I’m not much into politics. Maybe that’s a mistake. They’re the way our country is run, after all, and that should be everybody’s business. I guess it’s just that something in me doesn’t like divisive debates—a series of horrendous arguments in my past (completely unrelated to politics) have made me somewhat gun-shy over anything that could possibly make people yell at me more. And politics heads the list of those things.

I’m sure we’ve all made the mistake at one time or another of bringing up politics in mixed political company. I remember one time my father, mother, and I were being driven to a square dance by a family friend who I assumed, being from the same largely conservative area as us, shared the conservative political views…except he didn’t, and I made the mistake of bringing up politics. The atmosphere in the car got decidedly chilly after that.

Political discussions seem to share some of the same characteristics as religious debates. (Perhaps this is not too surprising, given how tied-together politics and religion seem these days, at least on the far-Right.) The average party-loyalist feels that what he believes is God’s Own Truth, and the other fellow who disagrees with him is either a sadly deluded fool at best, or Pure Evil at worst. It doesn’t seem like there can be any middle ground. And, like I said, I try to stay out of that kind of discussion.

My father is a staunch, staunch Republican. He practically worshipped the ground Reagan walked upon, severely disliked Carter and Clinton, and thinks highly of the Bushes. I was exposed to this philosophy a great deal in growing up. Now, there are two opposing schools of thought on the effect this should have. One is that I would be indoctrinated by this upbringing and come to be a staunch Republican myself. The other is that each generation always rebels against the values of the previous generation, so I should be driven to become just as staunch a Democrat.

I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. For a while, I was a staunch Republican. Without really thinking much about it. But I got exposed to a lot of things in college, and it broadened my mind. I started thinking a bit about the actual issues instead of party loyalties. I took web-surveys on my stance on what I thought about individual issues and they told me I was closest to being a Libertarian (except where foreign policy was concerned).

By this point, I’ve come to realize that no political party really matches my views 100%, and I’m probably going to have to settle for whatever seems the lesser evil. (I need to get one of those bumper stickers that extols you to “Vote for Cthulhu—why settle for the lesser evil?” Well, I would If I still had a car, anyway.) I’m still somewhat conservative at heart, but I try not to think of myself as a -crat, -ican, or -arian of any kind. I’m a voter who makes up his own mind based on the issues as best he can.

I don’t really follow most of the issues du jour on which politics is based. I couldn’t really tell you who proposed what tax cut, or who proposed what spending hike, or what they all mean. I know that the Dems say the Republicans want to cut taxes on the wealthy and soak the poor, and the Reps say the Democrats want to soak the rich and create a welfare state. It would probably take Solomon to work out the actual truth of things. I know that health care is a mess.

The thing that bothers me, though, is the whole War on Terror and Iraq thing that’s gone on over the last few years. I keep thinking of the song line “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” Well, now I’m not so sure I know I’m free, and I’m not so sure I’m proud to be an American, either.

I was, along with the rest of the world, horrified by the attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11/01. I can still close my eyes and see the pictures of the fireballs, the flailing bodies falling through the air that I still can’t believe were (and wish hadn’t been—or at least that I hadn’t seen) shown on television. And I was as gung-ho as most other people when it came to Bush sending the armed forces into Afghanistan and Iraq.

But look at the things that have happened since then in the name of fighting terrorism. We’ve gone to war with the wrong country (although I still think that we were right to depose Hussein, even if he was entirely unrelated to Al Queda—the man had done enough other bad things over the course of his career that it should have been done a long time ago) and, even though we did clean out one of the right countries, it looks like we’ve left the other big contributor (Iran) alone. We’ve passed laws aimed at aiding the fight on terrorism that may be overly broad and step on all manner of civil liberties—and Ashcroft wants to pass still more.

We’ve suspended the Geneva Convention for prisoners of war on a technicality. (“They’re not really enemy combatants because they’re not the official military force of an opposing nation.”) This has subsequently led to blatant prisoner abuse of the sort that we commonly associate with Germany or Japan in World War II, or more recently third-world countries. And it was our soldiers who were doing it, on orders from higher up (and you can bet that the soldiers will be hung out to dry while the officers who ordered it will get off with a slap on the wrist). We have held an American citizen for months without access to his lawyer. We have apparently even imprisoned innocent people to force wanted members of their families to turn themselves in! This is not the kind of thing that I want to think the country that I love is doing!

It shouldn’t matter that “they’re the bad guys,” as “good guys” we have to hold ourselves to a higher moral standard than that. Innocent until proven guilty. I’ve reached the point where I’m afraid to read the news, because I know I’ll just be more disgusted by the next great revelation of our human rights abuses. It makes me feel more than a little ill when I think about it—we’re turning into the very thing we rebelled against two hundred years ago. Our Founding Fathers would be appalled.

And it was Bush’s administration that was responsible for all this—if Bush didn’t directly give the orders, one of his hand-picked staff did. If they did not give the orders, then they were not aware of the things that were going on beneath them, which means they were either criminal in action or criminally incompetent. Even some of my conservative-leaning friends are shaking their heads and saying that running Bush again is a poor choice for the Republican Party, and they wish they could vote for someone like McCain. I’m just not sure that another four years of Bush is a good idea. But I’m not so sure that I like Kerry all that much, either (though that could be just the ingrained conservatism of my family bucking at voting directly for a Democrat). Or any of the candidates. Douglas Adams said it best in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.

To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.

But what can you do? We’ve got a two-party system. All the third party candidates are, frankly, a joke. I respect some of what Ralph Nader’s accomplished in terms of consumer advocacy, but there’s no way his running for President is going to be anything but an attention-grab (and a vote-grab away from the Democratic candidate). The closest thing we’ve had in living memory to a viable third-party candidate was H. Ross Perot, and he turned himself into a big joke by his habit of pulling out of and then dropping back into the race. So you’re voting for one candidate or the other, or else you’re wasting your vote on somebody who has no chance of winning, and by so doing you’re helping the candidate you would otherwise have voted directly against win anyway. Which is a great way to make a statement, but a poor way to run a country.

Or you can just not vote at all, which means you “lose the right to complain” (or at least the moral high-ground to complain, since the 1st Amendment guarantees you the right—though one is tempted to say that given the current administration’s legislative moves, who knows how much longer that will last?) if someone you didn’t like wins. There’s just no good choice at all.

I don’t know what I’ll end up doing come this November. Maybe I’ll vote for Kerry. Maybe I’ll vote Libertarian as a protest. I wish I could vote for McCain, who seems like a deeply moral man. I just don’t like the current state of things at all.

A couple of links: Jeff Kirvin, columnist for the PDA blog Writing on your Palm, does a bit of political venting in the current edition; also, the Democratic National Convention site has transcripts of some pretty good speeches by Carter and Clinton, a not-as-good one by Gore, and various others.