Electoral Contradictions, Hold ‘em, and the F5 key

I’ve been reading a lot about the ‘people powered’ election of Ned Lamont in Connecticut – how for once an election wasn’t decided by the special interested, well-moneyed, over-lobbied joecumbent, but instead a grassroots, collective, power-of-the-people, wisdom of crowds type effort by the voters in Connecticut. 

And what strikes me about it is that I resonate so strongly with that idea. Politics is so disturbing lately because it feels so out of touch from everyday life (even if it always has been, it feels decidedly more out of touch in the past decade). And it feels so combative, without any sense of doing what’s best for the most amount of people. And so we rejoice at the victory of the ‘people-powered’ candidate in the nutmeg state.

Now, I’m just giddy that Joe Lieberman was defeated. And I’m saddened that an 18-year senator can’t leave the stage with some grace, and instead has chosen a path that seems to me delusional, quixotic, pathetic and infuriating: independence.  

What’s strange about this reaction to Lieberman for me is that for years I have longed for more choices in elections, that the choice between the lesser-of-two-evils isn’t really a choice at all, that we need more independents running on issues to bring more dialogue to elections and more connections with voters.

I suppose you could say the difference is in viewing that voice of ‘independence’ as not ‘independent’ enough, and rather a tired, establishment voice that doesn’t know when to quit.

But as I’m just shooting the breeze here, I’ll contend that it goes a little bit deeper than that to a contradiction in my own mind, and, dare I say, in the American psyche — or perhaps more accurately measured, the Midwestern American psyche (not that this is an exclusive condition to that locale).

But a contradiction in valuing deference to authority, community standards, and the power of cooperation, compromise and conflict resolution, while at the same time valuing critical thought, unconventional thinking and behavior, and the power of competition, creativity and confidence.

In thinking about this though, I think it is a perfectly healthy contradiction. Three things come to mind (mostly because they are on my mind for other reasons).

Take a new forum on Minnesota Public Radio called Public Insight Journalism. Part of me values the fact the establishment media is searching beyond its cadre of spoon-fed experts to dig up new sources of information, sources with just as much expertise in a given area as the Executive Director of this and that Institute. And part of me questions the value in this, that sometimes I do just want to be spoon-fed the expert opinion and I’ll come to my own conclusions based on that. And even more, though I’d hate to admit it, that sometimes I don’t really want to hear the opinions of everyday people, when, for instance, 50 percent of ‘everyday’ people can’t place Canada on a map of North America. Elitist? Yes. But do factoids like that give me much faith in something called a ‘people-powered’ movement? I’m still amazed that Lamont won, but factoids like that waver my enthusiasm just a little. Is this just a fluke? Will it still take place when the entire state votes in much greater numbers? Is there something wrong with Lamont too? etc. 

On the other side of the coin, take poker – yours truly won $1200 yesterday which is why it is on the mind. I love the game. But if this game isn’t quintessentially counter to what I most often think I believe in, I don’t know what is. Pool a bunch of resources, have a competition, and have the winner walk away with most of those resources, while most people (around 90%) are just out of luck. It is skill, it is luck, it is ruthless. And I love it.

Which brings me back, in a roundabout way, to Ned Lamont and the F5 key. I’ve started working one day a week in a new office. At that office, you have to hit the F5 key to refresh your email. At my other office, you don’t need to do that, your email just comes to you.

I guess all this is a very convoluted way of saying that whether I am a libertarian, independent individualist or a socialistic, common-good, deferentialist, all comes down to a given context. And please pardon the horrible analogy, but sometimes you just have to let the world refresh around you, and sometimes you have to do it yourself.

So would I like more independent voices in politics? Yes. Do I believe in the ‘people-powered’ movement? Sometimes. Do I want joementum to drop out? Without a doubt. As I said, context, and in this context, the one where Lieberman has repeatedly backstabbed party members and given the opposition increasingly damaging sound bites (“the anti-security party”), I’m leaning more towards the Hold ‘Em, pragmatist, forget-your-ideals-of-multi-party-politics, in-it-for-all-money mentality. I’ve got pocket rockets and some 18-year joeplayer just moved all-in after a ‘bad beat.’ You call that every time. Then hit the F5 key, and refresh.

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