Thursday, December 6, 2007

In Mitt's 'symphony of faith,' I'm the guy who forgot to shut his cell phone off.

Mitt, meet me over by camera three.

Listen, Mitt. I don't think this campaign should descend into bickering and arguing over whose sect is an abomination in the sight of whose God. Frankly, who cares if you think you'll ascend to godhood after you die, or that your church may or may not believe that Jesus is married to multiple wimmins? As Kennedy's speech illustrated, we can get past our differences, and come together in the pursuit of a society that tolerates and values every citizen, regardless of their nutty beliefs.

Damned fine speech Kennedy gave. Yours? Not so impressive.

Nothing against your speechifying, mind you. Perhaps a little effete and uppity for us plainspoken folk here in the West, but you do know how to turn a phrase. It's not the wrapping paper that got to me, but the... how can I put this... the dead puppy inside the box.

Couldn't you have cut me an airhole or two?

I'm an atheist. I used to make a big deal about it, but these days I'm working on a live and let live attitude. You know, cultivating that "tolerance" thing you paid such rapturous lip service to in your speech. But your speech didn't make me feel tolerated, much less valued.

On the surface, you and Kennedy look like similar cases. Like him, you're a member of a distrusted minority religion with somewhat autocratic impulses. Like him, you've got great hair.[1] But where Kennedy appealed for a nation where we politely refused to elevate one form of religious belief over another, you cravenly admitted that you were fine with a nation that honors any belief -- no matter how kooky -- over no belief at all.

Under the Kennedy principle, nobody should have a moment's hesitation about your ability to serve as president of the entire United States. Under the Romney principle, only those who believe in God, those who kneel in prayer before the Almighty, can properly guide this country. Therefore, it's perfectly legitimate for each citizen to ask, "Does this candidate practice a form of worship that my God finds acceptable? Does my God hear Mitt Romney's prayers?"

Given the crowd you've been so cravenly sucking up to these last few months, I doubt it. Anyone remember this?

I agree that nobody in this country should vote or fail to vote for any candidate simply because of his or her privately held religious beliefs. I wish you felt the same.

[1] I mean, damn but you've got good hair. I swear, if your hair went off and ran for president by itself, it could easily get 15% of the vote.

Monday, December 3, 2007

You don't have to be crazy to vote Democratic, but it helps.

Gallup did an interesting, if not necessarily illuminating poll, showing that Republicans are way more likely to report themselves as being in "excellent" mental health than Democrats. The blogosphere took the news with its usual humility, and good grace, by opening a polite and nuanced discussion about whether Democrats are insane, or Republicans are conscience-disabled sociopaths. I gave my opinion, though to be completely honest, nobody asked:

No, Jeff. The comments here only show that all of us tend to interpret news in self-serving ways. Had the Democrats fared better than the Republicans, which side of the aisle would be playing up the disconnect between self-reported mental health and actual mental health?

You cite Louis' letter, which describes Republicans as optimists and Democrats as gloomy. But shift your perspective a bit, and it's reasonable to make precisely the opposite case. Which party is more optimistic about the government's ability to affect lives for the better? Which party believes that we can have a country that is both safe from terrorism and a staunch defender of civil rights? Which party believes that we can engage in a respectful foreign policy, rather than bullying everyone who disagrees with us?

The Republicans strike me as hopelessly negative, whether it be their acceptance of torture, their increasingly shameless efforts to keep us angry and fearful towards our enemies by invoking 9-11, immigrant hordes, "Islamofascism," and "East coast liberals" (the rallying cry of Utah's recent attempt to pass school vouchers). The message of Republicans seems to be, "Be afraid. Be afraid of the gays, the immigrants, the secular atheists, the abortionists, the environmentalists who want to take your jobs and give them to spotted owls. But above all, be afraid of a Hillary presidency."

Either party can be spun as the party of optimism. I don't think that explains the poll results. None of the explanations offered so far really satisfy me, though a difference in introspectiveness comes close. My guess (which is probably self-serving) is that Republicans tend to be less affected by reports of suffering, not because they're discompassionate or sociopathic, but because they tend to ascribe personal suffering to the consequences of the sufferer's poor choices rather than systemic problems.

Therefore, it would make sense if Republicans were less troubled by bad news than Democrats. As someone who believes that there are severe systemic inequities in the world, such a dismissive, "I gots mine" attitude seems heartless and naive. But it might also give Republicans a feeling of greater control over their circumstances and a more positive outlook. They may also be optimistic because they compare the world around them to a world where everyone lived under Sharia law, or everyone is broke because liberals dismantled the economy and used the scrap to make hemp farms. Democrats are more prone to compare it to the more just, equitable, and sustainable world that they're hoping will emerge, and get frustrated and dissatisfied.

More grist for the discussion: a Pew Research poll indicating that Republicans rate themselves as happier.

Is it better to increase your mental well-being by turning a blind eye to suffering? Or to let yourself be dragged down by things you cannot control?