different, what makes us special is our diversity. E Pluribus Unum, Out of many, one. In France, Greece, and Turkey, there is an ethnicity that is Greek, Turkish, or French. There is a commonality of purpose and a relatively homogeneous point of view. We have never accepted a limited ethnic perspective. My Italian mother married my Scotch-Irish father and begat an American, not a Scotch-Irish-Italian
In our earliest days as a proposed nation we recognized the polyglot nature of our future. While they could not tell the future, and would most likely have not liked what they saw even if they could, they did find a way to prepare for it. The Constitution of the United States, to me, is now and was then, biblical in its importance. I was born with every right to do anything and everything I want to do. As a civilization we have agreed to limit ourselves somewhat by yielding some of our inherent rights, which go well beyond life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to government. We decided that our common good required the Federal government to defend all of us from external threats. We yielded the right of retribution to civil authority. We agreed to live together under the rule of law but were very suspicious of those who would apply those rules. We limited them severely, and put in mechanisms to add and subtract the powers of the Federal government as we saw the need. We did not give the government the right to expand to meet its perceived need. We required that it come to us and ask for that expansion.
So that is who I was, and why I supported McGovern and the principles of “flower power”. I was fiercely independent, suspicious of power, secure in my beliefs and accepting of your right to your beliefs. I believed in limited government, that the best solutions to local problems were to be developed locally, and that the way to effect change was to first live the change, then petition the change, and then vote for change.
So, why Romney?
Barrack Obama came on the scene quickly and rose rapidly to power. He took office in a swirl of high expectations, great hope, and the promise of change. I have ever been suspicious of anyone who promised too much. “If it sounds too good to be true, chances are it is.” But Obama was inspirational. I was very proud of America when we rose above our differences and elected him. I did not vote for him, but I was excited by the potential his election held.
I did not vote for him because I felt we faced huge challenges. America was in a dismal state of affairs; Mired in two wars, facing economic collapse, struggling with an immigration nightmare on the border, and growing polarization in Congress. I believed we needed a proven leader, one with a record of achievement. Obama had no experience. His only qualification was that he was smart. But to use his own quote, “a lot of people are smart.” He went from academia to street politics in Chicago. His ideas were all theoretical and not grounded in reality or in experience. I believed then he did not have the chops for the job. It’s like making a good culinary school grad the executive chef of the Ritz Carlton.
I was very disappointed, but not surprised, at the results of the last four years. Congress is supposed to fight with each other. That’s where we sort out our problems and decide how to deal with them. An immigration solution from Arizona’s perspective is very different from an immigration solution from Oregon’s perspective. Energy decisions made in California are very different from energy decisions made in Alaska, or Virginia. Congress is supposed to sort this out. But like any other diverse group, they need a leader. Under our system it is the President who is supposed to provide that leadership. For four years now there has been no leadership. He has relied on the Congress to stumble into solutions as they can with no real direction or support. This allows him to take credit for the good and distance himself from the bad; not very presidential. I have about had it with his blaming Bush for the mess he inherited, blaming the republicans for obstructionism, and pitting one group of Americans against the other. There will not be agreement in Congress until we have a President who can bring the two sides together. Obama has been congressional in his performance. Viewing his mandate as though it came from one segment of the population and trying to make that constituency happy that even though they are not getting what they want, the other side isn’t getting what they want either. Meanwhile the debt grows to un-graspable levels. More people are out of work than at any time in our history and there are no solutions being proposed. Energy costs are skyrocketing. Every delivery truck that pulls up at my business to deliver food now has a “fuel charge” because they can’t respond with price increases fast enough to meet the need. The Fed has reduced interest rates to 0. What’s next? Paying people to borrow money? Obama seems to think that giving companies money (GM, the banks, Solyndra) and letting them spend it will stimulate the economy. It hasn’t, it won’t, it can’t. Businesses aren’t going to hire because the government gave them money. They will only hire people when there is a business need to do so; when demand increases. In this instance, Romney is no more correct than Obama. Tax cuts for businesses won’t stimulate hiring either. Only increased demand will cause a company to hire. But when demand rises, the level of taxes will become important and Romney has the best plan for that.
So I am facing an election between two very different candidates; O’bama, the incumbent, and Romney, the challenger. It is not a hard choice for me. My decision does not revolve around the softer social issues. I don’t care who you sleep with and I don’t want to have any decision in whether you marry the one you love. That’s totally your business and the government shouldn’t have anything to say in the matter. While I cannot support abortion, I make that decision personally and you should be allowed to make your decision, personally. But don’t ask me to pay for it, directly or through taxes. You should be absolutely free to choose when and with whom you become a parent. Your choice of birth control is, and should be yours alone. But don’t make me pay for it, directly or through taxes. I am not religious and I don’t care if, where, or when you express your religious belief. It is not likely to change my opinion. Do not preach to me, though. I have no patience for someone who thinks that just because they believe something, I must as well. I am not here to validate you or your political or religious positions.
My decision can be found in the answer to three questions.
- Which candidate is most likely to reduce the size and scope of government?
- Which candidate is most likely to approach the role of President in an active, effective, leadership oriented fashion?
- Which candidate is most likely to have a plan to grow the economy?
These were the same questions I asked four years ago and now Obama has had four years to show me his style and I don’t like it. I can’t be sure Romney will be any better. I am sure he can’t be any worse. Obama took Busch’s shovel and kept digging. Now the hole is almost too deep to get out of. I will vote for Romney, but if he picks up Obama’s shovel, I will be done with him too. He has four years. Get it done, or get out. Don’t blame Bush or Obama. Fix it.
So, Pam. I haven’t changed much. I’m less patient, more experienced, and my knees are shot. But as another old friend of mine used to say “I may not be a genius, but I can stack rocks and I can tell which pile is biggest” After four years, Obama doesn’t have much of a stack.