The following is my third and last “Left Turn” to appear in El Estoque.  It’s mostly an informational piece for teens that, uh, don’t know much about politics.


donkey vs. elephant
by Kenneth Huang
from the March 17, 2004 edition of El Estoque


Ever wondered what’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans? I’m sure you really haven’t, but I’ll tell you about it anyway, because on March 2, California is having its presidential primary (among other things), and some of you will be lucky enough to vote! So, here’s how the two-party political system has been for the past eighty years or so.


Republicans (generally classified as “conservatives”) are the people of small and limited federal government in the public arena, and they are in favor of active federal government in terms of personal and cultural issues. In other words, they want less spending and involvement in areas of public concern, such as social welfare, education, the economy and jobs, health care, infrastructure, transportation, and so on. Instead, they wish the federal government to be involved in areas strictly dictated by the Constitution (mainly defense) as well as in fighting back the wave of moral relativism and preserving traditional standards (which explains their opposition to abortion, homosexual rights, and the legalization of certain drugs). When it comes to the powers assigned by the Constitution, Republicans say, “If it doesn’t say we can do it, we can’t do it.”


Democrats (classified as “liberals”), as a rule, want the opposite: They believe in an active federal government that is involved in public issues (such as the ones listed above) and have a more broad, or generous, interpretation of the Constitution in that regard, with the thinking that “if the Constitution doesn’t say we can’t do it, we can do it.” However, Democrats believe that the government should stay away from interfering in personal choices. That’s why they defend the right to abortion for women and marriage (or “civil unions”, at least) for homosexuals. They tend to be more in favor of a secular, religion-free government, as opposed to the Republicans, who, due to the large number of religious people in its ranks, do not want to see all religious symbols and references erased from government, and point to the Judeo-Christian traditions of the United States. Democrats are also more in favor of social and public programs, such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and many others, whereas Republicans feel that the tasks assigned to government programs would be better addressed with local and state governments, or private concerns, whether it be businesses or nonprofit/charity organizations.


These categorizations can fairly describe the collective thoughts of the two parties. Now, just to be clear, these are all broad generalizations. There are plenty of people on both sides of the party that don’t line up all the way on the issues – and even a few traitors who, judging by how they think and vote, might as well be on the other side. And both parties have recently been stealing ideas from the other side. But, in general, one can safely say the following things about the two parties: Democrats want a federal government active in public and economic issues and a reduced role in personal and cultural issues. The Republicans want a federal government active in just a few public and economic issues while refraining from getting involved in most public needs (preferring to let private groups and state/local governments deal with them) while supporting using government power to back a set of traditional values.


Be aware that you have many more choices than just these two; it’s just that Democrats and Republicans happen to be the dominant parties in this country. But there are over fifty smaller parties out there. For a comprehensive guide, visit http://www.politics1.com/parties.htm.

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The following is an unabridged version of the February 2004 “Left Turn” column.  It is followed by an update on the same theme concerning a recent development.


Media: it’s time to give us real news
by Kenneth Huang
from the February 6, 2004 edition of El Estoque


If you’ve been following politics at all lately, I’m sure you know presidential candidate Dr. Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, by his passionate “concession speech” following a disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses:


“We’re going to California and Texas and New York, and we’re going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington, and Michigan. And then we’re going to Washington, D.C. to take back the White House. Yaaaaaaaaaah!”


This last “Yaaaaaaaaaah!” was the so-called “Scream Heard ‘Round The World”, and it was most certainly the Scream Made Fun Of ‘Round The World. Dean received a constant torrent of abuse from mainstream media and political “experts” around the world. Musical remixes of the speech flowered on the Internet, all of which used the Scream as their centerpiece. Dean took a big hit in the polls, previous supporters abandoned him for his more charming and commanding rivals, and yapping know-it-alls on cable news networks described Dean using negative terminology ranging from “unpresidential” all the way to outright “insane”.


And once again, the pundits, the media, and the American people were dead wrong.


Okay, okay, this is not exactly a “right or wrong” kind of question. But voters abandoning Dean for an “unpresidential” (which isn’t even a real word, according to Spell Check) performance are falling into a media-spawned trap that caters to an audience that wants an Entertainment Tonight-style news watch. It’s a vicious cycle: the general public, being relatively apathetic to actual policy discussions, wants entertainment in their political news – Dean’s Scream, for example – even though such entertainment stories have little relevance to our political future. The media sees this and thus caters to it by supplying “infotainment”, and this in turn increases demand for entertainment-news. The result? We end up identifying Dean as the “guy who screamed on TV” but we know almost nothing about his stances on the issue or his political record. We use stupid reasons like “He’s a mean guy” or “He was goofy on TV” to condemn him, instead of using more plausible reasons, such as the fact that he’s flip-flopped on many issues and is campaigning on an image far different from what he was during his five terms as Vermont governor. In other words, voters are going for style over substance, meaning that a guy who’s dumb but nice (i.e. our current President) beats the smart but boring (i.e. our former Vice President).


It’s not just about Dean. In the aforementioned Iowa caucuses, voters performed a wholesale desertion of presidential candidate Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) for competitors such as Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.). Never mind that most of the voters probably aligned with Gephardt over Edwards on the issues, and that Gephardt had an impressive record of 27 years of service in Congress. (In contrast, Edwards’s résumé includes a career as a trial attorney before serving a whopping five years in the U.S. Senate.) But voters ditched Gephardt for Edwards because Edwards was a charmer and Gephardt was boring. Voters act as if they’re voting for their next best friend, rather than the person who will heavily influence the course of the nation and the world.


So what can we do about it? First of all, TV news should do much more to explain candidates’ records and their stances on the issues. That way, voters will be equipped to make a much more informed decision, rather than one based on candidates’ appearances or demeanor. Second of all, voters themselves should make that very effort. I know full well that many voters would gravitate towards a candidate they don’t agree with, because that candidate says the right stuff or exudes charm. They have the right to vote for whatever reasons they choose. But they serve this country best when they vote for candidates based on what they’ve done and what they want to do, rather than how they behave, or what their hair looks like, or how entertaining their speeches are. Those little factors won’t matter much in the White House – the policies will.


———————


Update: 


In a development that directly relates to this theme of media influence on electoral politics, U.S. Senate candidate Jack Ryan (R-Ill.) is currently fighting off a firestorm of negative press coverage by ogling journalists over allegations that have surfaced from recently unsealed divorce papers.  In the papers, Ryan’s ex-wife claims that Ryan took her to sex clubs in New York City, New Orleans, and Paris and pressured her into committing sexual acts in front of other people.


What the fuck does this have to do with the future of our country?  Everything, media barons hooked on a sensationalist fix apparently believe.


The spotlight is all on Ryan now, and the media is gaping and oohing and ahhing over this non-issue red herring.  Never mind that Ryan did nothing illegal, and that his wife did not acquiesce to his demands.  Never mind that pressure is something we all use and apply on an everyday basis.  Never mind that the only reason why this is generating so much attention is because of that three-letter word – SEX – which really has little to do with politics.  Oh yeah, and that brings me to my last and most important point: Never mind that THIS HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ISSUES THAT CONCERN AMERICANS.


Unfortunately, I’m afraid that American voters, like fools addicted to the media’s opium of sensationalism, will fall in lockstep like dumb sheep with what exactly the media is going for: Care about Ryan’s wild sex life, so that you’ll buy my newspaper (or watch my show, or listen to my broadcast, etc.).  Because I mean, c’mon, this is sex, and the details are likely to be more than intriguing.  The real national issues that are important to the Illinois Senate race, as well as every other Senate and House race in this country, are pretty boring by comparison, even if they are important.  I mean, health care, economy, the war in Iraq – that’s not important, right?  It’s all about Ryan’s SEX LIFE, man!  Never mind that 44 million Americans don’t have health care and may be losing years from their lifespans as a result.  Never mind that Americans are dying in Iraq on a daily basis.  No no no, the national press corps doesn’t cover what either Ryan or his opponent, State Sen. Barack Obama (D), would do about any of these issues.  Instead, they fixate on something they know will appeal to human beings everywhere – sex.


Well, they don’t have to take it, and neither do we.  To his credit, Ryan has resisted calls from fellow Republicans such as Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.) to withdraw from the race.  I praise him for sticking to the race despite the unfairly sticky situation his campaign is now mired in.  I hope that the media will quit focusing on sex and start highlighting the issues, and report the stances of Senate contenders in Illinois and elsewhere.  I do hope Obama wins – but I hope he does it by winning the hearts and minds of the majority of the voters, not by capitalizing on this sexual episode.  And I hope the voters in Illinois look past the ridiculous sex charges and vote based on who they think best represents their feelings, ideas, and ideologies.


Can we ever have an election season based entirely on the issues, and not on messy personal details?  Sadly, the answer appears to be no.

Note: The title of the following column as appeared in El Estoque was “Another in-depth glance at politics”.  That was the name branded by the page editors.  With all due respect to them, that is one of the worst titles I’ve ever seen.  I mean, what exactly is an “in-depth glance”?  Sorry.  So I’ve added my own simple title, conveying the piece’s theme directly.


Another in-depth glance at politics
(Why You Should Care About Politics)
by Kenneth Huang
from the December 19, 2003 edition of El Estoque


Hi. In case you don’t know me, my name is Kenneth Huang. Back in May, I condemned the preventive war in Iraq and President Bush’s sponsorship of it. In September, I deplored the influence of movie stardom and ethnicity in the California recall election. Now, I am back…but to do what? Talk about some other issue (and there are many, believe me) in the daily verbal catfighting and grisly character assassinating called politics?


Nah, I think I’ll just talk about politics as I know it…and why you should care about it as much as I do.


Okay, I have the innate feeling that many of you don’t really care about politics, and are totally apathetic. And I can understand why. I mean, just watch any political “discussion”, whether it’s between Gore and Bush or between some know-it-all and some other know-it-all on CNN, and it usually boils down to an angry deluge of insults being thrown about, or the ol’ “let’s-both-try-to-talk-at-once-so-people-will-get-confused-and-not-realize-that-neither-of-us-really-know-what-we’re-talking-about” tactic. Then there’s the politicians lining up and saying the same cheesy platitudes over and over again, all saying the same crap about making America safe and prosperous…the utter lack of substance sort of reminds me of our school’s elections, really. Politics can be downright depressing.


But peel away all those greasy-fingered corrupt talking heads and you’ll find that the test questions, if not the test takers, are fascinating. #1. Should abortion be legal? #2. How do we help people find jobs? #3. When should we go to war? This test has an unlimited number of questions, and no question is too trivial – just look at #48: What should we name the new street, Chavez or Franklin? Or, my favorite, #55: Should Monta Vista ban freaking at high school dances? See, any question that has to do with setting rules and guidelines, from the school to the city to the state to the country, is fair political game. And it doesn’t have to be multiple choice or short answer; you can make it an essay question. Hell, people have written books on single topics! And the best part is that you can answer questions that are controversial, mind-boggling, and intellectually challenging. Best of all, there are NO right or wrong answers! This is probably the only test in which there’s NO way you can flunk.


Even if you think the questions and answers aren’t exactly things to jump over, you have to admit that politics is basically about people getting together and setting rules on you. That’s right, you. And don’t think that just because you’re still a teen that you’re somehow safe, because the rules apply to everyone. If a bunch of people get together to talk about what you – and your friends, and your parents, and everyone else you know – have to do, what rules and regulations you have to follow, wouldn’t you want to have a say? I sure as hell wouldn’t sit aside and go, “oh, whatever, I’ll just let them do whatever they want to me.” Because that’s effectively what you’re doing when you don’t care.


I know you still have one card up the sleeve: “What can I do about politics? I have no power! I’d make no difference.” And, in a sense, you’re too right. Much of the time, the ordinary guy doesn’t have any power. But what are you doing just moping around? That only makes you more powerless; only adds fuel to your fire. So if you want to have more of a say in what laws are being set that will affect you and everyone else in this country, here’s a simple two-step method: 1. Get an opinion. If you don’t have one, listen to good arguments for both sides and decide which one you think makes more sense. 2. Then, express it. Argue for your stance. Support candidates who share your stances. That’s the only way you can have your voice heard and make sure you get your fair share of game time. Because no one likes to be the benchwarmer, especially when it’s their well being that’s on the line.

Opening Message (basically, what the hell am I doing here?)


Hey all.  This is Kenneth Huang, aka liberalmaverick.


Okay, my last post was written almost four months ago.  I explained back then that I had only reluctantly created this Xanga site so I could make comments on my friends’ Xangas.  And I have.  But a lot has happened between February 17 and June 15 – namely, every time I tried to get a column published, I got screwed over.


Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. 


First of all, let me explain who I am.  I’m a newly graduated former student of Monta Vista High School, in Cupertino, California.  Cupertino’s a small suburb just west of San Jose, with plenty of sun, bitchy old folks, and Asians.  Most of the time, anyway.


In my senior year in high school (2003-2004) I was on the Journalism staff.  I had always wanted to have my own column in the school newspaper, El Estoque, where I could opine and bitch and stuff.  As for the theme?  Well I am a scientist, and I always have been.  But most people don’t know that, because I’m not particularly good at science (witness my D+ in Physics Honors junior year) and because I never really talk about it.  Well, c’mon, there’s really not much to talk about in science.  There are a few controversies – global warming, for example – but scientists aren’t really the debating types.  In a scientific “debate”, whoever has the most evidence and the most support from other scientists pretty much wins.  There isn’t a lot of room for controversy, for clashing viewpoints.


As far as my other interest, United States politics, goes, there’s more than enough controversy to fill President Bush’s Crawford ranch.  Every day it’s some new buzz from a campaign trail here, a committee room there, some gross-looking old white politician in hot water deflecting a flurry of accusations (all of them true, of course).  There’s gossip.  In science, there’s no gossip – what are they gonna say?  “Oh, did you hear?  Professor Dumpkins says that Professor Jenkin’s evidence is inconclusive!  OMFG!!!”  Eh…no not really.


So I created a column called “Left Turn”, which would be a forum for me to talk about anything American and political.  I submitted my first column, one urging my fellow teens to care about government.  The Perspectives editors, who are like the gatekeepers to columnship, rejected it.  In October I think I missed the deadline.  In November I submitted again and (again) was rejected. (Rejection is a staple of my life.) In December I submitted my column and – vóila! – it was published, albeit in abridged form. (I will post an unabridged version of that column, along with my other editions of “Left Turn”, here, in the near future.)


El Estoque took January off, and in February I got a column in on the media’s obsession with political nonsense.  In March, at the request of the Centerspread editors, I wrote an informational column on the differences between the U.S. Democratic and Republican Parties.  In April, I attempted to publish a column on fiscal policy, only to see it rejected. (This column supposedly made it into the newsletter of the Monta Vista Young Democrats, though I never saw that newsletter.) May was another month we took off, and in June I was promised a column as it was the Senior Edition, the last paper I’d write in… and the anti-Bush column I wrote never appeared, because someone on staff had a brain fart. (Plus, they nixed a short op-ed piece I wrote urging Monta Vistans to quit abusing the bathrooms.)


So here I am, taking the fight for liberalism to the Web.  Granted, it’s not as easily distributed as something like the El Estoque, but I’ll try to promote this site as much as possible.  And you can help too!  Tell all your political-minded friends (or people who you want to convert into political junkies) about this site. 


I intend to first get all my previously-written columns up, in unabridged, unadulterated form.  Here, there will be no bitchy editors whining about how long my columns are, or complaining about the obsceneties.  I am the editor here – muahuahuahua!  Afterwards, I hope to post new columns, maybe once a week, once every two weeks – or, more likely, whenever I damn well feel like it.  And it might not just be about politics – I mean, I like it but it’s not exactly my life.  Despite my previous reservations about posting my life online, I don’t want to be like President Theodore Roosevelt and tie my hands with any promises I might regret later. (USHAP peeps should know what I’m talking about.)


Btw, the lame-ass picture you see here is the mug shot El Estoque used for “Left Turn”.  It’s all I have right now but I hope to get it replaced in the future.


Anyway, things will be up soon.  Enjoy!