About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Why I’m not endorsing anyone

Not that anybody asked, but Rationally Speaking will not endorse any presidential candidate this time around. The reason for this is very different for the Republican and Democratic candidates. Let me start with the latter.

The Democratic field is, for the first time in many years, truly impressive. Four years ago I was as unexcited about Kerry as the rest of the country, I just thought he wasn’t positively evil (unlike you-know-who), and therefore the best available choice. As for Gore, unfortunately he got exciting only when he left politics. Go figure.

But this time around even most of the so-called “minor” Democratic candidates would make for an excellent President, and I’m not just making a comparison with the exceedingly low standard set by Bush. Joe Biden is experienced and eminently sensible; Hillary Clinton is a tough cookie and a bit too moderate for my taste, but surely more “compassionate” than the current occupant of the White House; Chris Dodd would be a reasonable choice if the others weren’t so much better; John Edwards has guts and vision; Barack Obama would be a truly revolutionary President; and I’m surprised by how little traction Bill Richardson is having, considering his charm, expertise and reasonable policies. Kucinic is too much off the beaten track (besides, he believes in UFOs...), and I know next to nothing about Mike Gravel.

In other words, there simply are too many good choices to endorse anyone in particular, a refreshingly unusual situation for the Democratic party.

For the Republicans, though, the story is completely different. Giuliani is a fascist (just ask most New Yorkers about his tenure as a mayor here), though at least not a religiously motivated one; Huckabee doesn’t believe in evolution and shamelessly claims that his recent surge in the polls is the result of God’s direct intervention (why doesn’t God crown him king on the spot, then?); McCain insists that the war in Iraq was a good idea, although he has to be commended for his stance against torture; Ron Paul is a libertarian nut who would destroy most of our social net -- which is already in pretty bad shape thanks to decades of Republican-led erosion; Romney thinks it is a good idea to invoke Jesus as his personal consultant on matters of national policy while trying to convince voters that he is more Christian than the Christians; and Thompson’s so bland that it’s hard to comprehend how all the excitement about him was generated a few months back. Tancredo and Hunter are just non entities.

To put it bluntly, any Republican President from this field would range from a moderate disaster (orange alert) to a tragedy for the country and the rest of the world (infrared alert), so nobody to endorse there.

Of course, electability is a whole different matter, given how fickle the American electorate is, not to mention how easy it is to dupe Americans to vote for a perceived “strong man” or for a pious candidate. This country may not be ready for a black or a woman President, but if not now, when, really? Finally, could someone please tell me why so many people just hate Hillary?


  1. Finally, could someone please tell me why so many people just hate Hillary?

    I think you answered this question in the previous sentence:

    This country may not be ready for a black or a woman President

    I think more people are willing to accept Obama as a black man than Hillary as a white woman. Gender trumps color. Besides, Obama doesn't look or act like the black guys most Americans see on tv, so he's not as threatening.

    I do agree with you that there are several good Dem candidates this time around. The important thing is that no matter who the ultimate candidate is going to be, the Dems need to get their act together this time and run a strong campaign and fight back when they are attacked. If we get another Repug in the White House we will have lost the Supreme Court for decades to come and the results will be disastrous.

  2. Gee...I have to disagree here. If I could mix and match the best aspects of each candidate, that would be ok, but each of them has some major flaws:

    Obama is in favor of national healthcare but not mandatory coverage - how does he expect that to work?

    Hillary is sensible in most areas but has backed away from any strong form of national healthcare and hasn't take a strong enough stance against the war.

    Edwards is a very religious populist.

    The rest are unelectable and no one (except Kucinich and Gravel) will come out in favor of gay marriage.

    I hope one of them wins (the republicans are universally terrible), but unless there are some major policy position changes, I'll still have to hold my nose a bit when I vote.

  3. "Finally, could someone please tell me why so many people just hate Hillary?" -- Dr. M

    I don't hate Hillary, but here's why she will never get my vote: she's untrustworthy. She has dissembled about her position on Iraq. She consistently uses dirty politics, and then throws subordinates under the bus.

    Tell me, what self-respecting woman would tolerate a serial adulterer as her husband? That alone gives me serious pause; either she's so stupid and spineless she cannot arrive at the appropriate reaction; or she's so cynical that she'll tolerate his adultery to reap his political capital. Either answer is a caution against voting for her.

  4. "Obama is in favor of national healthcare but not mandatory coverage - how does he expect that to work?"
    @ChrisMuir: Like in Britain, you can "opt out" of the national healthcare system by getting tax refunds that you then put towards the cost of your private insurance.

  5. Well, here's a summary of Gravel's political positions. He endorses democratic global governance and is the least pious candidate.

  6. Besides, Obama doesn't look or act like the black guys most Americans see on tv, so he's not as threatening.

    Ha... It's like an old, horrible saying in Brazil, which was supposed to be a compliment those days: "he is a black with a white soul". The problem here is that I heard many American blacks are thinking along those lines too when it comes to Obama...

  7. I could live with a McCain as president, provided there was a strong Democratic majority in both houses of Congress. I think in that situation, McCain's pragmatism might be strengthened, while his more right wing positions held in check.

  8. I will second some of the previous comments about Hillary. She has been too compliant with the drive to war, and would not admit she made a mistake when she voted for Bush's Iraq invasion. Plus her health care plan is far too accomodating to the insurance companies.

    "Edwards is a very religious populist."

    Lets face it. Just about all the candidates are or claim to be Christian. That is going to be a political neccessity for anybody who want to be president for the forseeable future.

    But as I have argued here before, we atheists need to make distinctions about Christianity and its various expressions.

    I will take and can tolerate Edward's or Obama's more liberal, compassionate, and rational form of Christianity over the far less rational, conservative, and mean spirited form of Christianity represented in the Republican party.

    These Democrats may make religious noises that might annoy us a little bit. However, they are much less likely to let their religious beliefs lead them to bad policy decisions with disastrous consequences like abstinence only education.

  9. The good thing about Hillary is the same as the bad thing. She's a politician. She knows how to finagle and compromise and work the process. She is a powerful woman in a man's world, on men's terms. A freak. No one is sure how she thinks. Obama, on the other hand, has not had the opportunity to 'politicivate' so looks much cleaner. If elected, he would probably be as effective as Carter was. But Obama doesn't get called by his first name all the time.

    The Hillary-hating thing dates back to her early years in the White House with Bill. Someone was stirring them up about her; I heard good church-ladies repeating as fact that she was a lesbian, constantly threw violent tantrums and used foul language, etc. etc. Whoever was spinning all that (as a reaction to a possible change in the health care system, as well as their displeasure at having such a visibly non-submissive woman around) was probably astonished at the vehemence of the "Christian" response. They hate her. They really, really hate her.

  10. After the front-running Democrats started pandering to the fundagelical vote by out-Jesusing each other, I lost all interest. I'll vote for the Democrat only because the Republicans are oh-so-much worse. It's the Southpark Dilemma all over again.


  11. Thought I would post a link here, entitled:
    Hillary Clinton Can't be Trusted on Iraq


  12. I will vote democratically as the balance needs to be brought back to the left. The unnamed freak who cheated his way into the white house twice has done nothing and the underlying devil of a VP who has actually run the country for the last 7 years is all about the past. Old money keeping control. New minds and new businesses and new people with money in their pockets is sure to be the result of a democratic president. Check out the past few on this chart...


  13. I don't know why so many people hate Hillary, I only know why I wouldn't trust her as far as I can throw a bus. In my opinion, Clinton is the foremost representative of the anti-progressive, pro-corporate, Democratic Leadership Council wing of the Democratic Party - in short, a Republican in Democrat's clothing. I don't want the country run by a Republican-lite "moderate" (who would have been properly called a conservative in the 70s, before the G.O.P. moved not just more to the right, but well into wacky theocratic right turf), I want a genuine liberal with progressive ideas and ideals...

    But I'll settle for Obama or Edwards, who at least don't appear to be quite the slaves to the corporate-powers-that-be status quo that Clinton evidently is.

  14. thinkmonkey,

    but that is precisely my point: I do agree with you that Hillary (and, in fact, her husband) is really a moderate Republican. Why, then, would the Reps really, really, hate her?

  15. I don't understand why the Clintons are considered 'republicans in democratic clothing'. Look at Bill's record:

    - He made taxes more progressive
    - He didn't improve income inequality, but he unlike everyone else since Johnson, it didn't get worse
    - He greatly increased the amount of protected land during his lame duck period
    - He would've implemented universal health care if the republicans hadn't ruined it
    - He oversaw a quick, successful, multilateral war to overthrow a genocidal dictator with minimal casualties

    I could go on. His 'conservative' qualities are that he passed NAFTA (which reduced tariffs between US and Mexico from 4% to 0% and had essentially no effect on jobs), balanced the budget, and fundraised well. I agree there is more he could've done, but compared to Reagan and the Bush's, Clinton was great. I'm not impressed with many aspects of Hillary's positions, but there is still a big difference between her and most republicans since Eisenhower.

  16. But Massimo, they're not merely Republicans - they are far right Republicans. The ones who are not outright theocracy advocates are still firmly entrenched in a very patriarchal world view. Hillary Clinton is a woman of intelligence and influence. Do the math. Hell, the far right hated Hillary from the first time she made her presence known when BILL was on the campaign trail...

    Besides, in the politics of hate and fear, the other side MUST be portrayed as the enemy out to destroy everything that WE (the brave and the true) hold dear. That's just how the rhetoric works. Hence the Republican pols and pundits beating the drum that Clinton (either one) is the hated liberal - oh noes! It's the psychology of othering carried to extremes, this rhetorical transformation of the perfectly ordinary political descriptive label "liberal" into a curse word and scare word synonymous with such mutually contradictory (and generally false) notions as atheist, socialist, elitist, communist, etc.

    I think it's important to remember that genuine, fundamental disagreement doesn't necessarily have anything to do with political rhetoric. Not that I think the hate is feigned, exactly. Rather, I think the hate is as much or more a creation of the rhetoric than vice versa.

    And Chris Muir, I respectfully disagree. I think you (like many people) view the Clinton years through rose-colored glasses: Admittedly, I look back on them as the good old days, too - given just how bad the days since have been. But I'll cite just three counter-examples: First, the Clinton era "welfare reform" essentially gutted the social safety net instead of accomplishing (or even approaching) the stated aims of improving it. Nixon started the process of dismantling Johnson's "War on Poverty," but Clinton administered the coup de grace.

    Second, the ongoing incarceration of our population - to the point where our country now officially imprisons more people per capita than any nation in the world - actually accelerated during the Clinton years. Oh, sure, the "War on Drugs" was Reagan's nightmarish legacy and was further advanced by Bush I: But Bill Clinton not only failed to do anything to reverse the trend or to address the underlying causes for America's drug problems (which the foolish prohibition-and-punishment approach utterly ignores), he supported policies that made it all worse. 'Nuff said.

    Third, if you think NAFTA didn't affect jobs... Think about corn. You see, "free" trade and massive agricultural subsidies just don't mix. Cheap, heavily subsidized American corn (quite predictably) flooded Mexico after NAFTA, and many thousands - possibly millions - of small-scale Mexican farmers were ultimately forced to abandon farming and head for the cities in lieu of starving. The flood of new residents and lack of work in the cities led to vast increases in Mexico's crime problems, and ultimately to our own illegal immigration problems. NAFTA destroyed Mexico's agricultural economy and flooded our economy with workers who, through the inevitable laws of supply and demand, caused real wages at the bottom end of our own economy to stagnate. NAFTA is probably just as responsible for the accelerating gap between the haves and the have-nots by suppressing the low end as the Republican idiocy of deregulation and regressive taxation is responsible for boosting the high end.

    Oh, and perhaps the worst part of the whole thing? The substantial market expansion for American agricultural exports did not lead to anyone so much as hinting that American agriculture becoming more profitable would be a reason to reduce subsidies. If I'm not mistaken, they were expanded instead, exacerbating the problem.

  17. T: ".. either she's so stupid and spineless she cannot arrive at the appropriate reaction; or she's so cynical that she'll tolerate his adultery to reap his political capital. Either answer is a caution against voting for her."

    Absolutely. People get the feeling that she will approach other serious issues in sort of status quoish way because of how she dealt with her own personal difficulty. If she hadn't turned away and ignored Bill's impropriety but instead opted to shove him off of a White house balcony, that might be helpful to her campaign today. Of course it is much harder to run a campaign from prison, but....

    All the way back to the straw poll back in Iowa, was thinking that Huckabee was about to do a whole lot better than anyone thought he would. The thing that conservatives like about Huckabee, in case anyone wonders, is that he is "alive" and appears to very sincere. Somehow he stands out as an authentic christian. We get the sense that the majority of the candidates, on both sides, tend just tell everyone what they want to hear. And to my mind, it's has become very passe' to still be stuck being a people pleaser in politics by the time you are in your 40s 50s, 60s.

    We simply don't respect that anymore.

  18. So Hilary forgives her husband. Who gives a shit? Whose business is it?

  19. thinkmonkey,

    You may be right about welfare reform and incarceration rates. I don't know enough about those issues to comment. However, you are wrong about the impact of NAFTA.

    1. The impact of NAFTA wasn't large enough to cause much of anything - it was primarily a political deal.

    2. Higher wages in northern Mexico caused migration from both rural and other urban areas (such as Mexico City). I don't know about crime, but wages and employment in these free trade areas are significantly higher than most of Mexico. Sorry, but I consider that a good thing. And the US doesn't have immigration problems; we have a xenophobe problem.

    3. Yes, wages for low income households have stagnated, but they have been stagnant for ~ 20-30 years now. The only period where they increased (very slightly) was during the Clinton administration. I'm not implying that NAFTA had anything to do with wages. It couldn't have because NAFTA did next to nothing economically (good or bad). It's just a scape goat for people who don't want to tackle the real causes of inequality - technology and institutions (such as the degradation of welfare, perhaps?).

    I completely agree that agricultural subsidies should be repealed, but that is hardly a 'liberal' position. In fact, many of the far left would like to increase subsidies so that we are 'self sufficient' and to support middle class farmers, while the libertarian right says we should get rid of them for efficiency. So how do agricultural subsidies make Clinton a republican? Finally, the existence of subsidies, while less than ideal, do not negate the benefits or free trade. The reasons are a bit subtle and require some modeling, so I'm not going to explain it here, but I'm sure you could look it up in a text book.

    I've read Nader et al's arguments about Clinton's right-leaning tendencies. They are correct about some points, but on the whole, I just don't buy it.

  20. "So Hilary forgives her husband... Whose business is it?"

    She makes forgiveness cheap. And Bill makes women cheap. So yes, of course Islamic countries think its an excellent time to overrun and undermine the USA. But in essence, it is not their fault. In principle, their countries have a more solidified sense of solidarity than we do, even if people have to be frightened into following that line.

    The fact that either one of the Clintons has popularity or votes at all is just simply amazing. Shows totally what we are willing settle for. Cheap to the rest of the world equates to "weak", btw.


  21. re: "Ron Paul is a libertarian nut who would destroy most of our social net"

    I wonder why you think that way. Have you not looked at American government? How can a wasteful, inefficient government possibly run a social safety net in an effective manner? I strongly expect that We The People could do a much better job without sending our money to Washington first where 80% is siphoned off for pork barrel projects and political self-agrandizement. The pols will NEVER use the money the way you want it to be used, no matter how much you let them take from you.

    Eat well, stay fit, Die Anyway.

  22. Finally, could someone please tell me why so many people just hate Hillary?

    Because of bullshit like this.

    If by moderate you mean willing to violate the first amendment in the name of electoral votes, then yeah, she's moderate.

  23. If it were just a matter of political position I would simply not support Hillary...as you said she is too moderate. However, I believe her to be extremely dishonest and manipulative. Did you see this http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/09/opinion/08dowd.html?em&ex=1200114000&en=c3512c6c592b7b1d&ei=5087%0A

    In her early years she supported Goldwater. She seems to go whichever way the wind blows and she doesn't seem to have any real opinions or convictions.

    So hate is a strong word but I sincerely dislike her.

  24. As far as Obama is concerned, he is being sold as a new shiny package of "hope" and "change"! But don't be surprised if we get the same old and continuing trend of drifting to the right. What the Republicans can't accomplish, a so-called "liberal" packaged Democrat can. Check out the analysis by Louis Proyect. And if the name of his blog and politics scare you because he to far out of the mainstream, go digging for what Krugman has said about Obama.



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