Thursday, March 27, 2008

Table-pounding partisans

As we approach the presidential election, there will be arguments for each candidate. More importantly, from my point of view, there will be arguments against each candidate. Many of them will be made by well-meaning partisans, and they will be legitimate arguments to vote against a candidate.

And they will be completely disingenuous.

One of the things that I've resisted doing is criticizing Barack Obama for, in Ronald Reagan's words, "youth and inexperience." Clearly, he has nowhere near the track record or experience that one would like to see in the President of the United States. He's been in the US Senate for less than one full term and he's never held any kind of executive position. Any arguments that he's too inexperienced and callow to be elected are legitimate.

But if I were to make them, it would be a lie. It would be to imply that, if only he weren't so young and inexperienced, I might vote for him. And the fact is, based on his entire career, the people he's chosen to align himself with and his voting record, there are no realistic circumstances under which I would ever vote for him. The old saw about trial lawyers goes something like "if the law's on your side, pound on the law; if the facts are on your side, pound on the facts; and if neither the law nor the facts are on your side, pound on the table." Criticism from me about Obama's youth and experience would be the equivalent of pounding on the table.

It's a legitimate argument, but it's so far down the list of legitimate arguments, that it really is irrelevant to my decision. And if the situations were reversed, it would not prevent me from voting for a candidate with whom I otherwise agreed. Which is why it would be disingenuous.

It's kind of like the NFL tie-breakers. If you go far enough down the list, you get to things like net points in division games. It's relevant, but the NFL is unlikely to ever actually make a decision based on it, because there are more important things that will separate the teams before you get to it. Obama's youth, his past drug "experimentation," McCain's temper, the Keating five, Hillary's "misstatements" about her trip to Bosnia - all interesting, all legitimate and all so far down the list as to be essentially irrelevant in making a decision.

And there will be a lot more of it over the next eight months. There will be criticism of John McCain's temper by people who would vote for Hillary Clinton, concern about McCain's age from those who would support Walter Mondale in a race against Mitt Romney and accusations of racism or sexism made against people who would happily vote for Condoleeza Rice made by those who wouldn't consider it.

I want to try to avoid doing that, as much as possible. But there will be a lot of it. And it's important to understand, when you're listening to a partisan, that a lot of the criticisms are nothing but table-pounding...

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