“Dad, do you like President Trump?” my (then) 10-year-old son asked.
I answered, “I don’t know him.”
“I mean do you like him as a president?” he retorted.
“Some things I like and some things I don’t like,” I answered.
He looked very perplexed. He clearly wasn’t getting the clear-cut, definitive statement he wanted.
“Well, did you like president Obama?” he asked, exacerbated.
I stared straight ahead through the windshield, never taking my eyes off the road, and answered the same question with the same response, “I don’t know president Obama.”
My son rolled his eyes and huffed and puffed, “What do you mean, dad? You either like a president or you don’t!”
And there was my chance. He’d teed it up for me. And we were in a locked car together, so he couldn’t get away. I waded in …
“Just because you like someone as a person, doesn’t mean you always like what they actually do as a president. And sometimes you might not like someone as a person but you actually like what they do as a president. It’s kind of like when I see you misbehaving. I don’t stop liking YOU …I just don’t like what you’re doing at that moment. So, I try not to make judgements on people I don’t know, as to whether or not I like them. All I know, when it comes to presidents, is whether or not I like what their policies do.”
My son listened intently and absorbed my words. And that led to a conversation about policies and which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t. And that led to a conversation about why I did or didn’t like those policies. And that led to a conversation about what motivates us to do pretty much everything we do in life. And eventually, as it always does with a 10-year-old, it came back around to video games and skateboarding…which made me much happier.
I’m not sure I’ve ever voted for a “person.” And I bristle when I hear people say, “I vote for the man (or woman), not the party.” The problem with that is we don’t know these people. And no matter what you think you know, everyone is sure to have some deep, dark past transgression that would make your skin crawl if it was revealed to the world. People are a flawed, dinged up mess. And they WILL let you down. That is something you can take to the bank. That’s why I vote for ideas over people. Even then, the people implementing those ideas will do it in a way that will probably be unsatisfactory to me and millions of others.
The only president I actually “liked” was Jimmy Carter. He was elected to the highest office in the land when I was 9-years-old and had been the Governor of Georgia when I lived there as a little boy. My father’s church presented him a Bible on the Capital steps, when I was 5. As he walked down the steps to accept it, he tousled my hair and smiled at me. I thought he was wonderful.
But then, in 1977, my family did our first cross-country tour to California. When we left Nashville, gas was. 52 cents a gallon. When we filled up just over the California line, it was $1.12 a gallon. The gas prices had swung so wildly I thought the world was ending. Then I remember my grandparents talking, over dinner, about their retirement investments not being able to keep up with inflation (whatever that was). And I remember trying to remodel a house, where the price of materials was so high, we could barely afford to buy what was needed just to pass inspections. Then I remember hostages being taken, in Iran and being scared to death every other day that Russia was going to send a nuclear missile to blow us up at any moment.
Then, this guy I couldn’t stand got elected and unseated my beloved Jimmy Carter. On the day that guy got shot, I actually wasn’t all that sad about it. I didn’t like him. He’d said mean things about Mr. Carter. But then more time passed and some of the problems I’d known growing up, seemed to miraculously get solved. Suddenly, money was a little more readily available than it had been. We lived in a better house. We drove a better car. And before I know it, they were tearing down the freaking Berlin Wall, something no one in my generation ever thought would (or could) happen.
And when I studied it all later, as an adult, I realized that Jimmy Carter might’ve been the better person. But Ronald Reagan was the better President. And that’s when I stopped basing my votes on who I liked and didn’t like.
If you know exactly what you believe about the role of government, its place in our lives, how it should be used, how it shouldn’t be used, where it is needed, where it might be more of a hindrance, the candidates are a mild amusement in the process. And their personality only figures into the equation of whether or not they can or will actually do what they say they will do. Beyond that, most of what we kick and scream about in politics is palace intrigue and personality examination.
I’m not sure any black person cares whether or not Abraham Lincoln was actually a racist or not. Lyndon Johnson definitely was by today’s standards. But both men recognized the expediency of the moment and helped millions of people in the process. Do their personal feelings about black people even matter if they did right by them?
I recently listened to a report about Google and its manipulating of certain kinds of data that supposedly could change the outcome of an election. And I found that troubling. Not so much that Google was up to something sketchy. I’m an out-of-work songwriter partially because of Google and their tech cousins – I KNOW they’re all up to sketchy stuff. No, what worried me the most was the fact that people could be swayed so much by certain kinds of information.
The fact that the criteria for how we vote is so malleable it could be changed by an algorithm, says a lot about what we vote for and what we don’t vote for.
That is why I vote for ideas – not candidates. I support ideas – not people. I endorse ideas – not contenders.
It keeps the air clear and the view clean. And when you’re basing your vote on a world view and how a president might carry that world view out – it frees you form having to own everything they do as people. I’m sure not all John Edwards supporters are douchebags who impregnate other women, while their wife is dying of cancer. He alone owns that. A Kerry/Edwards vote didn’t make you complicit in such actions. Rest easy.
And if Bill Clinton was indeed a participant in the Lolita Island exploits of the newly suicided Jeffrey Epstein, we can’t make the people chanting “4 more years!” complicit in those crimes. People don’t know what they don’t know.
It seems our elections never stop. Our next presidential election isn’t for another 18 months, but we never get a break from rallies and debates and sound bytes and “breaking news!” And it’s exhausting.
But I know what I believe works and what I believe doesn’t work when it comes to government. And I vote in those directions. And nothing a person in (or out of) power does surprises me or disappoints me or upsets me or thrills me. At best, politics is a pragmatic mess. And so are humans.
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