Soapbox Philosophy: Getting our government a little closer
Op-Ed · November 23, 2012

A few thoughts on the political races leading up to Nov. 6, and as you read, consider if you prefer a bottom-up form of government or top-down.

• While Florida took four days to count its votes, unlike in the Bush-Gore contest, Florida did not decide the winner this year. We knew Barack Obama won this race by about 11 p.m. our time.

Now when you are talking about 120 million votes, that is nothing short of impressive. One day, perhaps, everything will be computerized and we will have the election results within minutes of each poll closing. For now, the system relies on thousands of computers and a communication system of telephones, e-mails, radio, television and the Internet to get them from the elections offices across America to the eyes and ears of its citizens.

But let’s be clear on something: Our government’s part in this is counting the votes. The part of disseminating the information to the rest of the nation, and world, is primarily handled by volunteers, mostly campaign workers, and the private sector, mostly news organizations. They know what we want and they move mountains to get it to us very, very fast.

• Obama received 50.5 percent of the popular votes, compared to Mitt Romney’s 47.9 percent, a difference of about 3 million votes, or 2.6 percent. However, Obama received about 62 percent of the electoral vote, compared to Romney’s 38 percent, a difference of 24 percent. That’s quite a gap. I’m not ready to replace the electoral vote with the popular vote, but perhaps the all-or-nothing system used by most states deserves reconsideration.

• In the House District 73 race, I thought the two candidates — Democrat Dick Schwab and Republican Robert “Bobby” Kaufmann — both appeared pretty moderate. Both had business experience and strong exposure to public service. But Schwab seemed to have an advantage because of his age in that he had more time to see the long-term effects of implemented ideas and more experience with compromise. That is not to say that young idealism is a negative, but this seemed like Schwab’s race to lose, even with Kaufmann’s name recognition.

Then came that “broken beer bottle mailer” that tried to turn a simple misdemeanor mole hill into a criminal mountain. Undoubtedly, Democrats saw a good opportunity to pick up a House seat here and wanted it badly. I think this idea backfired on their candidate. Word on the street is that a few Democrats, including some in West Branch, advised Schwab against sending that out.

But here is what I think really hurt his chances — not enough time in public. At least, not in West Branch. He walked in the Hoover’s Hometown Days parade and hosted a meet-and-greet at the winery. One supporter came to this reporter’s door. Can anyone else report a Schwab-sighting not mentioned in this short list?

Kaufmann came to the parade, but then showed up at my house personally — twice. And a supporter came to my door one time while I watched Kaufmann knocking on the door across the street. That kind of face-time with the voters is fantastic. It allows the voter to see the person and get past the mailers. That makes a better impression. That’s what voters want.

• In the U.S. Congressional race for District 2, neither incumbent Democrat David Loebsack nor Republican challenger John Archer paid much attention to West Branch. Archer came to town and made the effort to give time to the newspaper, so that at least warranted a story in the paper. But that’s all I saw from the editor’s seat. Hey, Bear country — do you really feel like you’re going to be represented in the U.S. House?

• Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now Barack Obama all won a second term. That’s four presidents of the last five who got a second chance. The exception to this pattern was George H.W. Bush, who seemed to ride Reagan’s coat tails into the White House, but blew a second chance when we he asked us to “Read my lips. No new taxes.” And then raised taxes. Not exactly in keeping with the spirit of Great Communicator.

So, are we, collectively, voting for the devil we know versus the devil we don’t? Isn’t it interesting that those double-duty presidents are leaving office each time to see the opposing party move in? Are we sticking with one guy so long as they don’t make any major blunders?

Perhaps all the footage and photographs of cheering supporters are not reflective of the mainstream voter. Perhaps the rest of America isn’t shouting “He’s such a great guy!” but rather wishing they could pull the candidate aside quietly to say “Look, you seem competent. Try not to screw up too much.”

• Maybe since my candidate lost, I’m doing soul-searching instead of celebrating, but I’m not sure anyone has a position to gloat, regardless of who wins. I don’t think the majority of voters on either side are stupid — we just disagree on how to get to the same goals. Both sides want healthy citizens, more jobs, fewer poor, strong defenses, better general welfare, cheaper fuel and the best education for our children. One side seems to think government is the answer, the other side seems to see it as at least part of the problem.

I tend to think non-profits can get more bang for the buck than government when it comes to caring for the needy, and businesses can create more jobs, and hospitals can provide better health care. There are too many eggs placed in the government basket, and the ones on the bottom are getting broken.

If there is one lesson from all these observations, I think it is that the voters want to be more involved in the parts of their world that they cannot control entirely on their own. They may not want to worry about the day to day details, but they want to be closer to the process, or have easier access to someone acting on their behalf.

Even if they may not entirely agree, at least they would have better understanding.

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