Saturday, July 14, 2007

This Morning's John McCain Town Hall Meeting, Claremont, NH

We went to our first presidential campaign town hall meeting today. This time was an event for John McCain at the American Legion hall in Claremont. I was surprised to get the phone invitation the other day from McCain's people. I guess he's courting the independent vote. As this will be our first presidential election cycle since moving to New Hampshire, I'm still not altogether certain of the process. From what I gather, we'll be allowed to choose which primary we want to cast our ballots in (assuming we wish to cast our ballots in either primary).

If you've read my campaign web site, you'll probably already be aware that I am, on principle, opposed to the whole two-party system. By extension, I'm also of the opinion that there ought not to be a primary election cycle. I think we'd all be much better off if we just went straight to the general election. Stop playing this game of trying to determine which of our like-minded people would best represent all of our fellow like-minded people when it comes time to vote against whichever of the like-minded people the opposing group of like-minded people has chosen to represent themselves in facing our like-minded representative. (Gorgeous sentence structure, no?)

What we should have is individuals, standing on their own beliefs, taking their own stances. If you want to run for president, run for president. Don't run for the opportunity to be chosen to run for president.

Ah, but that's my idealism poking through, isn't it?

The reality of our current system is that we have to work from within rather than from the outside. So, despite my opposition to the principles of giving political parties the power to determine who gets to be on the ballot in the general election, I very likely will end up voting in a primary election this time around. And frankly, I'm not at all sure which primary is likely to get my participation.

So I got invited and we went. I'll be happy to go to plenty of these events in the upcoming months, assuming I have the opportunity. The crowd was pretty small. My quick estimate put it at probably under 300 people. I figure that's reasonably intimate, considering the stakes. Beth got to ask the last question of the session. Overall, I'd say McCain's positions stood up to the sniff test better that I anticipated. He seems to be a reasonable guy who's willing to think about things and capable of thinking about things. That's vastly better than the guy who's in the White House right now.

I agree with McCain on some things, I disagree with him on others, and I respect his views on lots, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with him.

I'll probably blog more about specific issues in the coming days. At the moment I'd like to pick up on what may seem like a minor point in what he said.

He said that we need a line item veto.

I've gone through my own periods of thinking that the line item veto is a grand idea. I won't deny that. But I've since reconsidered. One big problem with the line item veto is that it will always seem like good idea when your guy (or gal) is in office. And it will always seem like a horrible idea when you're in the opposition.

Here's what I've been thinking more about recently:

What we need is to elect a president who will plainly tell congress (and mean it) that if they give him 200 individual (focused) bills that all make sense, he'll pass them. If they give him one bill that has 170 things that make sense and 30 things that don't, he'll veto the whole thing.

And we need to start electing congresspeople who agree to that principle.

If an idea can't stand on its own merits, it shouldn't be allowed to sneak in as a rider to some overarching bill.

McCain says that when the first pork barrel bill crosses his desk, he'll veto it and he'll make its authors famous. That's a pretty decent start. But what concerns me is this: What about the second one? What about the third?

You know they'll keep coming. I'm pretty sure McCain knows they'll keep coming. Until we have a meaningful shift within our legislative culture, I think we're doomed to having the bridge to nowhere and its kin.

If Bush had a line item veto, his war on science and reason would be much farther along at this point than he's managed to push it without the line item veto. He's hardly vetoed anything. When he has vetoed something, it's mostly been because it had provisions for funding stem cell research. He can justify that because he has that "conservative base" that supports such despicable positions. But if he faced dozens of smaller pro-science, pro-reason bills and kept consistently vetoing them, as he likely would love to do, I think even the support of that "conservative base" would begin to erode. It's one thing to take a stand on one issue (stem-cell research). It's quite another to take a stand on dozens, as I'm sure he would love to stop funding for a broad range of sciences, from evolution to mathematics to chemistry to physics. I'm pretty confident that Bush would consider quantum physics to be pure evil voodoo and the work of the devil, if he were aware enough to consider it at all.

Whether the ideas that currently hold sway in the world of theoretical physics will eventually pan out or not, there's certainly value in the exercise. There's benefit to working them through and pursuing them to see where they lead. If Bush had a line item veto, I'm pretty sure he would have gone a lot farther toward curtailing our brightest minds' progress in figuring out where they lead.

I figure that's enough for tonight. Sleep well.


  1. I think that your premise is all discombobulated; but, let's side-step that. On the line-item veto, it holds up to your suggestion that each bill stand on its own merit. If bills singularly came to a president who was against passing them that is exactly the same as having a line item veto. On top of that, the method of passing laws above the president's head would not change. If 2/3 vote to kill a veto the bill would pass. On a line item veto a lot of pork would go by the wayside, Congres goes highly unchecked by the people, it's only real 'check and balance'; the legislatures try to pass whatever they think they can get away with. With a line item veto some thinking might be instilled back into the process of law making; with the thought in the process, it might slow down the amount of laws being generated - and that would be really great.

  2. h, as I said, I've definitely done my time believing that the line item veto is a good idea. It's probably fair to say that my support of the idea has waxed and waned several times, and I can't say for sure that I won't come back around to it again.

    However, right now, I'm really more in favor of the cultural shift idea.

    Here's what maybe I didn't express as well as I should have (and I hope I get closer this time):

    If you have line item veto and you don't have the cultural shift, then what's very likely to happen is that (at least in the short term) the riders are likely to increase rather than decrease. That's because everyone in the legislature will be perfectly content to allow any number of "harmless" measures through, figuring "well, there's a line item veto, so the president will kill this without allowing it to become law, but at least by not objecting to it, I might curry some favor with the congressmen/senator who proposed it."

    Meanwhile, the bills stay ridiculously chock-full-of-goodies, which makes it conveniently easy for the legislators to vote without reading. (P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act, anyone?)

    The defense: "It was so long, I'm so busy, and anyway, I was briefed on the gist of it."

    If bills are kept focused--if there's a cultural insistence that bills are kept focused--that defense is a lot harder to justify. If you don't have time to read a one-page measure, then don't vote on it either way. Just abstain. If you don't have time to read a 300-page measure, then well, who can blame you? As long as you have some idea of what it's about, go ahead and vote. What's the worst that can happen?

    And if someone does call you out for voting yes on something stupid, it's a lot more convenient to try to justify it if it's a tiny part of a giant bill. ("Yeah, sure I approved that, but look at all the other, meaningful, stuff that bill also contained. That's just the price of doing business.")

    What I would love to see happen is that the back room deal making stops. And I think the line item veto just encourages those deals to continue rather than to stop.

    The other negative of the line item veto, as I see it, is that in some sense, it makes the president a sort of super-legislator, rather than an executive. All the responsibility suddenly rests on one person rather than being shared among a few hundred. With a line item veto, the legislators abdicate all accountability.

    From one standpoint, I think that's actually a good thing. That's in the sense that maybe it will make the measuring stick of the legislators shift, from "how much crap did you let through?" to "how much meaningful, innovative legislation did you propose/champion?"

    Frankly, I think there's a lot too much crap flowing through congress now and way too little meaningful and innovative thought going on up there on Capitol Hill.

    But ultimately, I want the legislators to be accountable for passing crap, just as I want them to be able to stand proudly on what they do right. I think the line item veto will strip them of all accountability.

    In the end, I think the real result of a line item veto would be that the only person who's truly expected to read a bill from start to finish is the president. Frankly, given who's occupied that office since 02001, I think that's a pretty scary prospect. Don't get me wrong. I'm sure Bush's reading comprehension is quite satisfactory for My Pet Goat. I'm just not too confident much beyond that.