Day by Day



20 October 2008

A tale of two citizens...



It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.


I travel a fair amount. It is a benefit and curse. I truly prefer the comforts of home and family, but relish the exploratory feelings and experience of travel. As I sat down on the outbound and inbound flights over the past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with two citizens of this nation. Two citizens who represent, I think, the wide gulf among the political views of the country.


These citizens are alike in many ways. They will have an impact on our nation and come from two of the battleground states. One, a MIT educated mechanical engineer starting his first real job. The other is a college educated, professional mother of two who runs her own business and works in the PR field.


As I sat down on the flight from the relative chaos of Atlanta Hartsfield, I noted a young man making his way down the aisle, sweeping his eyes along the seat row numbers for his place on the packed airliner. He had a youthful, grunge style beard topped by an unruly mop of black hair. Had he been clean shaven, he would have looked about fourteen. He wore a large scale Obama t-shirt, one of the ones with his picture emblazoned upon on it in Warhol style.


Lo and behold, this young, pale kid was going to sit next to me. Sliding in next to the window, he looked about with the eagerness of someone who still enjoys air travel. I scanned him for some opportunity to talk with him, that didn’t start with;


“So, you’re an Obama supporter, eh sonny?”


Looking him over carefully, I noted my opening. There on his right hand, looking like a Super Bowl championship ring was the golden beaver. For the uninitiated, the mascot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a beaver. It is displayed on their rings prominently and referred to as the “golden beaver”. MIT is one of the top technology schools in the nation. It’s students have contributed to the innovation and growth of our nation in every major field of science.


As it turned out, this young man was a mechanical engineer, as am I. We engaged in the sort of discussion that only engineers, upon discovering their commonality, can. I learned that he was newly employed by Johnson and Johnson in their surgical tool design division. He was one of the few, bright handpicked graduates to enter the J&J management development program. He was an intelligent guy with a wide range of interests. We talked about his motorcycle, his love of rock climbing and his recent prize possession, a Volvo C30, five cylinder turbo he bought directly from the factory in Sweden. He traveled there, bringing along his mother, and then drove to Denmark where his father resided.


He was excited to be in his new career and loved what he was doing. Although he expressed some dissatisfaction with the social scene in Cincinnati, he was engaged in trying to improve his lot. Traveling home for the first time in more than a year, he was looking forward to doing some scuba diving and an early Thanksgiving dinner with his family. As we got around to politics, he described himself as a social and fiscal liberal. The son of a described “hippie” mother, he seemed comfortable with the promise of a better world, without really worrying about the details.


Like many engineers, I think he expected people to approach problems rationally, without being swayed by outside, irrelevant influences. When he learned that I was in the Navy, he asked me if I supported McCain because he had been in the Navy. And this is when it struck me, his vote was a vote of affiliation. He seemed to support Obama not from some deep alignment with his policies, but from a feeling of affiliation. Obama’s Ivy league academic credentials, his message of hope and change resonated with this young man without really connecting on policy.


There was no real thought as to how an Obama presidency might affect him, his career or his future potential. Senator Obama's initiatives will have an impact on all of these elements. It may prove to be especially hard on his company's surgical tool division. It was ironic that Jake the Engineer’s company was manufacturing all these components in Juarez, Mexico. A fact possibly affected by Obama’s promise to unilaterally rewrite NAFTA at the behest of his Union supporters. Additionally, I expect his career in Johnson and Johnson will likely be very successful, at which point he will cross the $250,000 mark in income (most directors in major corporations can earn this amount in salary and bonuses). It is there he will find himself with a significantly larger tax burden, which he will seek to reduce - substantially. Finally, the impact of the Obama adminstration will likely be negative to J&J’s surgical division with a possible reduction in innovation and growth as the healthcare market is regulated by the government.


On the return trip to Atlanta I staggered through the narrow aisle of the MD-88 looking for my middle seat. The plane was loading horrendously slowly and the woman ahead of me slid her rolling bag smoothly into place and slipped gracefully into her window seat. I took note of her fluid movements and pegged her as a veteran traveler. Looking at the row sign, I also realized that she would be my seat mate. With decidedly less grace, I landed in the middle seat while at the same time praying to the airline gods to make sure the size of my aisle partner was not overwhelming.


Prayers answered, once again I tried to determine if there was a way to open a conversation. I had my new book, The Strongest tribe, by Bing West, but was too tired to read. And then that magic moment of Chopra synchro-destiny occurred. She pulled out her phone. It was a Sprint update of my own HTC model. I leapt on the opening and we chatted about phones. She immediately demonstrated a fairly hardcore approach to selecting her phone and I found her rational style refreshing.


As we talked, I learned that she had served as a public relations manager for Chrysler and ran with the corporate wolves in Michigan. We talked about energy policy and the various approaches underway to address the challenges in the world. She was well versed in policies and shared with me her occupation was as a freelance public relations expert working on a number of projects.


What was most compelling was her personal story of she and her husband’s (a mechanical engineer who had been an electrician in the 1990s before returning to college to obtain his degree) experience with buying, owning and operating a business. The business was a Goodyear tire and auto center. They had ten employees and felt confident in their ability to succeed in a growing area of the nation. They provided employee family health insurance, solid benefits and service to the community. As she described it, she and her husband thought themselves the “smartest people on the planet”.


Then the housing crisis hit and one by one the builders stopped their developments and abandoned the area. Their business began losing money and they applied for a catastrophic SBA loan to carry them through the hard time. What they were told was that since they were “coping” there would be no loan. They sold the business at a terrible loss and were forever soured on government intervention in the market.


They picked up the pieces and carried on, providing for their two daughters and retooling their plans. She was adamant in her opposition to Obama and support for McCain. The toll from Obama's plans upon her liveliehood was that she was expecting, as a small business owner, (making less than the much bandied about $250,000 per year) was going to be crippling to her plans for growth.


She was also fierce in her abhorrence of the media’s complete support of Senator Obama without any real scrutiny and she was frustrated with Senator McCain’s inability to successfully explain his plans – which even Consumer Reports indicated as superior to Obama’s (the healthcare portion). Naturally, her position and contacts afforded her some access to people and information the typical citizen would not have. But we now live in a remarkably more transparent world. Anyone with the will and wit may distill the truth from a myriad of suspiscious claims.


I found the conversation invigorating and oddly parallel to that on my outward bound flight. My spouse, Citizen Prime, in her own world view, would immediately attribute this to some universal force providing me with this opportunity. In this instance, I may agree with her.


Jane the Publicist and Jake the Engineer represent two distinct spectrums of thought in America. One is the unbridled optimism and expectations of someone just beginning their journey as a citizen (I don’t consider college students full citizens as they typically do not pay taxes – citizens in training would be a better moniker). That is the model put forth by Jake the Engineer, or more appropriately Jake the Idealist. He lives in the world of the theoretical, where the ideals of the nation are enshrined. In his world, all things can be solved with the right application of government guidance and human acceptance. He has yet to face a crisis in which his worldview is challenged.


Jane the Publicist, or Jane the Pragmatist, carries those ideals as well. They have been tempered with having to raise a family, meet a payroll and deal with the myriad crises of real life. Some of which include being laid off from a supposedly “secure” corporate job. Jane wants to improve her life and have a positive impact on as many people around her as she can. She wants to be fair and provide incentives and support for her employees. She expects those who work for her to pull their weight in order to share in the reward. It is a reasonable and typical independent American philosophy.


It is not a dissimilar view from Jake the Idealist. A view that he will likely share in a decades time.


With Senator Obama we have an idealist – setting aside the burden you believe he carries to special interest groups. With Senator McCain we have a pragmatist – setting aside whatever connections you believe he has to the present administration.


It is the individual who understands the balance between government facilitation and government control who I want leading the nation. I am just not sure if the rest of the country understands this choice.


At least Joe the Plumber had the courage to ask the question, even if our media will not.







8 comments:

captjackharkness said...

I think you are strongly underestimating those of us who support Obama. Yes, I agree that we are idealists, however, your portrait of the young man is one of extreme naivte(SP?) which I think is beyond a graduate of MIT. There is a lot that resonates with Obama-change is the least of it, as far as I am concerned. For me, it is a return to eloquence and communication in a government which has been sorely lacking in it for years. Of careful and considered action, not "shoot first,ask questions" later, which I fear from McCain. And, mostly, it is that the more I read of and hear Sarah Palin, the more I fear of her being one heartbeat away from the Presidency. There are many of the "pragmatists" which you describe supporting Obama as well, as evidenced by the "average Joes" who spoke at the DNC-many in the same cirmunstances as the pragmatist you met on the plane.

At least you had good, non-violent conversation with these people The more I watch McCain rallies,the more they look like KKK meetings without the sheets and the burning cross.

Citizen Deux said...

Capt, once again I think the selective nut cases on each side have been given way too much press. To describe McCain rallies as KKK meetings meets my definition for "fringe".

I relayed my conversation as I heard it and spent most of my time listening. Jake the Idealist didn't spend any time detailing his position for Obama - so indeed, some of my inferences were deduced.

What continues to disturb me is the rapid and continuing character assasination on both sides. To view the Obama ads playing in Florida, you would think John McCain is poised to swoop down and lock senior citizens away in a cheerless asylum.

There are strong passions about the election - as usual - how they are displayed tells more about the supporters than the campaign.

captjackharkness said...

As I did in a personal email, I guide you towards this:

http://www.towleroad.com/2008/10/tires-slashed-e.html

Are you saying this is a "fringe"? And why will McCain not condemn their actions and words?

PS-It seems that a certain Icelander has lost his passport, and may not be able to come to the UK during half-term as promised. Think you can fly over next week and take me to St. Bart's for my liver biopsy?

sonicfrog said...

I think what the Cap was trying to say........ was he cute??? :-)

captjackharkness said...

yeah. that's it. *sigh*

Citizen Deux said...

Gentlemen, PLEASE! Decorum. Sorry to hear about your travel bankrupt Icelander. I consider any violent action against a candidate or voters to be fringe. It is rare and isolated - hence the definition of fringe. To extrapolate from this incident and characterize any campaign is irresponsible.

Major (P) John said...

I fear that should Sen Obama win, I will see alot more intrusion into my life, my business and what I can and cannot do. I think his wife has mentioned that on occasion..

Right now I am awful darned tired and would really rather be left alone by the G. I would like them to stay our of my 401(k), leave me alone when it comes to deciding how I will provide for my family's heathcare, etc. But, I fear, in the name of "fairness" I may not have that option.
Should Sen McCain win, I may still be able to mind my own business, without Federal mindership.

captjackharkness said...

In the UK, at least, national health does not mean that you cannot "decide" how you will provide for your families health care. Private insurance thrives, and many people have it.I, as yet, do not, as I have had not need of it...my health is being looked after quite well without it. Why do people think a national health system will somehow take away their ability to still have private insurance?