Politics in Perspective: Polar Bears and Flip Flops

A week ago the Republican nomination was all but over. Mitt Romney was well on his way to victory in South Carolina and locking up the GOP nomination. Then the South Carolina Debate happened. I have a terrible feeling that we will look back upon that debate as the day that changed everything for the 2012 election. However, I really hope that I am wrong. I probably am, considering Mitt Romney’s resounding win in Florida.

From my remote location, it is hard for me to stay connected to politics. Although something in my blood demands that I keep a connection with the workings of Washington. I often wonder why I am so interested in sports and politics. I’ve come to realize that I can’t fight it, as I inherited it from my Dad. But my time here in Ethiopia has really made me see the world of politics differently. I like to think that it has sharpened my perspective. To watch American politics from afar is depressing. It is like watching a ref-less soccer match: It’s all a game, with no sportsmanship.

The vitriol with which most Americans approach politics is unbelievable; a vitriol shaped by an interesting paradox. Either Americans aggressively dismiss politics as a whole, or they vehemently object the party they oppose. Simply put, there is too much anger and too little pragmatism. Whenever a new issue arises, such as the keystone pipeline, pundits and citizens alike erect a fence. Sides are chosen. From that point forward, we can only see that issue through a distorted lens. We have too few politicians who think rationally, weigh an issue and find a solution. We have even fewer citizens who do the same. It amazes me to see a country like America, where we have so much to be happy for, so miserable about our politics.

In a way, I love the high expectations. However, the wrath with which so many rebuke President Obama is frightening. I hear a lot of people claim that they want the Government out of their lives/damn !@#% pockets. In a just world, these folks will be reborn as Ethiopians. Then they will certainly have their wish.

By contrast, I notice that much of the problems here are the result of a culture that conservatives have always fought against. Forged by decades of foreign reinforcement, the Ethiopian attitude is an entitled one. While many Ethiopians work tirelessly to provide for their families, others just reach their hand out. We can’t afford a culture like that in America. With sweeping changes that have brought higher unemployment wages and universal healthcare, will our culture of hard work start to diminish? I do not think it will, but it is worth worrying about. (Trust me)

I have noticed that serving in the Peace Corps, and living in a place like Ethiopia really makes things less black and white. Not all liberal ideas are wonderful. Not all Republicans hate puppies. Ethiopia places such an emphasis on family that I wish we could claim in America. Although conservatives try to protect the American family through often ignorant means, at least they prioritize it. President Bush did more to help Peace Corps volunteers and fight HIV/AIDS than any Democratic president before him. (Unfortunately, this was undone recently as Republicans voted to reduce the PC budget.) They are also the constant promoters of free trade, lower taxes, and reduced spending: Three things we can all live with.

I think that what first excited me about Senator Barack Obama wasn’t his speeches or policies, but his level-headedness. I read that as a Senator he would have his staff organize impromptu debates, so he could hear an argument from both angles. That made me giddy. I saw in him someone who contrasted the ideologues who control Washington.

Now, Some would argue that Barack Obama is just as much an ideologue, but I disagree. He appointed/kept several Republicans on in key positions, such as Jon Huntsman and Robert Gates. He has been an advocate for free trade, and even extended the Bush tax cuts. While he thankfully ended the war in Iraq, he increased the level of troops in Afghanistan. He pursued and defeated Osama Bin Laden, repealed DADT (while remaining mum on gay marriage) and pursued actions that both supported and alienated Wall Street. I think he approaches decisions in a thoughtful, utilitarian manner. President Obama’s record is certainly less radical than many claim. However, there are things that have disappointed me about his first term. For starters, I think the stimulus should have allocated much more money towards infrastructure. I think the health care bill over stepped its bounds. A simpler public option would have made more sense in my opinion. Nevertheless I will almost certainly be voting for him in November. His foreign policy directions make me proud to serve here in Africa.

Recently, I’ve been studying who Barack Obama will be challenging in the upcoming election. I’ve come to a very strong conclusion. I really want Mitt Romney to win the Republican nomination. Not because I would vote for him, or because I think President Obama can beat him, but because the alternative is entirely too scary. Mitt Romney is not my ideal candidate, but I think he has a decent heart. I imagine that his foreign policy will scare me and that his economic practices will primarily help out folks like himself. Not to mention his social policies will likely make me quiver. He may however reduce spending and eliminate some of our debt, which I think is of paramount importance:

(A brief tangent: According to our current debt, every American would have to pay, in addition to their taxes, $44,336 dollars to end the deficit. That number extends to every 3 month-old baby and 95 year-old great grandmother. I certainly don’t have a spare 45 grand lying around. That is just how bad our financial crisis is, and a number I think Republicans will be focusing on in the next election, regardless of whose fault it was, or how irrelevant the number may be.)

At this point in time, I don’t think Mitt Romney would make a terrible president. The primary criticism of Mitt is something I see as a positive rather than a negative. He’s a flip-flopper! It is often said that someone who is a “flip-flopper” lacks a backbone: Moderates have no true sense of direction; folks will say: they are guided by nothing but their own insecurities. I couldn’t disagree more. I believe it takes a real man to approach a decision with torment, to really weigh the outcomes of certain decisions. I think someone who tends to disagree with his own party solidifies someone’s backbone.

I think we need more people like that in Washington. People like my Dad and his former boss. When my Dad was at the Interior Department, it fell on the Department to decide whether the polar bear should be listed as threatened species. For food, bears hunt underwater seals from ice platforms. If sea ice had diminished, the existence of polar bears would be threatened. For various reasons, it was clear that the Republican establishment, (notably Sarah Palin) did not want to list the Polar Bear as a threatened species because it would have confirmed global warming was a reality. Also, it could potentially curtail economic activity that might threaten conservation. My Dad knew the department kept track of satellite photos and asked for photos of the polar ice cap for the past 20 years. When Secretary Kempthorne, my Dad and others saw the photos’ depiction of dramatic losses of sea ice, they knew the polar bear had to be listed. President Bush accepted this decision. How sad is it that nobody heard about this story? The media would much rather push forward the stories that polarize us rather than bring us together. Here were three Republicans teaming up to save Polar Bears. Awesome.

This story is inspiring not only for animal lovers but for all of us who long for hope. It is refreshing to hear of people who place a premium on doing what is right over what is desired. I think Barack Obama believes that. I think Mitt Romney might. I doubt Newt Gingrich does.

My Dad was right again the other day. He said that I shouldn’t project my opinions (see above paragraph) of politicians and turn them into facts. In reality, I know very little of Newt Gingrich. The summary of my opinions is based on simple human observation. My opinion means nothing. Instead he said, turn to what peers say about him, if you are trying to prove a point.

So here is Bob Dole on the former speaker: “I have not been critical of Newt Gingrich but it is now time to take a stand before it is too late. If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices. Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway. Gingrich served as Speaker from 1995 to 1999 and had trouble within his own party. By 1997 a number of House Republican members wanted to throw him out as Speaker. But he hung on until after the 1998 elections when Newt could read the writing on the wall. His mounting ethics problems caused him to resign in early 1999. I know whereof I speak as I helped establish a line of credit of $150,000 to help Newt pay off the fine for his ethics violations. In the end, he paid the fine with money from other sources. Gingrich had a new idea every minute and most of them were off the wall. He loved picking a fight with President Clinton because he knew this would get the attention of the press. This and a myriad of other specifics like shutting down the government helped to topple Gingrich in 1998.”

This quote agrees with my initial observations. Gingrich presents himself in a way unbefitting the office of the president. He is too quick to anger. He is hotheaded rather than rationale. He seems to be entranced in his own aura: egotistical and angry. I truly think the most important quality in a president is their demeanor. A president must be able to weigh an issue rather than have a predetermined mindset. I think the heart of a candidate has to be evaluated, and I think Newt Gingrich lacks heart.

A few years ago, I would have been rooting for Republican turmoil. I would have wanted Newt Gingrich to win because I know it would assure President Obama a greater chance. I would be rooting against Republicans and for Democrats. What’s changed in me is this. Beforehand, I would have been rooting for Newt Gingrich because he would be good for Democrats. Now I oppose him, because he would be bad for America.


One comment on “Politics in Perspective: Polar Bears and Flip Flops

  1. Yohanis i Bal i lo says:


    You said “To watch American politics from afar” is incorrect. You are in SNNPR.

    Also, (without checking your math) it might be $44,336 per person, but that number doesn’t serve much purpose. The government holds a monopoly on taxes and the currency. Uncle Sam could easily inflate that number down…or quantitatively ease it down, what ever you want to call it. The GDP per capita will be $49,340 in 2012 according to The Economist. I am not saying it is a healthy number, but it’s not the end of the world yet.


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