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In the Poker Game That Is Politics, No Card Goes Unplayed!!! Democrats, Republicans, & BiPartisanship, Oh My...

As a diversity director/consultant you could say it is my job to pay attention to how we engage people's differences. Is there any more pertinent difference to consider than the political chasm that separates our two major political parties? Could politics be any more polarizing than the seeming inability of either party to actually own the fact that representatives of each party actually misstep/misspeak from time to time! All you have to do is know that the take on Palin/Obama you are about to hear is from a Democrat/Republican) and you can essentially anticipate what you will hear! It is a rare occasion that we hear anyone considered a staunch Democrat acknowledging the merits of a Republican or vice-versa! What is that about? Is that the American Way? If it is, is America flawed in some ways that make it philosophically dysfunctional?

In the WBA, NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, ATP, WTA, MLS, WBA--and any other sport you want to consider--it has become common practice to respectfully acknowledge the merits of your opponents. If in American politics the major leagues is the presidential election, why have the rules of engagement been so dramatically different? There doesn't appear to be any genuine bipartisan respect acknowledged beyond compliments laced with political posturing. Is this a result of the passion of two very different candidates, or the passion of two very different agendas, or perhaps both?

With a disastrous economy hanging in the balance, this election has socio-economic implications like no other, and it is the only so-called card that both parties will play, but they play it cautiously and with their cards close to their vest. That aside, how do you see the ageism card being played? How do you see the race card being played? How about the gender card, did it hit the table beyond the appointment of Palin or response to that appointment? Has the ableism card been played by anointing Palin's support of Down Syndrome, or played in a very different way by any conversation about McCain's ex-wife Carol being situated on the margins of public discourse, especially when the topic of character of the candidates arises.

Is the religion card absent from this game of political poker, or is it some what tucked away in the aftermath of its heightened visibility over the last eight years, perhaps a side effect of a failed or as some might be apt to say, bushwacked economy. I think the card that was least played was the sexual orientation card. Why would that be?

Could it be that the American political system is in need of dire repair? Is it possible that this election will set the table for similar campaigning during future elections, by either upping the ante so that negative politics becomes as antiquated as the Model-T. Or will tomorrow's political competitors have to demonstrate a few additional layers of skin before they can even be considered as candidates?

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Let me begin by saying that currently living in Washington DC has given me the opportunity to be directly in the midst of one of the most historic elections ever. Obviously it is a huge issue but it is also completely and utterly unavoidable in this city. Furthermore, polls seem to indicate that these three electoral votes will be going in Obama’s favor come November 4th. However, this is a city where there is clear representation of both parties no matter where you go. Simply going out on a Saturday night will put you in the midst of political arguments and discussions. I recall being out drinking the night of Obama’s speech at the DNC. I was at a bar that was packed with people (from both parties) and it was very lively but when Obama went up to the podium to speak, the bar went silent and everyone pulled up a chair or sat on the ground to listen to his entire speech. There were different reactions to his speech, but my point is that politics is something serious here where regardless of your party affiliation or age, that night everyone was silent and listening intently to what Senator Obama had to say.

Now I recognize that what I just explained was simply an overly long prelude to your questions but there’s a little background on where I’m coming from.

You make a great point about the inability for members of a party to recognize faults in their own candidate or compliment the opponent. This is not true for everyone of course but it does seem to be prevalent in the political game today. And this is just the point; it’s all part of the game. People have a general fear of the candidate they support losing if they stray from what they believe they need to do as “good party members.” Therefore, the basic fear of the opponent winning prohibits saying anything positive about them. With all of the negative ads being played and the media picking out anything to fault candidates with, supporters are afraid that if they go on record saying something positive about the opponent, maybe someone will hear that and rethink their own party support.

Senator McCain was a man who was respected by Democrats in the years when he was a harmless man (in terms of Presidential aspirations) who was willing to cross party lines but now that he has the opportunity to take away the moment of glory for this party, his flaws are being exposed and dwelled upon by Democratic party members to try to prohibit any chances of him winning. Party members seem to feel that acknowledging the merits of the opponent could help that opponent win.

During the first debate, Senator Obama said that he agreed with Senator McCain on certain topics. As a result, Senator McCain ran an attack ad on his opponent highlighting the times where he agreed with Senator McCain and subsequently asking “Is Senator Obama Ready To Lead?” So in the political game today, it seems as though there are too many risks associated with publicly recognizing the merits of opponents.

You bring up many other excellent topics regarding this election. Ageism is clearly an issue with this election – on both sides of the political spectrum. Throughout several speeches and debates, there have been implications, from how Senator McCain has interacted with his opponent, that he may look down upon Senator Obama because he is younger. The comment from Senator McCain where he referred to Senator Obama as “that one” clearly showed a lack of respect and could have been fueled by Senator Obama being younger. However, Senator McCain has faced some problematic issues associated with his age. For instance, his age has put him on the wrong end of many jokes that allude to him being “out of touch” with society based on his age and socioeconomic status. The troubling thing regarding the ageism facing Senator McCain is the constant talk about how his running mate will do as President; always referring to his age and alluding to the idea that he will die in office if elected. Many people may not vote for Senator McCain because they believe that he won’t live out his term and don’t want to see Governor Palin take over.

Race is an issue with the election as well, no matter how much people try to downplay it. Again though, this issue goes both ways. Racism still exists in America and unfortunately, this prejudice will cost Senator Obama votes simply because of his race. Also, people may not vote for Senator McCain because they see his race and associate him automatically with the failed political policies of the past. Because of Senator Obama’s race, he is more of a “change” for some people. The most problematic aspect of race in this election is also the most prominent point – the “Bradley Effect.” The fact that this issue has received so much coverage shows that race definitely plays a role in this election. The idea that people would openly support Senator Obama but change their minds when in the privacy of the voting booth because of racial issues is unfortunate. Furthermore, the fact that studies believe that the Bradley Effect could cost Senator Obama up to six points is a clear indication that race does play a role in this year’s presidential election.

The gender issue comes with it’s own dilemmas as well. Immediately upon the announcement that Governor Palin was Senator McCain’s running mate, many people assumed she was only picked to attract female voters. The fact that people automatically associated her pick with this says a lot about gender as well as the fact that some women would simply support a candidate because she is a woman and not based on her credentials. Then there is also the issue with some men still not voting for a woman because of sexist opinions and remaining notions of male dominance. Senator Clinton faced these problems running for President also. Maybe Tony Yao summed up this sexist mind state the best when he sang that “I wouldn’t vote for Hillary, man a bitch rule the world, you kidding me.”

Ability certainly became an issue in the campaign once Governor Palin was added to the Republican ticket partly because her youngest child has Down syndrome. People have applauded her for bringing awareness of this chromosomal disorder to nationwide attention but the question remains that had she not had any children with disabilities, would ability not be an issue with the election this year? Had Senator McCain chosen a different running mate, would any discourse regarding Down syndrome be occurring on a national scale?

I believe that you are correct when you say that the sexual orientation card has been played the least but I think that the answer to this is fairly simple. No candidate has made any negative comments regarding someone’s sexuality because the result would be political suicide. However, the main reason that there have been no real discussions on this matter is because both party candidates oppose same-sex marriages. Therefore, because they agree, this issue hasn’t been brought up again to discuss in detail by either candidate.

Tough skin will always be required when running for office especially in a time where the media has so much access to everything about the candidates and has the time (and seemingly a myriad of channels) to explore every possible minuscule flaw with any candidate.

Anyway, for the record, I am not registered to any party because I don’t really like how the party system is set up in the United States but that’s another issue. Also for the record, I am registered to vote and have already filled out my absentee ballot (I’ll take my 31 electoral votes in NY over the 3 here in DC) but I’m not saying what box I checked. But I can say that regardless of the outcome, I’ll be present for the inauguration at the Capitol building here in Washington DC in January.

I love how you compare politics to poker - an analogy I have often cited myself.

Basically, race and gender are the two big hands right now. In these hands we have a religion card, an ableism card and even an age card. There are so many hands within the two hands we have been dealt, but which one has the ability to win?

I, of course, think it’s more than winning. It’s about who can do the job most effectively.

We all know McCain chose Palin because she is a woman. Sure, she has some political experience (after all she is a governor and was a mayor just two years ago), and she definitely has the staunch-republican part down pat. McCain wanted a woman so he could win the right-wing feminist votes and flip-flop Hillary supporters. Her debut was well received, but after the embarrassing CBS interview Palin’s approval ratings dropped and cut her favorable percentages in half.

Obama, seemingly smart in most political areas, is only lacking in the years of experience. So, of course, he chose Joe Biden. A quick-witted and intelligent man with the years of experience needed to back Obama’s ticket. Many people were disappointed with Obama’s choice, but I thought it was a spectacular move. If he had chose Hillary, Obama’s voice would have surely been overshadowed. Biden nicely compliments his mission and gives credibility to the campaign.

McCain thought he could fool Americans with a woman, but Obama didn’t choose that route. He saw his weaknesses and conquered with Biden – but Obama did it in a respectful fashion. Biden isn’t just a spokesperson for Obama’s campaign. Biden isn’t on the ticket for his gender, age or “good looks.” He is on the ticket for his experience and knowledge. Palin only brings her gender to the table. She does not bring experience, knowledge or credibility to McCain’s ticket – and McCain was naïve enough to think that her gender would be enough to win American voters.

Anyway, I am getting a little side tracked here. I believe the American party system and politics in general is in dire need of repair. American’s are too focused on the cards within our poker hands. Why do race, gender, and age even need to make the difference? Shouldn’t it simply be about the issues?

This election has become clouded with biased opinions on Obama’s color, McCain’s age, and Palin’s gender. People need to realize that it is so much more than that. Our economy is hanging by a thread, our energy crisis is hovering over the horizon and the wallowing environment is dangling over our children’s heads like a bowling ball on the edge of a shelf.

Tomorrow’s political competitors do not need an additional layer of skin, they need a wake-up call. They need to shake Americans and hit us hard with facts, not just the flashy commercials and hyped speeches on age, race and gender.
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Life is too short to waste it away with insignificant matters, such as the political game of poker. Politics cannot be a game anymore. It needs to be something reliable and honest - with no cheaters allowed.


General Colin Powell summed up this issue for me brilliantly on Meet the Press on Sunday. He criticized the tone of this political campaign and specifically mentioned the attempt by some Republicans to convince others that Barack Obama is a Muslim. "The correct answer to that," said the General" is that he's not a Muslim. He's a Christian and he has always been a Christian. But the RIGHT answer is," the General continued, "so what if Barack Obama IS a Muslim?...Cannot Muslim children in this country believe that they too can grow up to be President of the United States?" Brilliant. In response to the claim that Obama somehow doesn't share America's Small Town Values, Powell said "every town has values, not just small towns."

Religion has been a part of every Presidential Campaign, probably since the very first, but, it's only recently that Religion has been used as a weapon. Somehow "Christian" values have become synonymous with "American" values. By implication something other than "Christian" values are portrayed as un-American. This probably reached its peak during the 2004 campaign when Republicans were perfectly comfortable saying that, if you're not a Republican, you must be immoral because Republicans are Christians and Christian morality is the only valid morality. And it is this mixing of religion and politics that has perhaps caused the nastiest of tones to prevail. When you believe that God is on your side and motivating everything that you do, then any means you employ are OK because it's all inspired by God, right? You can't possibly do any wrong. I like what Abraham Lincoln said about religion as justification for a political cause..."let us not pray that God is on our side, but rather, that we are on His" placing the onus on the believer to strive to know God's will instead of placing the onus on God to bend to ours.

Fear has become one of the most often used weapons in politics; fear of the unknown, fear of the "other," fear of change, fear of more of the same. Campaigns use phrases like "he doesn't think like us" or, "she hates America" or "they don't share our values." A Republican Congresswoman from Minnesota actually told Chris Mathews that the Media should begin investigating Members of Congress and expose those who's beliefs are "anti-American." (No, her name wasn't McCarthy). Again, it somehow seems that Republicans have seemed much more comfortable employing these tactics than Democrats. It seems the Republican strategy has usually been to win the election (any election) by 50-percent-plus-one vote. In Presidential Elections, the strategy is simply to win 270 electoral votes, even if you lose the popular vote. And it doesn't really matter what you have to do to get there. Winning is the only thing. The problem is that this "scorched earth" brand of politics divides even the most hardened political professionals to such an extent that it makes it nearly impossible to heal those divisions once it's time to actually move on and govern the country. I mean, it's pretty hard to work with someone after they've spent the last several months questioning your morality, your patriotism, your honesty, your intelligence and even your parentage.

In a lot of ways, I'm afraid that strategists and party machinery have taken over political campaigns to such an extent that they candidates themselves are barely able to control them. While I've heard both Barack Obama and John McCain speak well of each other, it's hard to find many examples of either man's surrogates doing the same.

I am hopeful, JW, that this presidential campaign will spell the end of tactics meant to dishearten one's opponent in favor of tactics more likely to inspire one's supporters. I hope that an Obama victory will lend credibility to his notion that "we can disagree without being disagreeable."

What do you think would happen if I went down to Walmart this afternoon and said, "I want to apply for the store manager job advertised in the newspaper?"

The customer service employee would tell me to fill out an application and wait to hear if I got an interview.

And suppose they got just four applications...one from a guy who has worked retail for a few years, but has never been a supervisor...two from guys that worked their whole lives as car salesmen (good ones, but car salesmen), and one from someone who has worked as a manager at Burger King for 2 years.

Honestly, who do you think is the front runner? The one who has actually had some experience doing what the job entails...running a shift. Anyone that thinks they can apply for a managerial job with no practical supervisory experience has not been part of a job hunt recently.

Why shouldn't we hold our elected officials to the same standard Walmart does?

The reality of this election is that there are jerks that won't vote for Obama because he's black...or young. And there are jerks who won't vote for McCain because he's old. And there are jerks who won't want Biden because he's temperamental. And there are jerks who won't vote for Palin because she's a woman.

These individual characteristics are non-issues. The only thing relevant is each candidate's ability to lead...and we should make that judgement based on how they led in the past.

Of all the candidates, I think Palin should be most offended. Those who say Obama can't lead because he's black only show their own ignorance...just as those who think McCain can't because he's old. It doesn't say anything negative about Obama or McCain...it only points out the absurdity of the one making the comment.

In Palin's case, however, they ARE attacking her ability based on experience WHILE saying she was only chosen because she was a woman. I would find that highly offensive. I certainly don't recall people saying Bill Clinton wasn't qualified to run for President because he was ONLY Governor of tiny little Arkansas...or the same for Bush, or Reagan, or FDR, or Jimmy Carter, or any other President who prepared for the White House/Vice Presidency by serving time as a Governor.

Frankly, neither candidate is really appealing. Both are sticking close to their base, and neither is willing to "REALLY" tell the American people what their administration will be like. My gut tells me McCain's talk is closer to his walk than Obama's. Particularly after hearing phrases like "sharing the wealth". People may want a change from the past few years...but I'm quite certain what they don't want is a Modern Day Socialist.

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