This is the website of Abulsme Noibatno Itramne (also known as Sam Minter). Posts here are rare these days. For current stuff, follow me on Mastodon



September 2008

Obama, McCain, Integrity and Experts

I’ve been having an email exchange with a regular reader of this blog about the state of the presidential race. This reader is someone who has been very unhappy with the Bush administration, but never the less is very strongly anti-Obama and is therefore supporting McCain. I find this a curious combination, and have been trying to get this reader to come on and be a guest on Curmudgeon’s Corner for several weeks now, but technical difficulties (the reader does not have a microphone on their computer at the moment) have so far prevented this from happening.

One of the reader’s latest emails prompted a long response for me. I thought it would be interesting to post here. Reading the exchange again (it is more than 24 hours old at this point) there are things I am tempted to edit and change, and there are things I asserted in the off the cuff email I’m tempted to double check and find confirmed sources for, but screw it, for accuracy I’ll reproduce the exchange exactly as it happened. Well, OK, I’ll correct a couple of misspellings, but that’s it. :-)

The exchange started with a response to this post where I reported “Four States of Bad News for Obama”.

Reader, 9 Sep 2008, at 13:51:08 UTC:

This make me very happy. On the Today show this morning they attribute the bounce to white women reacting to Palin… The more I learn about her the more I like her.

Me, 10 Sep 2008, at 14:53:26 UTC:

I still don’t understand, and want you on the show to talk about it.

Do you have that microphone yet?

You can get a cheap headset for under $20.

Reader, 10 Sep 2008, at 15:06:55 UTC:

Don’t understand what? That I like Palin, or that I don’t like Obama?

Me, 11 Sep 2008, at 14:57:53 UTC:

I understand intellectually why various people would like Palin or McCain, the incongruous with your views on the current administration are intriguing though.

Reader, 11 Sep 2008, at 15:11:52 UTC:

But I am far from alone in that.

My biggest issue with the current administration is the complete absence of integrity, which is the same issue I have with Obama. I find him to be an egomaniacal windbag who could finish the job of destroying the country quite easily, since he, like Bush, suffers from the delusion that, despite the facts, he is always right. He scares the crap out of me! We had a one man show for 8 years, and it failed!

I won’t ever say that I agree with all of the McCain policies, but I believe he will listen to the advice of experts; right now that is what I feel our country needs.

Me, 12 Sep 2008, at 06:50:27 UTC:

Wow. Not sure where to start on that. It is so completely opposite my view of these two men.

Let me take a couple bits at a time:

“[Obama] like Bush, suffers from the delusion that, despite the facts, he is always right.”

Obama’s messaging must be absolutely horrible for you to get that impression, and I’m curious which particular things he has said give you that impression.

Because a MAJOR theme of both of his books, his 2004 convention speech, his stump speeches and his 2008 convention speech, relates to him NOT knowing the answers, having a lot of doubts, and searching for how to find the answers. (Especially the books.) He talks about consulting experts and listening to advice and looking at objective studies to determine what works RATHER than doing anything based on either gut feel or ideology.

In many cases he has specifically talked about how important it is to even in cases where someone disagrees with him completely to make sure he understands where they are coming from and respects their views as being honestly what the other person thinks is right… and that even when he disagrees, there is often still much merit, and much to learn from the other point of view.

He has been known to before votes in the Senate call up experts in the field that he knows hold positions completely opposite to his own in order to hear them give as complete an argument as possible as to why he is wrong, to make sure he fully understands and has considered the opposite point of view.

Even his choice of Biden shows this, and shows it strongly. Before announcing his pick, he said that the person he picked would be chosen specifically so as NOT to be a yes person, to be someone who would not feel any hesitancy to call him out on something when he felt Obama was doing something wrong. So he picked Biden, who was a very strong critic of Obama in the primaries, and had specifically disagreed on several important policy positions.

He has talked time and time again about increasing transparency in government, making sure decisions are made in the full view of the public, so that the decision making process an be audited, etc.

This is actually SPECIFICALLY one of the reasons that makes me FOR Obama, is how strongly he has insisted in all his writings and speeches, about the need to seek out, understand, and absorb the best ideas out there… even if they come from “the other side”. He has spoken specifically spoken very positively about both George H W Bush and Ronald Reagan. There are several other Republicans he calls out in his book as well for having very good ideas on several issues. He got in hot water during the primaries for much of this.

But his openness to ideas, willingness to listen to dissent, and insistence on trying to decide what to do based on empirical measurement of the effectiveness (or lack there of) of various policies is his strongest feature.

I do not see *at all* a person who gives the impression of thinking he is always right. Much to the contrary, he seems to be VERY deferential to the wisdom of others… he makes the decision in the end of course, but he looks for advice and information from many sources, weighs the options, and tries to come to a thoughtful decision.


“I believe [McCain] will listen to the advice of experts;”

I’m also not sure what McCain has ever said to give you that impression, because I’m completely missing that too…

McCain’s whole reputation over the years has been built on NOT following the advice of experts. That’s where the whole “Maverick” thing comes from. Not just from bucking his party a bit (something he did a lot in 2000-2002, but much less since), but from doing things based solely on his gut feel of what was right, what everybody else says be damned. On everything from economic policies to foreign policy he has time and time again shown disregard over the years for what the people who were “experts” and knew what they were talking about were saying on topics. Now, to be fair, sometimes McCain was right and the experts were wrong.

The most recent example… his choice of Palin for VP. The word from several insiders who were close to the process says that McCain really wanted Lieberman. But it became clear that major segments of the party were threatening a floor fight at the convention over the VP slot if he nominated Lieberman (or anybody pro-choice for that matter). McCain wanted Lieberman, but he couldn’t get away with it. Meanwhile, the “experts” on his team were strongly recommending Romney or Pawlenty. Karl Rove and his group were especially pushing hard for Romney. Various other experts were pushing some other folks, but *NOBODY* was advocating Palin. Reports are that McCain picked Palin at the last minute, on his own, with little to no consultation with anyone else on his staff, surprising many of them, and basically giving a big “FUCK YOU” to all the experts who were advising him on the selection and recommending other people. Now, at least so far, Palin has been a brilliant choice… none of the other candidates would have had this great an effect on the dynamics of the election… so McCain may well have been right… but he certainly was not respectful of the opinions of the experts around him.

He has shown the same sorts of tendencies on item after item, not just during this election season, but going back over his whole career. He is KNOWN for making impulsive rash decisions without thinking them through and without consulting with experts or advisers. It’s not just something he does sometime, it is one of the things he has always been known for, and for that matter has expressed pride in. He makes decisions on what to do based on what is “in his gut” and what he “feels is right”, not on some thoughtful process based on consulting with experts and weighing the possible options to determine the right course of action.

Finally, going back to the start of your statement…

“My biggest issue with the current administration is the complete absence of integrity,”

Putting aside Obama for a minute (I do see integrity there, while you obviously don’t), do you really see integrity in McCain? Today? Not just 8 years ago?

In 2000 I really liked McCain. If it had been Gore vs McCain instead of Gore vs Bush, there is a very good chance (probably at least 50/50) that I would have voted for McCain. (In reality in 2000 I voted for the Libertarian… I never even considered Gore… or Bush.)

In 2000 McCain had a well deserved reputation as a straight shooter. As someone you could agree or disagree with, but who no matter what, you would know where he really stood (even if it was one of those “gut” things with no thought behind it). He believed what he believed and he meant it and he would tell you without equivocation. And if you liked it and would vote for him, great. If not, too bad, but he stood for what he stood for.

Over the last eight years, and even more so in the last few months, he has eroded all of that.

On my own journey on this, the breaking point was when he caved on the anti-torture bill in 2006 or so… for awhile he was the lone voice on the Republican side of the aisle stopping the legislation which would retroactively give immunity to people in the administration who had broken anti-torture laws, and give the administration much greater latitude in interpreting the Geneva conventions with regard to what sorts of “harsh interrogation” would be allowed and on who… but then at a certain point he caved… he agreed to a “compromise” which added a little anti-torture language, but with no consequences attached, and with no actual change in the legal effect of the bill… and he now supported the compromise, something which basically made it legal for the US government to do to our prisoners worse things than the Viet Cong did to McCain in Vietnam… to me that was the exact moment where any semblance of integrity that McCain had went away…

Even so, when this campaign began, I thought the best possible outcome would be an Obama vs McCain race, because we would have, for once, good people on both sides, and whichever way things turned out, we’d have someone who could do a good job as president. Very different people, very different policies, but both would do OK.

But then he started pandering.

In 2000 he had called the religious right… I forget the exact quote… but he basically called them dangerous and narrow minded. In 2008 he started to suddenly agree with them on more and more issues.

In 2000 Karl Rove and his team masterminded the “whisper campaigns” in South Carolina that basically killed McCain’s candidacy by spreading the rumor that he had illegitimately fathered a child with a black woman. (In reality, he and Cindy had adopted a Burmese child.) In 2008, McCain hired the very person who had started that campaign against him to coordinate the negative attacks against Obama.

In 2008 he is letting the right wing control his campaign. He is moving to positions he himself said were reprehensible 8 years ago. He is allowing the kind of negative campaign he railed against in the past. For instance, pushing this lipstick on a pig thing this week, the celebrity attacks a month ago, other ads which state things about Obama’s positions on everything from taxes to war funding which are demonstrably false, etc… (That’s not to say there are not excesses on the other side too, I think the whole “Bush’s Third Term” thing is ridiculous, and the “doesn’t know how many houses he has” and “middle class is five million dollars” things are silly, misrepresentative and unfair to McCain.)

Oh, and yes, even his choice of Sarah Palin shows a lack of integrity. It is turning out to be politically astute. At least for the time being. And maybe even longer if she comports herself well in the coming interviews and debates. Having seen what I have seen so far, I will not underestimate her, despite her other deficiencies, she is smart and very able to work a crowd and a microphone, and I will not be surprised if she can take on reporters or Joe Biden.

But she is fundamentally unfit to be President, and is therefore unfit to be Vice President. And McCain choosing her fundamentally means he cares more about winning than about the future of the country.

She is far far to the right of McCain himself. Specifically she is of the religious right sort of conservative, not the neo-con kind, not the paleo-con kind, not the fiscal kind, or any other kind. Which thrills that part of the base, but should put every other type of conservative, let alone non-conservatives, into a state of deep concern. I shudder to even think of the types of things she might try to do in office if she became President. (Once upon a time, I would have said I wasn’t too worried, because checks and balances from congress and the courts would stop any excesses, but if the last 8 years have shown anything, it is that the other branches of government have lost their will to really check the executive.)

And OK, even though I disagree with her on those sorts of things, there are plenty of people who maybe don’t think her views are too crazy, and who might vote for her, even if she was running for President herself. But here is the rub, I don’t think McCain himself even really would feel comfortable with her views on things if he was being honest rather than pandering to “the base”. He is not (or at least was not, before his recent changes of heart, THAT kind of conservative… her really was a moderate).

And more to the point, I think if you spoke to John McCain honestly and off the record and not in the heat of the election, even HE would say she is not “ready” to be President. He did NOT pick her because he really and truly thinks she would be the best person to step in and complete his agenda if he were to drop dead after being elected. He picked her for pure political reasons. And to piss off the folks who were annoying him by trying to get him to pick Romney, who he hates. And he did not take the time to really investigate her and find out for sure what he did or did not like about her. He just picked her. And then later he (and we) started out finding out more.

In terms of McCain’s integrity here, either he really has shifted far to the right these last few years, and is now for torture, and for lack of due process, and for many more other things he used to resist… or he is pretending to be in order to try to win, but really still believes the things he did back in 2000.

Either way, he is not someone I can trust. I know longer feel that the “straight talk” he was once known for is happening at all. When he speaks I have no idea if he is saying something he really believes, or if he is saying what he thinks he needs to say to win.

Integrity? I think McCain once had it.

I do not think he has it any longer.

OK. I’m done.

As I mentioned, I might have said things a bit differently if I was originally writing for the blog, and for that matter just being a day later and knowing more than I did a day ago I would adjust some things, but there ya go. I’m sure readers will poke holes at several of the things I said, so have at it.

And I’m still trying to get this reader to come on the podcast. Having this person interact with Ivan would be quite amusing. I’m getting close to just ordering this reader a cheap headset to eliminate that excuse. :-)

Oh, and yes, I got permission to post the reader’s part of the exchange in an anonymous fashion as I did above. I will not reveal the exact identity of this reader at this time. I will however say that it is one of these people. I just won’t say which one. :-)

So far in response to my last post (other than giving me permission to post the above) the reader has only said that they have not had a chance to read my full response, so will save any full comments until they have had a chance to do so, but that “Having only skimmed it… what I read reads like an Obama Ad… But like I said I only skimmed it, so I could be wrong in my initial reaction. ” She also added “Most of my statements are based on how I feel about the 2 men. Obama says great and awesome things, but if you told me absolutely everything I wanted to hear, but I think you are full of it, how can I believe you? “

That last bit gives me a lot to potentially respond with, but I have not yet done so. :-)

3 comments to Obama, McCain, Integrity and Experts

  • ivanbou

    “I find him to be an egomaniacal windbag who could finish the job of destroying the country quite easily, since he, like Bush, suffers from the delusion that, despite the facts, he is always right.”

    This shows me that there are two ways that people in general are looking at this campaign. Objectively or purely conjectural. If you look at the record, Obama has been as you described a guy who evaluates the issues and tries to make educated and thoughtful decisions and admits that his decisions would change depending on the information at hand. He has been pilloried for it. A large group of his supporters got really upset when he said that a decision to pull out of Iraq would be subject to information on the field as to what is happening. He wants to pull out and doesn’t want to be hasty.

    Egomanical windbag description is a purely gut conjectural analysis, that does not look at what their views are, how their decision process is and what their conclusions are. I have seen Mccain’s positions and decision making process and don’t agree with it, and this is why I don’t plan on voting for him. But I guess looking at things from that perspective is boring and doesn’t bring any excitement. Let’s call people names. Let’s turn this into the third grade, that whoever calls names the loudest is the winner. I thought only people over 18 were supposed to vote…

    But a lot of people find any educated thoughtful person an elitist windbag! They would rather vote for an underachieving C student that they can have beers with and that says that America knows better than everyone and we have to right to piss on everyone we want. (I am not talking about Mccain here)

    This sort of populist non-sense is what has gotten us into trouble for these last 8 years. It’s not voting for what’s best, it’s let’s vote against the elitist jerk. I want my buddy Palin in the White House (which is a very good possiblity she will be president if that ticket wins)_ Yay!

    As I said before, there are lot of people who are buddies of mine, but I neither would work with them or want them as president. When will people get that this is not some fucking popularity contest?! This is not a drinking buddy search. This is a fucking job interview for one of the most difficult jobs in the world. And my mother wouldn’t cut it, and neither does the Hockey mom!!!

  • Reb

    Ivan is right. Last week while shopping in Target I overheard a woman’s cell phone conversation. She was talking about how she didn’t know who she was going to vote for until Palin got on the ticket, now she was so happy she had a choice. She went on to describe how she didn’t like Obama’s wife and never once mentioned an issue, any qualifications or anything that actually mattered. It was all who she jibed with personally. I had to move to another part of the store because listening to her conversation was so incredibly aggravating. People are choosing their votes like this was for Homecoming.

  • Abulsme

    I must admit that even for me, as I’ve mentioned before, this is partially about personality. I disagree with Obama on a lot… mostly on the economic side of things, I usually agree with him on foreign policy… now, on a pure policy basis I might still pick Obama, just because I think the things I agree with him on are more important than the things I disagree on.

    But… personality and character does matter to me here. But I’d like to think it is the part of those things that is actually relevant to the job. It isn’t that he is a nice guy or I’d like to hang out with him… it is the manner in which he goes about decision making… looking at facts and making a thoughtful decision rather than relying on a “gut feel”… it is that he has shown good judgment in the past… it is that he can be calm and cool in a crisis… etc.

    And so yes, the fact that “I trust him” is a big part of things for me. And I get that many other people look at him and don’t trust him… and do trust McCain. But I’d like to feel at least that my “trust” is something I have based on looking at his actual behavior and record… and my lack of trust in McCain is similarly grounded in things he has done and said… and I admit to having a really hard time understanding how people who come to the opposite conclusion can possibly do so with an actual examination of the two men and their records…

    I do however understand how they can come to the opposite conclusion based simply on “gut”, emotion, and notions of what each of them are like based on quick media soundbites and preconceived notions.

    And that scares me.

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