*Sigh* Politics. Seriously. Why is it SO hard to find good political candidates these days? I mean, I’m really not a hard voter to please. In fact, I’ll put with a lot. Want to pursue the War in Iraq? Honestly, at this point, I’m kind of fine with that. I think that it was treasonous (real, proper treasonous, the kind that involves a trial, two witnesses, and a possible hanging in the end) to get into it, but we’re there. And once we’re there the only viable option is to conduct the war the best way we can. I have every faith that the US Military is doing just that. (Say what you will about them, as organizations they are consummate professionals.)
Similarly Net Neutrality (which isn’t REALLY much of an issue anymore, but I’m enough of a geek that I care about it). Sure, I’m against preferential bandwidth and extortionary business practices, but if there’s one thing that recent history has shown time and again it’s that you really can’t stop the signal. Seriously. The RIAA and MPAA have tried, see how well that worked out for them? Business wonks who eye their users with mistrust and greed in their shriveled little hearts should know that said users are smarter than they are. At least when it comes to technology. Pithy and glib as the saying is, “the internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it.” Even censorship light, like holding websites hostage for service or bandwidth. No politics needed.
The issues I do care about are few and far between, but the two biggest ones are two that are routinely ignored by major candidates. Namely, science policy and civil liberties. Science, in the modern world, is key to economic and social prosperity. Yes, there are other important factors, but science is the one I know best and it’s the one I’m personally most passionate about. Science helps us understand the world around us and effect positive change in it. It is, in my opinion, among the most important activities we, as a species, as a nation, and as individuals can participate in.
So why the hell don’t my candidates care about it? Why is their involvement in science limited to campaign-trail platitudes and empty vagueries? How is it that we, as one of the most advanced nations on the globe, have national-level politicians who believe the earth is 6,000 years old or who will pay lip service to those who believe the same? Why, in one of the most contentious presidential elections in recent history, can we have endless debate about the War in Iraq, the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, one candidate’s skin pigment and another’s vagina and yet no debate on science or science policy. None. At all. Whatsoever.
Now I don’t expect my candidates to be PhD-holding particle physicists or to be able to do groundbreaking research, but I would love to see one who even acknowledged that it was important. Or that government has an important role in it. The closest we come to politicians involved in science are Bush’s (both, actually) empty promises to fund missions to Mars or shallow platitudes about solving the “Energy Crisis”.
As much as many of us in the science-loving camp would like to believe otherwise, government is hugely involved in all stages of science. From funding (through a huge number of government agencies and programs) to science-related legal matters (e.g. the tiff over stem-cell research and the ongoing debate about AGW) to something as simple as enacting scientifically sound legislation. So to just leave science out of national political discourse is absolutely stunning. And what’s worse, it shows no signs of changing. Political candidates fail not just to have a good science policy plank in their platform but, indeed, any at all.
(I have to give props in passing to the well-intentioned, but ultimately less-than-successful campaign to have a national science debate amongst the presidential candidates. I also highly recommend Chris Mooney’s article Dr. President, which appeared a few months ago in Seed Magazine, which spearheaded campaign for a national science debate.)
The other issue about which I am passionate is the issue of Civil Rights. I am in the unfortunate position (given our current political landscape) of meaning ALL Civil Rights. For everyone. Any candidate who would do anything to weaken our rights not only won’t be getting my vote but can, in this blogger’s humble opinion, fuck right off. The Constitution is, to my mind, best seen not as bestowing rights upon us, but recognizing rights that, absent of interference, already have. Furthermore it promises that our government (who, it bears mentioning, are our employees) will not try to take those rights away from us or dictate the ways in which we can exercise them. (Standard boilerplate applies about restricting those rights where they interfere with the rights of others, etc.)
So politicians, please get your grubby mitts off of my liberties. Those amendments are suggestions or are they subject arbitrary revision or radical reinterpretation. There is no exegesis of the constitution. If you want to engage in radical hermeneutics, get yourself a bible. For all this talk of “interpreting the constitution” and all these attempts at divining what the framers really meant, the amendments (at least the ones under fire) all seem pretty straight forward to me.
Don’t tell people what they can or can’t say, can or can’t believe, can print, etc.
Don’t tell people they can’t defend themselves in the most effective way possible.
Don’t search people’s persons, abodes, or effects without their permission or reasonable suspicion of a crime.
And don’t give me any bullshit about “times being different”. 9/11 was a tragedy, not an excuse for a power grab. Nor is modern man appreciably different from that of previous eras and we still, occasionally need to protect ourselves from each other. Times change, the constitution aimed to make it so that certain rights do not.
Politicians: the people are your employer and, if you treat them right, your ally. They can also, if mistreated badly enough, become your worst enemy. Personally, I wish that their tolerance for abuse was a lot lower, but perhaps that’s just me. So stick up for their interests. That means supporting their rights. It means that people like the ACLU and GOA are both your allies. Listen to what they are saying. You don’t have to do it all (I wouldn’t blame any politician for wanting to shy away from supporting NAMBLA’s right to free speech or from the Aryan Nation’s right to own machine guns) but they are making the kinds of arguments necessary to ensure that liberties remain uneroded. Freedom of Speech means everyone and every idea or sentiment. The Right to Bear Arms means all law-abiding citizens and all kinds of personal weapons. The Right to Only Lawful Search and Seizure means everyone, even people accused of terrorism, even if they look foreign.
And yet. And yet. Every politician I see gets these things, at best, halfway. Or they show that they may understand, but then shy at the last gate and fail to put it into action. And so at best we get platitudes and inaction. At worst we get utterly shameless assaults on the future ourselves and our nation.
There are all these candidates out there who are desperately whoring for votes. They always say how they’re honest and hard-working. They wear patriotic colors and tell us how awesome they think America is. I’m a citizen. I vote. You want to get my vote, you only need to be two things: Pro-Science and Pro-Rights. It won’t land you every vote, but it’ll certainly get mine. And maybe I’m optimistic, but I think any candidate which openly, clearly, and forcefully supports science and civil liberties will get a hell of a lot more votes than just mine.