Four more years… in Switzerland

I’m not voting in the 2012 Presidential election. From a pure-fandom point of view I suppose you could say I’m for Obama, and I’ll probably raise a glass to his victory should it come, but in the end that wasn’t compelling enough to jump though all the various hoops necessary to get an absentee ballot as an emigrant American.  And the only thing I’m sure I want four more years of is life in Switzerland.

Yes, I was once so proud of being part of Obama’s election in ‘08 that my Facebook profile picture had me throwing my absentee ballot into a mailbox in New York for about a year afterward. In retrospect I suppose it was naïve of me to hope he’d roll back the Bush-era extensions of executive power in the service of state security, to hope that any of the war criminals of 2003 or the straight-up Wall Street criminal-criminals of 2008 would see the inside of a prison, to hope that a vote for Obama was really a vote for a less divisive America, for an America built on cooperation and compromise instead of football-hooligan politics.

I would have been uneasy voting for Obama knowing that the state security apparatus is larger now than in 2008; a free society cannot exist in the face of ubiquitous surveillance, no matter how benign we may think the watchers to be today. And while I agree in principle that the most effective way to deal with the extremely low-density threat presented by international terrorism is through targeted attacks against individuals and organizations with proven ability and intent to carry out terrorist actions, I can’t reconcile the drone war as presently prosecuted with my respect for the rule of law.

It was this unease that made it possible for such a small thing to decide he wasn’t getting my vote, when I was publicly insulted by the Obama campaign’s press secretary spokesman Ben La Bolt*, who accused me, as part of yet another cheap hit in the endless round of slap-fighting between Team Red and Team Blue, of being either a tax fraudster or — even worse — a forex guy, because I have a Swiss bank account. Okay, I’m not quite enough of a solipsist to believe this insult was personal, and let’s face it, so few Americans emigrate that I don’t even think it crossed the man’s mind that someone might have a Swiss bank account because they live in Switzerland1. Americans abroad are safe to score cheap political points off of because, to a first approximation, we don’t even exist2. But the Obama campaign did in this moment make it clear it didn’t want my vote, so do without it it will.

On the other hand, I couldn’t vote for Mitt Romney because he’s willing to be affiliated with the Republican Party in public, which shows, in my opinion, an astounding lack of judgement. One can certainly have a debate about whether “more government” or “less government” is a reasonable starting point from which to develop policy, and one can certainly discuss to what extent behavior not condoned by a particular interpretation of a particular religious text should be tolerated in a society. Having lived in a relatively socially conservative but deeply tolerant country with a generous social safety net for the past four years, and seen how well this works, I tend to find most Republican policies long on contempt and short on practicality, and the party’s platform3, with its praise for wealth inequality and sooty air4 and its open hatred of homosexuals, reads to me more like a paean to life in Victorian London than anything else. But I can see how people with different beliefs and priorities might see this differently.

However, a party that condones a contempt for the basic tenets of the Enlightenment among its members and within its policies is impossible to take seriously. It’s one thing to stick your fingers in your ears and go la la la la at any mention of carbon pricing5: you can make a lot of money burning coal, and it’s probably too late to avert a global climate disaster. It’s another thing entirely to hold that science “is lies from the pit of hell.”

The past three and a half centuries of scientific, technological, economic, and cultural progress in Western civilization are based on a philosophical foundation that knowledge is based on the empirical, the measurable, the observable. Rejection of this philosophy by an individual places them at a disadvantage; rejection of this philosophy by a society is potentially fatal. In short, science works, and it shall continue working whether you believe in it or not, whether you understand it or not, whether you find it politically expedient to ignore it in order to shore up your support among religious fundamentalists or not.

I won’t vote for Obama because of what he has, or has not, done. But I can’t vote for Romney because of what I believe.

1: I will, however, celebrate one happy side effect of America’s late-spring Switzerland hate-on: we don’t have to deal with the embarrassment of Michele Bachmann having a red book.

2: A vitriolic rant against the unmitigated evil that is FATCA is the subject of a future post.

3: Extra irony points to the Republicans for quoting Benjamin Franklin on the first page of the platform. Franklin was a Deist, a scientist, and a noted lover of women, in at least the euphemistic sense. The esteemed Mr. Franklin would want even less to do with today’s Republicans than they with him, if they actually knew who he was.

4: Its first page on environmental policy contains just one word of body text in boldface: Coal. I really, really wish I were making this up. I’m not. (Hey, look! The GOP uses WordPress, too!)

5: The only mention of climate change in the Republican platform is to deride the Obama administration for saying the national security implications of climate change are on par with those of international terrorism. I agree that this is a laughable comparison: disruptions due to climate change in the coming century are far more important to national security than those due to international terrorism.

*: Corrected source of Obama campaign quote, added link to tweet. Thanks, Tony!

Brian Trammell
Brian Trammell
Scientist, Synthesist, Cyclist, SRE