Vote 2012: Before we talk Obama vs Romney, let’s explore our core beliefs

We the PeopleObama vs Romney. McCain vs Obama. Bush vs Kerry. Gore vs Bush. Is the polarization of the candidates due to our being easily swayed by smears, minutiae, and manipulation? Or is it because we have fundamental disagreements on what our political and economic systems should look like?

I’d like to explore the latter.

I’m talking about how we organize as a group of 314 million individuals, the grand experiment in self-government that was launched 236 years ago and will hopefully extend through future generations.

So let’s take a break from the campaign crud and think beyond the relative temporariness of the faces we’ve grown to love and/or hate.

It’s more difficult to examine your core beliefs than to “go with your gut” on a candidate, and I hope you’ll indulge me in this — just four questions about what your core beliefs are on human nature (how much oversight is needed?) and the role of government (what should one set of people do to correct for the failings of another set?).

Answer the following questions  by  posting on your own blog  or by leaving  a comment. I’d like to reach beyond my own readers to see others’ ideas of utopia. I don’t even need to say that we should stay respectful, right?

Whether you are in or outside of the US, I am interested in hearing from you.


A. Overall,1 do you believe people are basically bad (1) or good (100)? Try to put a number on it.

B. Overall, do you think the better economic system would reward people based on what they need or on what they deserve (meaning what people will pay for one’s skills/talents/expertise, according to its value to them)? Again, put a number on it, with (1) favoring need and (100) favoring deserve.

Note: admittedly we could have a whole other discussion about what someone “needs” and “deserves.”

C. What do you think are the main functions of government (say, 3-5 of them)? You could do one list for Federal and another for State & Local. If you need inspiration, you can check the preamble  of the US Constitution.

D. In an ideal society, what percentage of the wealth created by citizens should go to fund government?2 In other words, what portion of the fruits of your labor should be spent at the discretion of you and your family, and what portion should fund the functions of government you list in Question C?

That’s it! Not that difficult, right? Visit the posts of others to learn about viewpoints besides your own.

Tune in next week for a follow up post on values clarification.

1 Yes, in all these rating questions there will be “it depends” and “in some cases” and innumerable qualifiers. I am asking you to think overall.
2 As a benchmark, all three levels of government consumed 40.6% in 2011 (data from Economic Report of the President, February, 2012.)

This post was resurrected and reworked from one I did during the 2008 election.

17 thoughts on “Vote 2012: Before we talk Obama vs Romney, let’s explore our core beliefs”

  1. I believe the issue stems from our 2 party system, something that our forefathers never intended (nor did they intend for ‘campaigning’ in the form we see now). It is not outlined, addressed, or provided for in our constitution.
    A two party system (and, while there are other parties, grass roots, etc, they are not the primary polarizing bodies) is a forced choice (him or him, her or her) and a forced choice system brings out the extremes on the spectrum in order to (magnify) differences.
    SuperPacs are killing any chance we’d have at civility.

    1. I completely agree. And while we are at it, having our President picked by an electoral college as opposed to one person one vote makes no sense in this day and age. This bothers me the most as it means that the only votes that really matter are those of people living in swing states.

  2. Response!

    I’ve been reading your blog a few months now, and want to thank you so much for sharing. I know, that’s the corniest of cornies, but as birth-father in an open adoption rounding its first year, your kind, subtle insight, and relentless willingness to share has really been a boon for me on they journey. I often don’t know what to say to your stories, but as we’ve all been thinking an awful lot about politics, I was warmed up for this one. 🙂


    A. As a Christian, my view of humanity is that we are created in the image and likeness of God, but due to the fall from grace of our first parents, are plagued with concupiscence and therefore unavoidable sinful in nature. I don’t think assigning a number from a scale of 1-100 is terribly meaningful here, but perhaps “50/50” would be appropriate.

    B. 100% in favor of an economy which rewards talent, innovation and hard work. As is manifestly obvious to even a cursory examination of economic successes and failures of the last 200 years (one can even go back as far as antiquity for useful examples and comparisons), the free market is wildly far and away the economic model responsible for more rapid, thorough and expansive economic growth and success for more individuals than any other model, period.

    C. My view of the legitimate functions of the federal government are set forth in the Constitution, and for further elaboration. As a founding document ensuring the maximum freedom of the citizens of the nation it establishes, what’s far more important are the several and explicit LIMITATIONS which the Constitution places on each of the elements of the government our Founders designed, and the dissolution of these boundaries and limits are what has led to the disastrous circumstances with which are are saddled today.

    D. Difficult to set a hard figure as the needs of the nation will change (wartime vs. peacetime being the largest variable), but the answer here should be The MINIMUM POSSIBLE in order for the federal government to execute the functions explicitly set forth in the Constitution. No more, and no less. No “separate-but-equal” benefits packages for government employees, either career or elected. Never a vote for D.C., and furthermore, at this point, I would argue that Northern VA should be folded into D.C. for those purposes – talk about your conflict of interest. And for God’s sake, NO SURPLUSES, ever.

  4. A. 75 some days. 3 other days. 🙂
    B. 51…unless we re-evaluate what deserve means. Paying people who entertain us so much more than people who educate us or heal us seems skewed.
    C. I’m confused about the breakdown on government, because everyone seems to want national standards…and local control. I can’t quite see how both are possible. So, role of government: making laws, providing the military necessary today (not necessarily the one projected to deal with any type of possibility), educating children in order to create good citizens, and making sure that opportunities for all citizens are equal. (Note: I do understand that equality of opportunity does not equal equality of outcome.)
    D. The minimum amount possible should be spent on government.

    Oh yes, and Citizens United should be abolished immediately, and campaign contributions should be capped at a certain amount per candidate…not per donor.

    1. A. Tru dat!

      B. I have thought a lot about that point. I think the reason Payton Manning gets paid a gazillion times what the best teacher in the world gets paid is that he reaches and appeals to so many more people, thanks to mass media. 75K people come to see him at each game, and millions more by TV. Same with rap musicians, reality TV “stars,” etc. I don’t see how to fix that.

      C. “everyone seems to want national standards…and local control.” I hadn’t thought if that, but it’s so true!

      D. I read that each person now owes $51,000 in debt.

      As always, I appreciate your comment!

  5. Wow, such divergent yet respectful opinions. Okay:
    a. 90ish. I believe almost everybody (sociopaths aside) is mostly good…but also human.
    b. Mmmm, the older I get the more I can see the value of “need” versus “deserve”. The waters are muddied by the folks who need the most and the folks who earn the most regardless of whether they “deserve” it. I know a woman who is a drug addict, Hep C positive and has AIDS. She’s prone to outbursts of violence and although she can be pleasant, she generally is not the most enjoyable person with whom to deal. How much should she “earn” from the gov’t ? I know a man who generally obeys the law, pays his taxes and works as a driller on an oil rig (my brother). How much should he “earn”? She is cut a check for the bare minimum to keep her alive; he clears $15K a month. He earns 20-25 times more than her. Is this fair? It looks fair. But before fair plays into it, know that he was raised in a reasonably supportive, reasonably stable home and is loved by many. Her mother was a sex trade worker, her father a pimp. They put her on the streets to prostitute starting at 9 years old. He father sexually abused her as did her brothers. She was hooked on drugs and alcohol by 12. She has lost all of her children to apprehension. Do we throw her under the financial bus because her start was drastically different? I think there’s no reasonable way to calculate “need” versus “deserve” without accounting for everyone’s context…which is impossible. So we should err on the side of helping out folks who are not as fortunate (which for me means spending gov’t money on social programs, increasing minimum wage, funding education and programming for kids, etc)
    c. Legislation, enforcement, maintaining an economy that benefits citizens over corporations (which includes ensuring adequate funding and oversight for education, social programs, healthcare – the basics of a civilized, healthy society)
    d. Enough to ensure that my neighbours, parents, strangers on the street are safe, have access to good healthcare, access to good schools, have a safety net to help them find a job, keep a job, support them if they lose a job. I’m all for paying more taxes to make sure we’re all better off. I would love a standard flat rate – it makes good sense to me. Having said all that, there has to be gov’t accountability and transparency when it comes to spending.

    I’ve lived in Southern Africa for many years; the US for several years, and Canada for many years. As you may be able to tell by my post, I’m Canadian and honestly believe that we all share responsibility for our community. My spouse is American (and now Canadian) – the US election is huge in our home right now.

  6. Awesome food for thought… I’m going to have to sit and think a little before coming up with final answers, but I think it’s a great topic to be digging into and really looking at our own core values. Maybe I will write a reply post too, thank you!

  7. I think this is a brilliant idea.

    A. I’d say 80% of the time, people do the right thing. It’s hard to think of things in terms of good or bad because with few exceptions, people are rarely outright evil. And even people we describe as evil, if their doings come from mental illness or brainwashing, are they truly evil or a product of their illness/environment? It’s easy to call someone a bitch, it’s much harder to really sit with that word and think through the fact that the woman you’re calling a bitch is a greyish human being who does things that help and things that hurt.

    B. I’m not sure I understand. I think I would fall on the side of need. I want the government to step in and level the playing field so everyone has their basic human needs met. When someone is receiving things above and beyond the basics, sometimes it can be a case of truly deserving (hard work = ?) and sometimes it’s a case of circumstance. Can we truly say that a person who was born to parents who are upper middle class is more deserving than a person who was born to parents who are lower class?

    C. Provide protection, provide for the welfare of its citizens, ensure the rights that we’ve chosen as a nation to provide its citizens which are mostly based on what we believe constitutes “free thought and actions.”

    D. I would think the percentage would need to fluctuate some. I think the most important thing would be to have all citizens have their basic needs met. And then you and I would be covered under that, able to deep breathe knowing that we will have adequate health care, food, education. And I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to a high percentage of my paycheck going to ensure others have their needs met since I would fall underneath that umbrella too 🙂

  8. The Internet ate my long, well-thought out response to this which I spent hours thinking about. ARGH!! I think these are GREAT questions: ones we all need to think about, especially this year.

    A) 85%. But I was raised in a loving, stable environment and have rarely had anyone do me wrong, so YMMV.

    B) A broad, thriving middle class has always been key to any country or civilization’s rise and growth. Right now, our middle class is in decline. We can’t depend on the wealthy to spend us out of this crisis: generational wealth has never been as preserved and passed down as it is now in our country’s history. (I can find this citation again: it got lost.) And as you mentioned, personal debt and our country’s debt is ever mounting. So: estate taxes need to change: they need to be more progressive and they need to be focused more on individuals who have estates of $25 million or more. Capitalism is the best system: but controls on markets are needed. Just like back in the days of Theodore Roosevelt, great trusts and banks control too much. Similarly, I think there are special interests and unions that are too powerful as well, and I think these need to be limited in power too.

    C. National security, sustaining infrastructure, maintaining law and order based upon the laws decided upon by state and national constitutions and providing safety nets for those in the greatest of need.

    D. I think people who have inherited most of their wealth (and I’m talking fortunes greater than $10 million) should sustain the greatest tax burden. We are not rewarding hard work by giving them tax breaks. How to legislate this, I have no idea, because those people who earned their living the old-fashioned way (ie: they were born into it) have the best accountants, lawyers and special interest groups to get the best loopholes. But in theory, that’s what I’d like to see. The wealthiest 1% own 80% of the country’s wealth: I would have them taxed more. Otherwise, I think we’re all in a mess and we all need to try to get out of it by paying our fair shares, based on the progressive income tax model we have today.

  9. A. I believe that people are basically selfish, and that people’s selfishness is revealed more as their identity is shrouded, like in a mob in a riot. Anonymity breeds confidence because of a lack of accountability. People want other people to do good, but maybe it is because they want to be treated well, and anarchy would be scary. The bad that is done is rationalized and justified by individuals, because nobody wants to think of themselves as bad. I think of what i learned in defensive driving class, “drive lawfully and considerately and expect everyone else to drive like an idiot” Short answer: plan for 1, work for 100

    B. I think an appropriate economic system would reward those with in demand skills and talents with more resources, and encourage others to develop marketable skills based on their abilities. This will make it difficult for the unmotivated.

    C. The local government should provide law enforcement and domestic security, as well as local infrastructure including streets and sanitation services.
    The federal government should maintain a military force designed to protect its citizens and resources against outside aggression and assist with local law enforcement when needed. Also, it should collect revenue to maintain this force and train all citizens to serve in some capacity for at least one year. If there is a government assistance program, such as welfare, or social security, it should be arranged by the local government by its constituents.

    D. I think ideally, government should run on a flat local tax rate of 10% of all income with no deductions or loopholes for anyone. Plenty of incentive to move up, work hard and be generous as you like with those who you feel are in more need. Local governments can send 10% of their income to the federal government for their operations. Labor service in the military would be a condition of citizenship and not limited to naturalized citizens born on US soil. Open door policy for immigration and security ensured by the citizens and managed mostly by the local governments. I don’t think it is necessary for the government to legislate morality or tamper with the affairs of religion, but rather to protect and defend its citizens from physical danger and any foreign acts of aggression.

    That is just what I am most interested in government doing, staying out of the way of people trying to take care of their families – complicating things more than necessary. Most of the things people argue about have to do with an area where the government has grown beyond its ability to even make sense anymore. I am not interested in either of the presidential candidates being pushed by the news and other media right now, but Mitt Romney scares me more with his remarks on foreign policy and the role of the military.

  10. My own responses:

    A. There is an inherent goodness in people. It’s groups of people I’m more suspicious about. People will be altruistic in concentric circles — they are most willing to provide for their families, then others they know, then strangers. So, as Robyn differentiated, I give the individual an 80 and the group a 50.

    The point of this question is to see how much reigning in a person needs. How do we unleash the good while controlling the bad? And how much control (meaning laws, regulations and taxes) is best to optimize the two?

    The problem with reigning in flawed people is that it’s other flawed people reigning them in.

    B. “Deserve” means what people will “vote with their dollars” for. “Need” means some level at which those who have more will subsidize those who don’t.

    Think of it in terms of blogging. People tend to get the readers they deserve (people read the blogs they like voluntarily), and not necessarily the readers they need (such as if we mandated that all blogs would have the same # of readers, with a central authority to assign readers to blogs).

    I fall on the side of Deserve, acknowledging that some people do Need a safety net. What that safety net entails is a whole other discussion. Put me at a 75.

    C. Defense, infrastructure (interstates, airports, etc), standards, education (less at the federal level than the local level), law enforcement and justice, protection of freedoms and rights (which is kind of like the fox guarding the henhouse).

    D. 25-30% for all levels of government.

    Thanks to each of you for chiming in.

  11. This was interesting. In the last Canadian election, there was a website you could go on to answer a bunch of multiple choice questions. At the end, you were told which political party was best aligned with your personal beliefs and values. I’m thinking some people may have been in for a surprise. ; )

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