Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuit: Voting for your heroes, even when they’re not on the ballot…

It’s Election Day! In hopefully less than 24 hours, this whole reality-show-gone-wrong election season will come to an end. It’s easy to be fed up with the whole thing – the campaigns (including the primary season) have been going on for more than a year. Most of the campaigns failed to really cover themselves in glory, eschewing discussion of policy and concrete plans for our country’s future and instead focused on differing levels of personal attacks, sound bites, and — with certain candidates — statements that would have immediately forced them to drop out in previous years. Really, it’s been a hell of a thing.And amidst all that, a couple of things went seemingly unnoticed. For all the sharp elbows and sharper rhetoric, the Democratic Party primary actually had some substance and did what major party primaries are supposed to do — decide on a qualified candidate, and position the party at a sweet spot (more or less) politically and it did it by consensus. Yes, it was a mess, and the candidate I supported in the primaries did not win the nomination. But again, it did what the whole process is supposed to do. It’s never perfect and there is still much work to do to improve it and the Party itself over the next four years. However, even as messy and contested as it was, it still was 100-percent more successful than the GOP process, where they ended up with neither a qualified candidate or a party platform that has much broad appeal.

Now, as I said, my candidate didn’t win the Democratic nomination, but I will be voting for Hillary later today. Initially I thought I would be doing it somewhat grudgingly – I have never been a particular fan of either Bill or Hillary, their politics has always been more moderate-to-right of my own. That said, both are impressive public servants who have accomplished much – and while they are also flawed human beings to be sure (who isn’t?), you can’t really argue that Hillary isn’t qualified to hold the office of President.

Part of my increased willingness to vote for Hillary is of course due to her opponent: a man-child who is more notable for his tantrums than his policies and who really seems to be an amalgamation of every dystopian dictator ever conceived of in science fiction. He’s not just a bad candidate, he’s genuinely a bad human being – I honestly feel sorry for anyone who has to ever interact with him.

But there’s more to it than that. As many of you know, my mother was the first woman elected to the US Congress from Virginia. And while that is certainly her most high profile accomplishment, it hardly even begins to give an outline of what she’s accomplished. From her early days of being called “honey” by other legislators in the Virginia General Assembly, she always had to fight twice as hard and do twice as much — and still she was constantly belittled and underestimated. But she always did it with a smile on her face (though sometimes it was more of a clenched teeth thing) because she knew that was how you beat them. I was still a teenager when she first got in to politics, and I remember all too well complete strangers calling her a “bitch” to my face (as well as “baby killing lesbian” and many other colorful phrases). While male legislators were lauded for being leaders when they played hardball, my mom was chided for being too hard, too partisan, too …bitchy.

She summed it up well in a quote from a news article about one of her congressional campaigns:

“What comes across in men as ‘fighter, outspoken, champion of the people’ comes across in women differently,” Byrne said. “There was the constant tension between getting the facts out and going toe–to–toe with him, and not wanting to be perceived as pushy [or] brassy.”

Baker, “Byrne Was Subtle in Trailblazer Role.”

So the gender-based double-standard that Clinton has always faced is something I am more familiar with than most men. And as the son of a politician, I also know how intense campaigning really is. Think about the hardest job you’ve ever done – the worst hours, the worst people, whatever it is, and now imagine doing that 18 to 20 hours a day for a year, and you’ve got some idea of what it’s like to run for public office. It’s awful in a way that no one who hasn’t done it can truly appreciate. Sure it looks like a sweet gig from the outside, but from the inside, you realize that no one does this lightly.

I saw my mother in the final weeks of a campaign subtly wincing when people hugged her because of a cracked rib she got from a bad bout of walking pneumonia. I saw her sacrifice and overcome continuously throughout her career in public office – and through it all, no matter what she accomplished and what good she did, there was a certain portion of voters who disliked her just because of her gender and because she “didn’t know her place.”

As I said at the beginning, I had planned on grudgingly voting for Clinton today – my lack of enthusiasm was not because of the emails or anything that’s actually been covered by the “press” (sarcastic quotes are sarcastic!) this election season, but because of my slight disagreements on matters of policy. However, since the conventions and as the two major party candidates have campaigned, I couldn’t help but notice that same double-standard I saw with my mom come up again and again, but amplified by it being a national race. And in the past month or so, I’ve come to realize something: I’m actually glad to vote for Hillary.

Let’s do a little though experiment – imagine if Hillary was a man. Would the email server thing still be an issue? Probably, but only a minor one. After all, men have been elected to the Oval Office after having done much worse. But as a woman, Hillary is somehow being held to a higher standard. The whole controversy comes across as mansplaining on an incredible level: “Well actually, what you should have done is…”. The State Department has almost the same number of employees as Cisco or Whole Foods and I’d say a higher than average amount of red tape for a federal agency, and in the same position, I doubt many of those crying foul would have done much differently in her shoes. It was still a mistake, but let’s not act like this was some huge catastrophe. The email “scandal” is serving the same role that the stupid “secret Muslim”/birther crap did in 2008 and 2012 with Obama – it gives cover for prejudice.

And to play out this experiment, imagine if Donald Trump was a woman. I know, I know – wrong for a whole bunch of reasons, but when you boil it all down, listen to any of his speeches and try and tell me it’s any different than Sarah Palin’s usual word salad. His whole “appeal” is that he’s perceived to be some sort of uber alpha male (which is really laughable if you have half a brain). Can anyone claim that if the race today was between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, that Palin would be polling anywhere close to where Trump is? Of course not. And yet the only real difference is that Trump is a man.

When I walk into the voting booth today, I will be voting for Hillary, not just against Trump. Partly because she is unquestionably the only truly qualified person in the race (third party candidates most definitely included), and partly because of  all I’ve seen and experienced being my mother’s son.

Both my parents are long-time Clinton supporters – they campaigned hard for Bill in 1992. My dad served as the Assistant Administrator at US AID, and in addition to working with the White House while she was in Congress, after leaving Congress, my mom became the White House Consumer Advocate under Bill Clinton. For my mom though, her connection with Hillary goes deeper than that – sort of a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuit 🙂 They’ve both had to deal with the fact that some people hate them – not because of what they believe or what they’ve done, but merely because of their gender and their unwillingness to stay silent, stay meek, and stay out of public office.

I’m cautiously optimistic that Hillary will win this thing today – and once inaugurated, I am sure that I will have differences of opinion with her administration’s policies, but I am certain that for whatever successes and failures there are, we as a society will have moved a tiny bit forward and that the world my son and daughter inherit will be a tiny bit more just.

And personally most important to me: the sacrifices and hard work of one of my heroes will have helped make it possible. Thanks mom – this vote is for you! ❤



I am not fighting for your rights.

I am not fighting for your rights.

I don’t care where you fall on the various spectra of gender, race, ethnicity, belief, socioeconomic class, or sexual orientation. I don’t care if you accept or reject anyone’s ability to label you with any of those things. I don’t care if you’ve lived a life with or without privilege.

It doesn’t matter to me whether you’ve been a perpetrator or a victim of oppression and assault. It doesn’t matter to me if you’ve been shamed or done the shaming. It doesn’t matter to me whether the laughter has fallen hard upon your ears or been launched like a bullet out of your mouth.

Your views on sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll are immaterial to me. As is the taxonomy of your uniqueness as a snowflake.

I am not fighting for your rights.

I am not fighting for my rights.

I am not even fighting for the rights of my children.

I am fighting for the only rights that matter.

I am fighting for our rights. Each and every goddamn one of us.

The people we hate. The people who are different. The people who hate us.

Because the moment I stop fighting for our rights and start fighting for my rights is the moment I lose.

This late night rant brought to you by seeing too much activism simply degrade into bullying and identity politics. You want to bring about change? You want equality, civil rights, and social justice? Then work to bring it about for everyone, because every case of inequality and oppression throughout history is the result of someone else getting what was theirs and then deciding that was enough.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Election Night 2013 – Why this was not a great victory for Virginia Democrats *updated*

I should remind myself not to go number diving on election night, it’s depressing even on the nights we win sometimes.

Total voter turnout for Virginia’s gubernatorial races:
2001: 46.38%
2005: 44.96%
2009: 40.37%
2013: ~39% or so it looks like IMO
[from Virginia State Board of Elections]

This is a very bad trend. Democrats may have won for Governor and for Lt. Gov (and perhaps by some miracle Attorney General as well), but less than 20% of registered voters voted for them. 71.78% of Virginia voters turned out for last year’s presidential election and 1.9M of them voted for Obama – there’s a *TOTAL* of 2.2M voters this year. Now I know as well as anyone how hard it is to get people to vote in non-presidential election years, but this goes beyond “it doesn’t even look like we’re trying” to “we’re measurably getting worse at this.”

I started out in Virginia politics back at the beginning of the 1980s at the same time my parents did (the events naturally having a strong causality). Perhaps it’s just nostalgia on my part, but it seems to me that the Virginia Democratic Party of the 1980s (old-school as it was) would run circles around the Virginia Democratic Party of the 2010s with all its fundraising, social media, and complete lack of a party-wide, county-by-county, precinct-by-precinct, from-the-ground-up GOTV effort.

*UPDATE* Okay, so was about to turn in for the night when I found a table of voter turnout in Virginia since 1976 (from — style annotations are my own: bold = presidential election years and italics  = gubernatorial elections. And the 2013 numbers are estimates based on the results with 99.27% reporting and the Nov.1 registration stats)

What the chart below shows is that we used to have about 80% turnout for presidential elections and about 60%+ turnout for gubernatorial years. Basically starting in ’96 we start drifting down to the 70% range for presidential election turnouts and have a precipitous drop to the 40% range for governor races. Basically, the best we ever did in terms of voter turnout during a gubernatorial race in recent history was 1989 — the year we elected Douglas Wilder as the first African-American Governor of Virginia and we did it with 66.5% voter turnout. As Democrats, we know we’re strongest when turnout is high, and yet as I pointed out, that hasn’t seemed to be the focus of the party for some time now.

Summary of Virginia Registration& Turnout Statistics
November General Elections: 1976 – Present
Year Total Registered % Change from Previous Year Total Voting Turnout(% Voting of Total Registered)
2013 5,240,452 -3.5% 2,160,068 41.2%
2012 5,428,833 6.1% 3,896,846 71.78%
2011 5,116,929 1.68% 1,463,761 28.61%
2010 5,032,144 1.54% 2,214,503 44.01%
2009 4,955,750 -1.57% 2,000,812 40.4%
2008 5,034,660 10.7% 3,752,858 74.5%
2007 4,549,864 – 0.1% 1,374,526 30.2%
2006 4,554,683 2.3% 2,398,589 52.7%
2005 4,452,225 – 1.5% 2,000,052 45.0%
2004 4,517,980 7.1% 3,223,156 71.4%
2003 4,217,227 – 0.1% 1,296,955 30.8%
2002 4,219,957 2.7% 1,331,915 39.4%
2001 4,109,127 0.9% 1,905,511 46.4%
2000 4,073,644 7.0% 2,789,808 68.5%
1999 3,808,754 2.3% 1,373,527 36.1%
1998 3,724,683 4.5% 1,229,139 33.0%
1997 3,565,697 7.3% 1,764,476 49.5%
1996* 3,322,740 9.4% 2,468,229 74.3%
1995 3,038,394 1.3% 1,585,783 52.2%
1994 3,000,560 0.9% 2,078,106 69.3%
1993 2,975,121 -2.6%** 1,817,777 61.1%
1992 3,055,486 9.4% 2,582,966 84.5%
1991 2,791,747 2.1% 1,371,940 49.1%
1990 2,735,339 -0.1% 1,252,971 45.8%
1989 2,737,340 -4.9%** 1,821,242 66.5%
1988 2,877,144 8.3% 2,231,876 77.6%
1987 2,657,412 1.8% 1,571,110 59.1%
1986 2,609,698 0.5% 1,115,179 42.7%
1985 2,597,904 -2.9%** 1,377,966 53.0%
1984 2,675,641 14.8% 2,180,515 81.5%
1983 2,330,595 4.3% 1,178,707 50.6%
1982 2,234,011 0.9% 1,454,628 65.1%
1981 2,214,926 -4.1%** 1,437,382 64.8%
1980 2,309,181 12.6% 1,881,648 81.4%
1979 2,050,499 1.2% 1,059,158 51.6%
1978 2,026,515 0.2% 1,251,471 61.7%
1977 2,022,619 -4.8%** 1,267,208 62.7%
1976 2,123,849 1,716,182 80.8%

Let’s not meet in the middle… Political deadlock and how money changes everything

Ahh, the heady warm-breeze of overheated election year politics. And amidst all the claims and counter-claims, many talking heads and regular citizens bemoan the lack of civility and the intransigent deadlock of the extremes of both parties working against each other. These protestations are almost always concluded with a sad shaking of the head and a fervent call to embrace the ideological middle ground so that some progress can be made.


Okay, not the lack of civility — that really is a problem and more on that later. What I’m calling “horseshit” is this belief that the ideological extremes of both parties are holding us all hostage. Hell, even Scientific American gave this some credibility with their interview of researcher Jonathan Haidt (who recently published a book titled “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.”). Mr. Haidt’s view is that the country has been splitting apart into different cultures and that is the source of all our woes. Some quotes from the interview:

But as the culture war between left and right was heating up, and as the two parties were completing their 30 year process of segregating into a pure liberal party and a pure conservative party, I began to see left and right in this country as being like different cultures.


Ultimately, the solutions to our polarization and political dysfunction will be legal and institutional changes which reduce the power of extremists in both parties, and which force the parties back to their traditional strategy of competing for the middle, rather than the strategy, used since 2004, of pleasing one’s own base.

I find a number of faults with his assumptions and his proposed solutions, but I do think they’re examples of what many well-meaning folks believe.

I think the easiest way to start examining this is to look at the Democratic and Republican parties and the ideological underpinnings of the American voter. First, let’s see where the numbers are for registered voters by party identity, according to the folks at Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:

From the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

As you can see, we’re all divided, by party identification, into roughly thirds. This isn’t just true now, but has been roughly true for many, many decades. Democrats, while generally enjoying an advantage in sheer numbers, have lost a few, while independents have grown and Republicans have remained fairly constant. How does this tie into the above points by Mr. Haidt? Well, if the major political parties were truly becoming more polarized, we’d expect to see the numbers above for both parties dropping and independents increasing as the moderates in both parties felt excluded and move to an independent status. That does not seem to be the case at all.

But let’s not get stuck on party labels – after all, the ideologies of the parties can change over time. Let’s look at a breakdown of American voters by ideology and let’s throw some more years in there. This is from the American National Election Studies:

Again, you see some fluctuations, but nothing really out of a fairly confined range. The only real datapoint that stands out to me is the number who reported “Don’t know / Haven’t thought about it” which had a significant jump from 1980 through 1990 before settling down again up until 2008. Maybe what some folks are seeing is that since roughly the middle of George H. W. Bush’s administration, people have become less apathetic? Many of the media talking heads voicing distaste for partisan discourse are age 40 and up – might they just have been strongly influenced by becoming aware of politics in their 20s and 30s when strong ideological beliefs had a momentary lull? I’m not certain, but it does seem like it might be a contributing factor.

So where is this unprecedented great divide that’s breaking our country apart? Party identification hasn’t really changed. Self-identification to slices of the ideological spectrum don’t seem to have shifted much. If you can bear with me for one more table, let’s look at the strength of independents compared to partisans of both parties. Again, this from the American National Election Studies:

This is perhaps the biggest refutation possible of the idea that partisan ideology is the source of gridlock or pretty much anything else. From 1952 up until 1964 we saw those strongly partisan as fairly stable and then in 1966 it fell off a cliff and never really recovered. Weakly leaning partisans however saw a pretty big fall off in 1986, and again pretty consistent downward trend. Meanwhile, those leaning independent started a steady, but occasionally fluctuating rise starting in 1972, while those solidly independent have remained fairly stable with but small bump between 1966 and 1982.

BTW, for those wondering what might have started these trends, there were probably a number of factors. My guess would be changes that started post-1964 were as a result of the Civil Rights Act causing a major restructuring of voting blocks (Southern whites leaving the Democratic Party, progressive Republicans reclassifying themselves as independent and occasionally voting Democratic), disaffection amongst some former Republicans after the loss of Barry Goldwater, and then further pushes towards the middle in the post-Watergate era.

According to the numbers above, we are actually MORE nonpartisan now than we have been in 60 years. The combined independent and leaning independent blocks have gone from 26% to 40% in that timeframe. And ideologically, the numbers haven’t budged significantly in 40 years. America has maintained the basic ideological patterns, while the numbers of those strongly identifying as the extremes of the major parties has decreased. I won’t bother with another table, but if you’re interested, here’s a page showing degrees of party identification for the past 60 years. Neither ideological or partisan extremes are the issue at all.

Why can’t we get anything done? That really is the million dollar question.The cheap and easy-to-answer question (which has probably already occurred to some of you): Okay, so the voters haven’t changed, but what about our elected officials? This is where it gets interesting – by nearly every serious measure devised, the U.S. Congress is more sharply polarized along partisan lines than it has been in a very long time.

There’s lots of people who have sought to measure, quantify, and analyze this partisan divide in Congress. From the voteview blog (some of the folks best at this), comes what should hopefully be my last chart:

What this shows is the size of the partisan divides in the U.S. House and the Senate. You’ll notice that since 1977, the US House has gotten more divided every single year since then (other than  brief plateaus between 1985 and 1987, and 2005 and 2009). The US Senate, on the other hand, has only been on an uninterrupted rise since 2003.

We have a country that has essentially remained unchanged in terms of our ideological and partisan makeup for 60 years, and yet within that same time-frame, our elected officials have indeed become more divided. This makes absolutely no sense, right?! It would seem almost surreal to say that in a country with a representative democracy, we’d see this kind of split between what the voters believe and how their representatives operate.

Surreal or not though, that’s exactly where we are. …at least in terms of a division existing between both parties. But is it their ideology/partisanship that is really to blame, or something else?

Whenever I think about this, and similar stories have been mentioned a number of times this election cycle, I always think about how it used to be. Speaker of the House (and Massachusetts liberal) Tip O’Neill would indeed have a regular end-of-the-week drink with President (and Republican Golden Idol) Ronald Reagan. Can you imagine current GOP House Speaker Boehner sitting back with President Obama, having a drink and just talking? Me neither. And, after a lifetime of being an inside-the-Beltway-brat, my understanding is that was just how it was done throughout much of our nation’s modern history.

Perhaps more importantly was how opposing partisans worked together. Liberal Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy regularly worked with some of the most conservative Senators like Jesse Helms, Orrin Hatch, and many others (and they with him) to draft legislation. In fact, to get anything done back in the day, what had to happen was that the extremes had to talk to each other, come up with a workable plan both could support, and the moderates in the middle would follow. The solutions never really came from the middle, they came from both extremes hashing out a compromise and the middle following suit.

What caused the shift away from this compromise-based approach to legislation? After all, this is clearly an effect and not a cause. If the voters aren’t the problem, and the past shows us that the extremes used to be instrumental in forging consensus, what changed? There’s a number of causes, but I think it comes down to the following, in order of priority:

  1. Money: It really does seem to me to be the root of all evil. It’s tied directly to the influence of lobbyists, the revolving door between Capitol Hill (for both those elected and their staff) and the lobbyists, the cost of elections, and all the other ways those with power use money to generate influence, power, and more money. It is the only force capable of the complete subversion of the will of the people we see from both parties. Just since 1998, we’ve seen the amount reported being spent on lobbying go from $1.44 Billion dollars a year to $3.33 Billion in 2011. It’s more than doubled in the space of 13 years. And since the number of lobbyists has stayed steady (even dropping in recent years), where do you think all that money is going? And as the hunt for money for elections has heated up, what legislator can afford to be seen compromising with their colleagues across the aisle? The cherry on this little shitty sundae is of course the Citizen’s United decision which further eroded what minor checks there were in place to control the effect of money in politics.
  2. Redistricting: Most people aren’t even aware of how this process occurs. In most states, after the decennial census, state legislators revise the congressional districts, often subject to approval by the state’s governor. To do this in a partisan manner is called gerrymandering, as it is quite easy to, for example, move two congressional representatives from an opposing party into the same district or redraw the district’s boundaries to make the seat harder for the opposing party to hold. That was gerrymandering 1.0. The current version is far more insidious — it basically comes down to a gentleman’s agreement to keep the districts as strongly partisan as possible, thus ensuring easy elections for both parties (for more on the problem and possible solutions, see’s resources on this). And because both parties are doing this, no one says anything. Some states (only six to be precise) have independent bodies do the redistricting, but as these bodies are often appointed through bipartisan action, it doesn’t really change much. This is the power of incumbency taken to a ridiculous and ultimately damaging extreme. Fixing this would work far better and more democratically than something like term limits. Honestly, all it would take is a truly independent body that relied exclusively on a straightforward software application to parse the census data and, following the federal guidelines (these are federal elections after all), redraw the districts. Interestingly enough, many such software programs exist already — used by both parties to ensure their re-elections. If you want to take a detailed look at what exactly this would mean, check out this Daily Kos piece on nonpartisan redistricting.
  3. The media: With the rise of 24-hour news channels, “news” has become big business. And they’ve got a lot of time to fill. This, far more than the Internet, has been what really killed newspapers, and the traditional role of journalists along with it. It’s true that the Internet does make it harder for newspapers to capture eyeballs, but they’d already been losing them to TV for years. With the cable news networks, newspapers not only lost subscribers, they lost their relevance in being the “first” with the news as well as all their journalistic integrity. Quality of newspaper coverage has generally been trending downward in quality because it’s very hard for cogent, reasoned analysis to compete with the immediate timeliness and flash of TV or Internet news sources. And rather than falling back on what made them special and unique, newspapers seem intent on a race to the bottom. The result, more superficial coverage that pretends to be news and is actually just reciting talking points, which either with or without partisan spin is not the same as “journalism.”

The second issue above is the easiest to address and fix. The first is definitely a little more difficult, as every previous effort to contain the power and influence of money in politics has found. However, it still should be able to be made better than it is now. The third issue is not fixable from the outside in my opinion. I do remain optimistic though that it will be fixed…somehow.

In the end, we have the government we deserve, as it was still, however imperfectly, elected. We’re all victims and we’re all to blame, and no one can fix it except us. Sucks, huh? But not surprising. Welcome to representative democracy. Changes in election laws, campaign financing and technology have created a vacuum that allows money to have a greater and greater effect on not only elections, but the legislative and governing processes that occur afterwards.

But it can be fixed. As stated and shown above, the American public still contains roughly the same distribution of ideologies. We know what worked before in terms of progress coming from ideas and compromises by the extremes of both parties. In short, we know why it used to work and is now broken. The only thing left to do is figure out the details of how we get back to there from here.

Note: For those who fault the above analysis because it only looks at the partisan and ideological leanings of registered voters instead of the populace at large, too bad. If you don’t at least register to vote and then make your way to the voting booth, guess what? Your opinion doesn’t matter. Apathy is not a viable political philosophy.

Hacking The Body Politic

The intersection (or lack thereof) between geeks and politics

I’m going to start off by apologizing. I’m about to do something I hate to do, because I find it to be a cliché – I’m starting off a piece of writing with a definition. I only do it because I will be addressing several meanings of the word, and rather than stating it all mixed in with the text, I figured I’d tee it up here right at the top.

politics: noun (Etymology: Greek politika, from neuter plural of politikos political; Date: circa 1529)

1 a : the art or science of government; b : the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy; c : the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government
: political actions, practices, or policies;
3 a
: political affairs or business; especially : competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government); b : political life especially as a principal activity or profession c : political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices;
: the political opinions or sympathies of a person;
5 a
: the total complex of relations between people living in society; b : relations or conduct in a particular area of experience especially as seen or dealt with from a political point of view <office politics> <ethnic politics>

Sorry! Okay, now on to defining “geek” . . . Just fooling! Really, that’s just a tar baby I’m not going to rassle with. Anyway, for a word that gets thrown around so much, those are a lot of definitions!

Of course, politics is a very topical word right now as we’re about to come up on another Election Day, and yet another occasion where I’ll probably look around afterward and say “Bu..but, we’re smarter than that, I swear!” (Note: I’m not saying all liberals are smart or that all smart people are liberal — far from it. More just that smart people on either side of the aisle seem to be a vanishing breed.)

Every Election Day highlights personally for me another aspect of my multi-faceted geekdom. In addition to the techie, movie, foodie, and other types of geek I seem to express, I’m also a huge political geek – both by having been involved on a more intimate-than-usual level and through my own personality and interests. What always has struck me as shocking is how few other types of geeks crossover into politics as well. I mean I am used to a certain level of ambivalence to politics from the general population (amazing what randomly knocking on people’s doors and asking them to vote for somebody will reveal), but generally geeks of all stripes seem to eschew politics more strongly than is usual.

Why is that?

I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years — as much in an effort to reconcile different strains of my own personality as to explain any broader social trend. I don’t think I’ve got all the answers (*gasp!* Yes, you all now have that in writing), but I do think I have some outline of the issues. The following are some generalizations, and are to be taken as such. I’m describing what I’ve seen in my own experience, not the individual and unique snowflake that is you or anyone in particular. 🙂

  1. Geeks tend to be introverts
  2. Geeks tend to avoid conflict, except in certain controlled or vaguely ritualized circumstances
  3. Geeks tend to shy away from anything that is too fuzzy or ill-defined (entirely subjective of course)
  4. Geeks have few good “geek” role-models to look to in public office (More politicians are like the former actor Ronald Reagan than the former nuclear engineer Jimmy Carter).
  5. Geeks see politics as nothing but a beauty contest/popularity contest and we all know how geeks fare in those, right? 🙂
  6. Even if a geek is willing to be engaged and active in politics, the underlying political structures are messy, inefficient, and not prone to rigid analysis (we all love analysis in some form or another, right?)

Why is this a problem? Why do geeks need to be involved in politics? Because geeks have what the system needs to work! Think about it!

  1. Geeks are passionate (my pseudo-definition of “geek” = passionate about a topic beyond reason)
  2. Geeks tend to be smart  (not necessarily “educated” as I refuse to say the two equate) and interested in the world around them.
  3. Geeks are problem-solvers – we’re all about hacking something to get it to do what needs to be done (my pseudo-definition of “hacking” = an elegant solution to an inelegant problem)
  4. Geeks are creative. This can be debated, but I stand by it — hands down, all the geeks I know are far more creative (in a broad sense) than others
  5. Geeks are good at analysis. We like details. Hell, whether you’re talking about video games, movies, comic books, or food — every geek culture is built on the analysis and debate of minutiae that nobody else pays any attention to.

Geeks, by and large, have the tools to be a force in politics, just seemingly not the will. I’ve seen and heard it a hundred times, “I don’t talk politics,” or “Why bother? It’s just politics” or something similar. This from the same people who will have no problem debating Kirk vs. Picard for the 173rd time, or who will happily engage in holy war over how the latest film adaption got everything wrong from the comic book. It’s really one of the only times I feel disappointed in my fellow geeks.

The rules by which we govern ourselves as a society, and the process by which those rules are discussed and created, are arguably the most important subjects we can debate. No matter how big a fan we are, who is directing The Hobbit, where it’s being filmed, or who will be starring in it are not that important against that larger backdrop. More fun to discuss sometimes certainly, and by no means am I saying we should stop — I’m simply saying we need to carve a little time and mental cycles out of our day to focus on this other stuff too.

The media is currently at a fevered hum spinning out new political coverage, chewing it up and regurgitating it back-out – then saying they don’t like the look of the dog’s breakfast that it is, and starting it all over again. We have the Tea Party, about which much has been said and written, but about which not much is known — mostly because it simply exists to fill the vacuum that was left after the Democrat’s wins in 2006 and 2008, and it as much a media creation as an honest and reasoned ideological reaction to anything going on. To put it in the parlance of a particular geek subset – Obama winning was like Superman killing Luthor, Darkseid, and Braniac all at once, and the writers needed to create a new villain to keep the narrative going.

You know what’s missing from what I described above? Reasoned debate. Honest exchange of differing opinions. Rational compromises that move us closer to shared goals. In short, all stuff that geeks are better suited than most to contribute to.

Yes, politics is messy. Yes, it can be filled with the kind of internecine exchanges that demonstrate the worst of ourselves. And yes, there are a 1,001 reasons not to become involved.

But as geeks, I ask you this – when presented with an opportunity to make the world what it should be (United Federation of Planets, flying cars, cures for cancer, jet packs, lightsabers, the whole shebang), how can we refuse? Do you want to continue to live in a world where celebrity is a more valuable asset than knowledge? Do you want to live in a world where glib easy answers are accepted because no one stood up and said “That’s not right!”

Or do you want to live in a world where merit truly is rewarded, where the opportunity exists to invent our future not reinvent our past, and where those rules we govern ourselves by are arrived at through intelligent discourse and debate, and yes, sometimes compromise. How you think we should arrive at such a world will largely shape where you fall on the political spectrum, and honestly I don’t care if you land on the same place I do. I do care about whether you’re on that spectrum to begin with – because otherwise you’re letting other people decide your fate. All our geek heroes, in fine Joseph Campbell tradition, helped to shape their own fates – that’s why their stories captured our attention and interest. Sure, there was always stuff outside their control, but that’s what makes the story interesting.

So, what can you do? Well, I’ll make it easy for now — Go vote tomorrow. If you haven’t followed the candidates in your area up until now, spend some time researching on their websites and Google tonight and then go vote. Even if your candidate isn’t forecast to win. Just go vote. Really.

After tomorrow? Well, I will be writing more about this in upcoming articles. Essentially (and hopefully!) providing a series of geek-centric tutorials on how to be politically informed and involved. Think of it as cutting through the crappy GUI that gets put on politics, learning to get to the command line, and being given root on the political process.

Again, whether you’re liberal or conservative is immaterial – it’s about being informed and involved. And as I’ve discovered, geeks have a wonderful ability to be a transformative force on so many things, I’m hoping the same holds true here.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Gandhi  (Philosophizer, activist, and honestly, a bit of a geek himself)

Oh, and for those looking for a few chuckles, read my Election Day post from 2008:  A Portrait of a Poll Worker