Thursday, October 14, 2004

Why President Bush is losing my vote

There is much I could write about the Presidential Debates last night. I am not a big John Kerry fan, but my unwillingness to repeat the mistake I made in voting for George W. Bush four years ago is increasingly leading me to consider voting for a Democratic candidate for president for the first time in my life.

My main issues are three-fold: the increasing veil of secrecy behind which our nation is being governed, the declining conditions in our economy and the declining state of basic social services (education, health care, etc.) in our country.

The first issue is just frightening. In 2000, I had major qualms voting for a ticket that contained Dick Cheney, whose influence virtually shut journalists out of the first Gulf War. However, I felt that he would be one voice among a chorus of others, and that since the Vice President dooesn't do much ...

Sadly, I underestimated the other voices (Rumsfeld, Pearle, et. al.) who also brought to the administration a philosophy of operating behind closed dorrs. During the Bush administration, the national debate about foreign and domestic policy has been largely removed from the public sphere. Rather than discussing the pros and cons of possible approaches, it seems like we increasingly find out how our world works only through the PR management of Scott McLellan and his predecessor Ari Fleischer.

As for the declining economy, my impressions are very personally driven. Yes, I am a member of the middle class who was eligible for a return of funds resulting from the dismantling of the federal surplus four years ago (in retrospect, not such a wise decision). And yes, when it came time for me to pay my taxes, my official government taxes were lower than during the Clinton administration. However, I actually wound up paying more taxes. How can this be? Well, this leads me to my third concern.

Under the Bush administration, many of our social programs were altered to compensate for the lower amount of revenue generated by taxes. Tax programs have to pay for themselves, and the cuts offered come with a price. I don’t think most Americans saw much difference.

However, being a graduate student at the time, I saw a tremendous difference. While it is true that my base tax was less than in years before, the fact that I was a full-time graduate student meant less to Bush than it had to Clinton. I still did receive a deduction for being enrolled full-time, but my deduction was subject to a new formula whereby the deduction from the previous years was factored in to reduce the amount of deduction in the current period. The net result, after paying fewer taxes but receiving less in educational deductions, was that I actually paid $750-800 MORE in taxes under the Bush tax plan than I did during the Clinton administration.

And there lies the heart of my frustration with the Bush approach. Yes, we keep more of our money, but only at the price of losing some of our social programs. What good does it do me to keep an extra $1,000 - $2000 per year if my health care costs double? Or my education becomes more expensive? Or if the amount of support and assistance for basic services is reduced?

To be fair, I understand that dependents who were in school received a comparable deduction as years past. So parents paying the bills may or may not have seen the difference I experienced. But this brings me straight back to my point: why are those who are struggling with the choices of paying their own way receiving the brundt of the reductions in financial assistance? If I had let my parents swallow the costs of my education (and my care), they would have received more deductions on my choices than I did by taking responsibility for myself. Why?

And put another way, the president who claims education as his greatest interest (regardless of how one views the no child left behind efforts), effectively reduced the governmental tax breaks that graduate students used to receive. So, we want to improve education, but only to a certain point? We want to help students make it through high school and to receive a bachelor’s degree while making it more difficult financially to receive a Master’s degree or Ph.D.?

I thought about delving into the comments from the exchange between the president and Bill O’Reilly on the The O’Reilly Factor and explaining how horrified I was to hear the president and a major media pundit portraying university classes as something to be survived (and not an opportunity to learn about the world), but that tirade would be rather lengthy. Read the transcript, it’s interesting. And disheartening.

Personally, I think we should be encouraging Americans to receive as much education as they can stand. We can all stand to be more thoughtful and exposed to a greater diversity of ideas, and I think we should do everything we can to ensure that any student who is capable of bettering their degree of understanding and critical thinking does not run into financial walls that keep them from exploring their potential.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Florida, USA, and challenges to our concept of democracy

Florida and presidential elections. Though in the media, these words have been linked agains and again in recent months, do these words really go together? It seems not.

We're in for another messy election, with people already gearing up for the outrage that they expect will come. African Americans being purged from the elligible voters' lists, Cuban American felons added to those same lists, controversies about the voting machines, disputes over authority lines, we're seeing it all.

This morning I read about a different dispute, one that I find a bit more complex and worthy of discussion. An ABC news story titled Voters' dual registration remains a problem in Florida identifies the controversy over the lists showing that soome voters are registered to vote in more than one state.

When you first consider this issue, the natural reaction is to be upset. How can people be registering in more than one state? Isn't that illegal? Isn't that unfair?

However, another aspect of this story strikes me. What are people who possess property in more than one state to do? If I am a New Yorker who owns a winter home in Miami, where exactly should I be a resident? Doesn't owwning property give me a stake in the local elections? Shouldn't my vioce count in the decisions that dictate what taxes I will be paying next year or what my property will ultimately be worth?

This is a more complicated issue than it appears. I can see that it makes sense for people to be able to vote in different local and state elections, but how do you allow that and guard against multiple votes cast for the presidency? And should voters get to chose which state their vote for president should be cast in (from the earlier example, I'd rather be a Floridian in this election than a New Yorker)?

Just what is the relationship between state citizenship and our status as American citizens? Where does state democracy end and federal democracy begin? As always more questions than answers ....