Respect The Race

(Full disclosure: I wrote this blog entry shortly after the November election. Now that today is Inauguration Day and, for better or for worse, people are accepting -I use this term loosely- of our new political reality, I would like to offer up my sociological perspective on the election. That said, I am quite certain I will have my fair share of  disagreement. By way of introduction I want to share with you a recent social media post I shared that reaffirms my sentiments from November. “I find it affirming when really intelligent people, with whom I may overall agree or disagree with on certain issues, articulate (far more eloquently) sentiments that I have been espousing for years. As a balance theorist, I love former global Islamist Maajid Nawaz idea that, ‘The easiest way to hand a victory to your political opponent is by doing in excess the very thing that is going to fuel their rise, providing them to things to point to, to say we told you so.’ Welcome to the planet, 2017.” Now to the blog…)

What does a marathon, the 1969 Super Bowl and the 2016 Presidential election have in common?

Before this article begins sounding like a bad “Freakonomics” chapter, let me explain.

I was never much of a runner until I hit my mid-20’s, and my weight hit the mid-200’s, when I realized that running was the most expedient and easily accessed exercise ever invented. With only a good pair of running shoes necessary, there was no fancy equipment, gym membership or uniform needed. Hell, you did not even have to rely on anyone to make this sport happen, just an open road and an agreeable, operable set of legs.

I started running circa 1992, started competitive racing a couple of years later, dropped around 40 lbs., and firmly self-identified as a runner. It was circa 1997 that I decided I was going to attempt my first marathon; that is, 26.2 miles of foot pronation (supination?…its been a while) as I dysfunctionally struck pavement for well over 3 hours. Prior to this I went and asked an old friend of mine, Dave Delong, a marathon runner himself and an esteemed track coach, what his advice would be for a new marathon runner.

He never skipped a beat:

Simple. Respect the race.

“26.2 miles is a long distance. Respect every mile, every inch,” he told me, “Or the race can eat you alive.”

He meant that you might feel great at mile 21 or 23 or 25 and think that you got this…that you have beaten this race into submission.

Bad idea.

Respect the race, he told me. Respect that 26.2 miles is a very long distance. Respect the last few miles, respect the last few feet as at any time, the race can come back and bite you in the ass as one could hit the dreaded wall at any time. It is only then one realizes the nature of the foe you are attempting to defeat.

I never better understood the concept of respecting your opponent better than after my first few marathons. Dave was so absolutely correct that it taught me one of the best lessons I could have learned in life, let alone racing: Always respect the nature of your opponent….no matter how superior you think you might be.

I could not help but think of all the times in sports history when the David killed the Goliath due to this lack of respect, yet I will not bore you with sports trivia…though trust me, it is  common. Be it the 69 Super Bowl, Ronda Rousey or the 2016 Warriors in the finals…one must unrelentingly respect the race till it’s over.

So, alas, fast forward to the 2016 Presidential election.

Apparently some never have learned the simple value to “respect the race,” in this case, the presidential race. Please understand I am not suggesting you must respect the person, just as much as I am not suggesting you must respect the particular landscape or city of a particular race; rather, respecting the race is to respect the nature of the race, respecting the competition of the race, respecting the importance of the race, and to humbly realize the race is greater than you and to succeed begins with humility towards the race. After all, the goal is to win -nothing more, nothing less.

If ever there was a time in political history where the overwhelming favorite entirely disrespected its opponent, to its own deficit, it was the 2016 presidential election.  Trump’s chance of winning usually hovered around 25%, pending which poll was taken after which ill- advised statement was made Trump.

Among those who utterly dismissed and disrespected their opponent (if you have a few minutes please watch this video…it is fascinating) and who should know better include President Barack Obama -the guiltiest of all parties as his disrespect set the tone for a Trump victory; Bernie Sanders –and Bernie is so much better than this; Nancy Pelosi, the house minority leader who needs control of her tongue; Ron Reagan Jr., Harry Reid, Mark Cuban, Bob Beckel and nearly every leading political pundit in the soundbite world.

Some of those who stuck their egotistical foot in their arrogant mouths who are well known, yet whose only qualification is popularity, include George Clooney, Tom Hanks (“That man will become president of the United States the day space ships come down with dinosaurs and men with red capes”…whoops), nearly every late night comedian and the loudest of mouths on The View.

Anyone who even remotely suggested that Donald J. Trump would be our next president was laughed out of the building (please see Anne Coulter getting mocked and scorned at 2:00 in the linked video above, on the Bill Maher show, Politically Incorrect). Please watch as we can learn a thing or two about hubris gone wild.

Donald Trump was not only predicted to lose, he was mocked and laughed at by a, quite smug, untold millions more…in a strange twist, he was absolutely bullied and humiliated by those who should really know better. I suppose it was ok to bully the bully….but, then, you can see where that got us. The point the smug left forgot is that when bashing Trump you were bashing his supporters, calling them ignorant idiots—problem is their votes count just as much as anyone else’s.

If the American electorate could teach ANY politician just one critically important lesson, it is that the American public always finds and locates the middle ground…and stays there. If one side pushes too hard in one direction, the public will overcompensate in the other direction. The left bully pulpit, led by 8 years of Obama, just got a little too big for its political britches.

Did it seem odd to anyone, other than myself, that those who were anti-Trump felt free and safe to be mean, disrespectful, and outspoken (the President very much included…see President Obama on the Jimmy Kimmel “Mean Tweets”… bad choice Barack) while the general Trump supporters, sans those diehards at political rallies and few extremists, remained generally quiet and reserved to openly express their support for fear of being ostracized via social media and otherwise?

It seems those who were bullied quietly went to the principal’s office (the voting booth) to report the bullies…and they won.

It seems the left forgot the very important lesson to respect the race…to respect the office of the opponent…to be gracious until such time there is something to gloat over, namely victory.

A few days after Trump’s infamous secret recording came out about how he just grabs women by the, ah, “kitty,” a presidential debate commenced. Not realizing Trump’s words were obviously offensive, inappropriate, and quite unpresidential all on their own accord, Clinton felt the need to explain, as if we did not know already, just how wrong those comments were…thanks Hillary, yeah, we get it.

I was so hoping, when asked about these comments, she would take the high road and respond that those comments speak for themselves and the American public will decide how to interpret those lewd comments, now let’s get back to the issues.

You all tried to beat a bully by being a bully. Damn…don’t ya hate when hubris bites you in the ass?

As we adjust to 4 years that will bring a new meaning to the term, “bully pulpit,” I will be out on a run, respecting each step I am able to respectfully take.

Voting…Or Not

I preface this blog entry with the qualification that I am not a political expert in any way, shape or form (are you listening Holliann?). However, I do know how to structure sentences and do have an opinion…not to mention I pay WordPress $100 a year for this domain name…so read on!

The 2016 presidential election is still over 14 months away and the party nominations are beginning to heat up in a big way. It is around this time of year that I hear people discussing the candidates and for whom they will vote.  Oddly, it seems most of us have a feel for who we like and do not like–yet really have no real, legitimate “grounded” reasons why. I hear things like, “Trump seems like such an asshole,” or, “Hillary is a bitch,” or, “Bernie Sanders reminds me of my loving grandfather.”

Hardly astute political observations when deciding on who shall be the next “Leader of the Free World.” Or are they as good as any other observations? Stay with me here people. I have come full circle on my former harsh critiques of a superficial voting base. I suggest 3 basic unpopular options -well, kinda 4– for those of you considering voting in the next election…and please read on before you judge me too harshly and cast me as un-American. I do have my reasons.

1. Don’t vote.vote151

2. Vote for whoever makes you feel better about life.

3. Close your eyes, point down, and select the candidate at your fingertip.

We’ll get to number 4 later….

Yes, I’m dead serious.

First off, two of my favorite thinkers, economists Stephen Dubner and Steven Leavitt from Freakonomics, would tell you straight out that voting is the biggest waste of time a person can spend. In a New York Times article they wrote in 2005, they claim following:

 Why would an economist be embarrassed to be seen at the voting booth? Because voting exacts a cost — in time, effort, lost productivity — with no discernible payoff except perhaps some vague sense of having done your “civic duty.” As the economist Patricia Funk wrote in a recent paper, “A rational individual should abstain from voting.”

The odds that your vote will actually affect the outcome of a given election are very, very, very slim. This was documented by the economists Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter, who analyzed more than 56,000 Congressional and state-legislative elections since 1898. For all the attention paid in the media to close elections, it turns out that they are exceedingly rare. The median margin of victory in the Congressional elections was 22 percent; in the state-legislature elections, it was 25 percent. Even in the closest elections, it is almost never the case that a single vote is pivotal. Of the more than 40,000 elections for state legislator that Mulligan and Hunter analyzed, comprising nearly 1 billion votes, only 7 elections were decided by a single vote, with 2 others tied. Of the more than 16,000 Congressional elections, in which many more people vote, only one election in the past 100 years — a 1910 race in Buffalo — was decided by a single vote. 

So, according to them, why do people vote? They provide 3 reasons:

1. Perhaps we are just not very bright and therefore wrongly believe that our votes will affect the outcome.

2. Perhaps we vote in the same spirit in which we buy lottery tickets. After all, your chances of winning a lottery and of affecting an election are pretty similar. From a financial perspective, playing the lottery is a bad investment. But it’s fun and relatively cheap: for the price of a ticket, you buy the right to fantasize how you’d spend the winnings – just like you get to fantasize that your vote will have some impact on policy.

3. Perhaps we have been socialized into the voting-as-civic-duty idea, believing that it’s a good thing for society if people vote, even if it’s not particularly good for the individual. And thus we feel guilty for not voting.

I once was of the strong opinion that not voting was better than casting an ignorant vote. However, for the following two reasons -my 2nd and 3rd options-I have changed my mind. Funny what a little research can do.

My second possible option concerning voting -vote for who makes you feel better about your life- is grounded in the following principle concerning the logistics of the presidency: The actual power of the president.

I believe that one of the most important considerations when considering presidential candidates is to understand the nature of the presidency and the actual power he or she possesses.

Bernadette Meyler, a Cornell Law Professor, breaks down presidential power into five general areas -that I can simplify here:  

1. Leader of the Armed Forces

2. Judicial and Cabinet Appointments

3. The Execution or Non-Execution of Laws

4. Power of Persuasion over Congress

5. Foreign Policy

Perhaps a sixth power, tangentially related to power #4 above, and arguably the greatest power a president may have, is that of the bully pulpit. Whether or not a president is for or against abortion, gay rights, immigration reform or tax increases/cuts –just to name a few issues– means very little insofar as the president alone is concerned. Our system of checks and balances does not allow for a dictatorship and these types of issues are the result of the judicial and legislative branches of government, in tandem with the executive branch. That said, the president has the power to wield a rather hefty sword of persuasion towards these, and other, entities –yet he or she can never vote or judge in their stead.

So how much power does the president really have?

I would argue that the president has far less power than most of us think. Conversely, I would also contend that supreme court justices have substantially far more power than we give them credit. The president may appoint justices, yet the  senate needs to approve them (too bad for Robert Bork….look it up kiddos). In terms of my gay friends who can now marry, Justice Anthony Kennedy has far more power than Barack Obama. In fact, President Obama does not have ANY power in this matter whatsoever –other than to use his powers of persuasion to attempt to shape public and political opinion.

So, Jimmy, what is the point?

The way our system functions, the president is far more a “purveyor of political perception” over a “perpetrator of power.” Yes, the president can declare war, appoint cabinet members, and free convicted felons, yet, none of these things are ever done in a vacuum nor without weighing the political consequences of making such decisions. If the president makes grave errors in any of these types of decisions, the president will politically pay dearly for it. This is why presidents wait until their term is nearly over to start pardoning their white collar buddies, among others, in prison –to avoid political fall out. Just hours before his final term in office, on January 20, 2001, Bill Clinton released 140 people from prison (this act was known in some circles as “pardongate”). To grant these pardons any sooner would have been political suicide and he would have had hell to pay.

So, yes, the president certainly wields a strong power of persuasion yet will not commit any acts that will result in his or her own political suicide. Hence, we potentially can have a wild presidential pit bull in office, yet due to political ambitions in the great majority of cases, the president is laced with a strong political sedative to behave in accordance with popular opinion –left wing or right wing be damned.

My opinion these days? Vote for whomever makes you feel better about your life and this country. It’s as good a criteria as any.

Finally, if either not voting or voting based on feeling does not work for you, I would recommend my third option: Randomly select anyone. There are strong reasons to support an ignorant voter base, many discussed here in Harvard Professor Jennifer L. Hochschild’s article, “If Democracies Need Informed Voters, How Can They Thrive While Expanding Enfranchisement?” In this article she states the following:

If everyone was passionately and knowledgeably engaged with the issues, the losing party would not grant legitimacy to electoral results or to controversial legislative or judicial decisions, and that would threaten the existence of the state itself. As Bernard Berelson and his colleagues put it, “the apathetic segment of America probably has helped to hold the system together and cushioned the shock of disagreement, adjustment, and change.”  After all, democratic participation is hard and often unrewarding work, especially if one invests time and energy in learning about electoral or policy choices; in this view, a democracy needs the apathetic ignorant to balance the passionate experts. 

My paraphrase of the above sentiment? We need a lot of people not to give a shit or else there might be civil war and/or anarchy. Sure Thomas Jefferson would disagree, though he did not live in the age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, and Reddit –not to mention Disneyland…all worthy competitors for our precious time, attention and resources. These things keep us in a politically flaccid and mind-numbing state. We need political apathy in this country and our survival depends on a majority of ignorant voters.

I find it quite laughable when I hear either the extreme right or extreme left claim they will leave the country if a certain candidate wins. No you won’t.  Shut up. (Although if Trump wins I certainly won’t go to Mexico because I’d probably never get back over that wall). The president just doesn’t change things all that much. Flee to France if you must, Johnny Depp, though if the president mattered that much, our country would never have survived the Jimmy Carter era.

Of course there is a 4th alternative…be passionate and spend copious amounts of time studying the candidates and issues. But that would require, as stated above, often hard and unrewarding work: Having to check facts and investigate political voting records can be a real bitch. Particularly when you consider your one vote has about as much chance for counting as winning the super lotto…10 times in a row.

Yep. That’s what I thought.

I told you all I am no political expert…just a blogger with an opinion. And for a $100 bucks a year, you better believe you are going to get it.

Shocking! Amazing! An In-depth Podcast Conversation with Dr. Cheryl Marshall, President of Crafton Hills College

A behind the scenes look at Crafton Hills College with College President Cheryl Marshall. Find out how this brilliant and educated woman nearly flunked out of school, why she flipped pizzas after earning her degree, her message to students and faculty alike, and you might be amazed to find out her greatest weakness.

Cheryl Marshall