This Year’s Ballot Part 1: President and Congress (or, barfing my way to election day)

The tire fire that has been the Presidential election is coming to a close. Here's how I saw it...(Image: Banksy)

The tire fire that has been the Presidential election is coming to a close. Here’s how I saw it…(Image: Banksy)

On Tuesday, I was one of almost a quarter of Belmont’s registered voters to have taken advantage of Massachusetts new early voting law and cast my ballot. My wife and I walked down to the Town Hall and performed our solemn duty in an experience that I can only characterize as “mellow” and “really cool.” Why have we (the State, I mean) not done this sooner??!

I’ve had social media debates with friends who see early voting as somehow tarnishing the democratic je ne sais quoi of elections. My feeling: early voting just makes voting more convenient and elections less chaotic. The traffic at Town Hall was really steady while we were voting, with folks coming in at a steady clip to pick up and cast their (paper) ballot. You do this old school: fill out the ballot, seal it in an envelope with your name on the front and drop it into a big box. Good luck hacking my vote, “Fancy Bear” Russian hackers!!

So I know what you’re wondering: how did you vote, Paul?

Well, because I frequently get asked this (though usually more politely) and because I compulsively ask other people this question (often not as politely), I’m going to share my 2016 votes with you – the Blogging Belmont readership – in the hope of spurring some conversation and debate and also (maybe) persuading some of you to think or rethink some of these tricky questions.

Rather than bore you with 10,000 words on how I voted, I’ll break this into bite size pieces: President & Congress, then State Elections and Ballot Questions. First up: the top of the ballot…

President of the United States: Hillary Clinton/Tim Kaine
Are you kidding me? This isn’t even close. The choice between voting for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to be the 45th President is like choosing between snacking on a piece of high-quality, but bitter chocolate and sticking your hand into a running blender. In other words: it’s no choice at all.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is the most qualified candidate for the presidency in recent memory – possibly since LBJ. She’s a former Secretary of State, a two term Senator and a former First Lady. She’s dedicated her life to public service and improving the lives of ordinary Americans, especially women and children. Like most career politicians, she has experienced her share of failures: her effort at health reform during the first term of her husband, President Clinton was a disaster. Her handling of the popular uprising in Libya as Secretary of State and the resulting chaos there, which has allowed extremist groups to flourish, is worthy of criticism. So too Hillary’s disastrous decision to avoid public scrutiny by operating her own, private e-mail server. As someone who writes about cyber security for a living, I feel comfortable saying that there was absolutely no way such a decision would “end well” for her. It surely hasn’t And there’s simply no excuse for it, and it only served to increase the public’s already historic distrust of Mrs. Clinton.

In the end, though Hillary Clinton is tough as nails, smart and ten bullet points deep on any issue you might be remotely concerned about. Despite her opponents dark insinuations, she has the strength, stamina, patience and temperament to be an amazing President. Is she shrewd and calculating? Sure! But isn’t Putin calculating? Or President Xi Jinping in China? Forrest Gump is a lovable and sweet fictional character – but  you don’t want him at the helm of our Ship of State. I voted for Mrs. Clinton and Tim Kaine enthusiastically.

As for The Donald? Forget that Trump has never stood for any elected office, has no knowledge of (nor interest in) public policy beyond what he has gleaned from watching Fox news and reading the venomous Breitbart News. Forget that he has built a campaign around stoking fear and racial animus, labeling immigrants from Mexico “rapists” and “drug dealers” and proposing a religious -based litmus test for admitting immigrants to the U .S. Forget that every serious investigation into Trump’s business dealings has uncovered a pattern of lies, deceit, legal excess and self dealing – often crowned with a topping of failure and bankruptcy.

Forget that Trump appears to have cheated and groped his way through three marriages and, it would seem, any number of attempted or actual assignations. Forget the way he has turned the party of Reagan (“Morning in America”) and George HW Bush (“A thousand points of light”) into the party of relentless pessimism of dark warnings, baseless accusations and conspiracy theories.

No, Trump’s biggest sin is his utter contempt for our democracy and his seeming willingness to diminish and even wreck it to suit his own personal ends or soothe his bruised ego. Listening to the man’s snide suggestion in a speech in Colorado last week that mail-in ballots in the state aren’t counted and that maybe his audience should send in a couple of ballots to be sure, I asked myself “who is this clown? and “where does he get off talking down a nearly 300 year old democracy?”

Trump’s message in Colorado wasn’t exactly clear (“We’re winning!…and the whole thing is rigged!”). What was clear was the utter contempt he has for the men and women of both parties who run elections, collect the ballots and count them.

I have no doubt that he doesn’t care about any of this. Trump has had far more kind words for dictators like Putin, Kim Jong Un and the murderous Bashar Al Assad than for predecessors and heroes like Reagan, Bush and Sen. John McCain (who he said he would have more respect for had he _not_ been taken prisoner). That says all you need to know about this man. Trump is more than just crass and crude and unqualified. He’s dangerous: a dictator and demagogue in waiting. Trump promotes himself as someone anxious to turn back the clock in America – make it great (and white) again. But what Trump really wants is to break America: to tear that clock off the wall and stomp on it for no other reason than that it feels good. Vote for him at your own risk.

As for the independent candidates, Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Jill Stein (Green)? Give me a break. With his gaffes and blank stares, Johnson failed to clear even the very low bar that third-party candidates must pass to be taken seriously. At some point, he also appears to have lost control of Bill Weld, his Vice Presidential pick.

Jill Stein’s biggest accomplishment electorally is sitting on Lexington’s Town Meeting for two terms and being the “founder and past co-chair of a local recycling committee appointed by the Lexington Board of Selectmen.” That’s a fine resume…for Lexington’s Board of Selectmen. As for President of the United States? I don’t think so. I’m all for third parties, but maybe we can start by getting some candidates elected to state houses and school boards before we take a swing at the Presidency, right?

Candidates for U.S. House Massachusetts District 5: Katherine Clark (D) 

This race was uncontested, so there’s not much drama about it. Still,  I voted for Katherine enthusiastically. She’s been a staunch advocate for women, and children and has seen a number of initiatives aimed at curbing opioid addiction passed, including the Reducing Unused Medications Act, the Infant Plan of Safe Care Improvement Act, and Lali’s Law, which aim to reduce the amount of unused and unwanted pain medications, ensure safe care plans for families with infants suffering from opioid exposure, and increase access the availability of the overdose antidote Narcan.

I’m also impressed by Congresswoman Clark’s work on issues related to cyber security and online harassment. After she and her family were the victims of a “SWATting” attack, in which online pranksters call in phony 911 calls resulting in the deployment of tactical forces to an address, she has fought mightily to get law enforcement and the DOJ to start tracking cyber crimes against individuals. She has also sponsored numerous bills to focus law enforcement resources on cyber crimes. Those include the Prioritizing Online Threats Enforcement Act to ensure that federal law enforcement has the resources they need to enforce laws regarding the use of the internet to perpetuate severe threats, the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015, legislation to criminalize hoax calls made to law enforcement to elicit an armed police response and the Cybercrime Enforcement Training Assistance Act, which gives local law enforcement the tools necessary to prevent and prosecute criminal online threats and harassment. Katherine’s the one!

More to come tomorrow….