chris christie

Breaking Down Iowa: Your Guide to Tonight’s Presidential Caucuses

 

This is it folks. Today marks the kickoff of the glorious political playoffs that come around every four years, and I’m nerding out in a big way. But it’s not just because the primaries are starting; it’s because today’s results have so many important and fascinating dynamics that it’s impossible not to geek out over. Let’s break it down.

Setting the Scene

For starters, the political process unfolding in Iowa is distinctive. Iowans aren’t going to be filing in and out of polling stations across the state all day. Instead, declared party members will gather in precincts across Iowa at 7PM CST and talk about the candidates. Once supporters have made the case for their candidate of choice, participants will separate into groups based on which candidate they back. If one of the candidates fails to garner support from at least 15% of the participants, those who supported them will re-sort themselves into the other candidates’ groups. Once the dust settles, those caucusing will elect delegates to represent their selections. Those numbers are then tallied, and we get the results of the Iowa caucuses.

Caucus

Obviously, the main result we’re waiting for is who wins, but winning Iowa doesn’t guarantee a damn thing. Remember when Santorum won in 2012? Or Huckabee in 2008? Remember that time in 1992 when Bill Clinton only garnered 3% of the vote in Iowa? Today’s results will not be a crystal ball telling us who’s going to be crowned at the conventions this summer, nor who will be inaugurated next January. Don’t fool yourself into thinking they will.

But when you look at who wins, and by how much, and by whom, and relative to whom, Iowa matters in so many ways. The best way to understand this is by looking and what’s happening with each party.

State of the Republican Field

The GOP and Iowa are in an interesting position right now. With so many players vying for votes, many of the traditional election dynamics seen in past cycles are out the window. There’s more than one way to win and more than one way to lose this year.

The first person to look at is Trump. He’s held the lead for weeks and leads heavily among those who would be first time caucus goers. A win is expected, with Nate Silver saying he’s got a 46% chance of coming out on top — significant odds given the number of candidates competing.

Trump and Falwell

Right behind him is Cruz, who has tried desperately to paint himself as the religious, far right candidate of choice for Republicans in this cycle. That narrative took a hit when Jerry Falwell Jr. and Sarah Palin endorsed Trump, but Cruz has taken that disappointment and pumped it into an aggressive ground game. Though he trails behind prior Iowa champs Santorum and Huckabee in the number of events he’s done in the state, today he will be completing what’s known as the “Full Grassley” — an attempt to get up close and personal with voters in all 99 Iowa counties.

Senator Cruz and Senator Grassley

Cruz and Trump are within five points of each other, with Marco Rubio coming in ten points behind Cruz in the latest poll by the Des Moines Register — often regarded as a solid predictor of the caucuses’ outcome. Carson trails with only 10% and Rand Paul rounds out the top five with a mere 5%.  Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and John Kasich are all floundering below in single digits.

What happens if these polls accurately reflect the outcome at the end of the night? The answer is different for each side of the spectrum.

Though a huge loss in Iowa might have prompted candidates to drop out in past election cycles, those at the bottom of the list now are unlikely to do so. With so many candidates duking it out and money flying around wildly as influencers try to place their bets in what’s proven to be a very volatile electoral season, there’s just not a big incentive to pull out.

This is particularly true for five candidates. Santorum and Huckabee are well known for staying in races far past their expiration date. Paul is hoping that his ground game with younger voters will surprise people in a fashion similar to the Sanders surge. Kasich is hoping that all the candidates trying to out-conservative each other will leave him as the last reasonable (hah!) man standing. Bush has a war chest so big and backers with pockets so deep that Iowa won’t be enough to push him out.

In other words, a lot of the candidates are thinking that in a campaign this wild and unruly, you might as well stick around and see what happens. There are three candidates, however, who might consider dropping out if they crash in Iowa.

The first is Fiorina. Despite surging in popularity during early Republican debates, she has since plummeted in the polls to the point of near obscurity. If she’s really the shrewd business woman she says she is, she has to know the writing’s on the wall, especially if Iowa goes the way it’s looking like it will.

The second is Christie. He’s doing better than Fiorina in most polls, and has shown up in a big way in recent GOP debates, but no matter how many shining moments he accumulates, he can’t seem to pull ahead. Though his stated policies are extreme, his record is at least somewhat pragmatic. He makes decisions that make sense for his own survival. A poor showing in Iowa may cause those survival instincts to kick in, making him realize it’s time to bow out.

The last is Carson. Yes, he’s polling in the top 5 right now, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot. His fundraising momentum is dwindling. The supporters that do back him aren’t what you’d call enthusiastic. He’s had a rough couple months, being criticized by his own advisers for being clueless about foreign policy and faced a staff exodus in December. If he gets beaten by margins even wider than what the current polls show, he could be done for.

Speaking of margins, when you look at the top of the spectrum, that’s what may matter most. While Trump is predicted to win, the amount by which he wins could play a substantial role in the money given to Rubio or Cruz in the coming weeks and months. It could also significantly influence who gets endorsed by candidates exiting the field. Those margins will send a message, however flimsy the backing may be, about who is best positioned to beat Trump — one of the driving concerns of establishment Republicans. At this point, they’re just hoping it’s not Cruz. Rubio seems to be the trending pick, quite the upset for the prior heir apparent, Bush. Tonight will decide if that trend continues.

rubio

In interviews today, Rubio has come off as quietly stoic, as though he’s not expecting to win, and that’s probably pretty fair. Cruz, on the other hand, is fighting hard, and if his efforts are successful, he may deal one helluva blow to Trump. Though Trump has been really good at drumming up excitement, one of the concerns has been that he doesn’t understand the ground game or the mechanics of a solid campaign. If Cruz wins, it will be because he knows how to play and played well, which would add steam to the narrative that Trump is a caricature and not a candidate. In the end, this is about turnout for both Trump and Cruz, with the central question being what works better: hype or hoofing?

Turnout in general will be interesting to watch for Republicans, who have historically turned out in smaller numbers than Democrats to caucus in Iowa. The heat associated with this electoral season could bring out many more voters to caucus than ever before, which could have larger implications for the general election, where turnout will likely be a deciding factor in which party gets the presidency.

Even more interesting will be the demographics of those voters and the ways in which they align. The party is frequently seen as being what Rand Paul has referred to as, “lily white.” Will more minorities show up? What will the age split be? Who will these different segments of the population support? The answers to these questions may be extrapolated to implicate the size and scope of the base for upcoming primaries and the general, and shift electability conversations surrounding the candidates that stay in the game.

Perhaps the most important demographic for the GOP at this moment is the Religious Right. The conservative faithful have been a force to be reckoned with since the days of segregation, and in the past, they’ve backed the most religious candidates in the field; Santorum and Huckabee’s wins, for instance, are largely credited to the evangelical pull in Iowa. But in this election, Trump — despite having a religious message that can be described as discombobulated at best — is polling very well with religious conservatives. If they back him as substantially as the polls indicate, this may be a wake-up call for campaigns like Cruz’s who have been banging the Bible in hopes of waking voters.

State of the Democratic Field

The Democratic field, on the surface, may seem downright dull in comparison to the circus unfolding on the right. But it might be more accurate to say that the competition is more about depth than breadth. There are technically three candidates in the ring, but O’Malley is so, so, so far out of the realm of possibilities that I’m not even going to go there.

The Des Moines Register poll speaks to a two horse race between Clinton and Sanders, with Clinton holding a 3% lead over Sanders. Other polls, like the Quinnipiac poll, have Sanders in the lead, but there’s one thing that’s consistent across all of the polls: Sanders and Clinton are within the margin of error of each other. That’s how close this thing is.

On paper, the two candidates don’t have a lot of differences. Indeed, it’s unlikely that concrete issues will determine how the vote swings this evening. Instead, it’s likely to be sentiment regarding which candidate can be trusted to get things done.

Clinton may seem to have the advantage here. She fought ferociously on health care as First Lady, served in the Senate, and though she lost her presidential bid in 2008 to Barack Obama, she did end up as Secretary of State. It’s an accomplished resume, to be sure. Speaking last night in Iowa, her passion was the highest we’ve seen from her on the campaign trail yet.

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The Sanders resume isn’t light either, though. He was a civil rights activist in his youth, marching with Martin Luther King Jr. and actually getting arrested in Chicago for opposing segregation. He served as Mayor of Burlington from 1981 to 1989, then in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991 to 2007, and then headed to the Senate in 2007 where he’s been ever since.

Though the Clinton campaign has insisted experience is the central question in the election, that’s really not the case in fact or sentiment. What it comes down to are the impressions generated by their experience.

Clinton is dogged with questions regarding her trustworthiness. Most Democrats roll their eyes at the theatrics of the Benghazi investigations, but the subsequent email scandal may have teeth, not necessarily because she used a personal email address, but because she may have been giving favor to influencers who contributed to the Clinton Foundation. Others feel uneasy about her ties to Wall Street and the Washington elite. Still others have a bad taste in their mouth from her husband’s tenure; one of the more slimy comments passed around is that she stayed with her husband out of political convenience.

Sanders, on the other hand, is often derided for being too extreme. A self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist, he is aggressively progressive, and has often alienated potential allies by being a vocal critic of both parties. His campaign has him looking a lot like Howard Beale in Network, with his supporters hanging out their social media windows to yell, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Sanders

The Clinton campaign has seized on this trend, saying this election comes down to evolution or revolution. Brass tacks? Clinton contends that a more centrist approach of building upon the successes we’ve already won is the only path forward in such a polarized political environment. Sanders argues that while those successes have been positive, they form an unsteady foundation, and the challenges we face today require a far bolder approach than the one Clinton is willing to embrace.

Sanders says he can change things, Hillary says he can’t. But that’s why Iowa matters so very much for the Democrats. The turnout demographics will help answer who’s right on this question.

While Sanders and Clinton are neck and neck among Democrats in general, Sanders is miles ahead among Millennial voters. Most recent Millennial polling with Reuters shows a gap that’s swung from a virtual tie at the beginning of 2016 to Sanders dominating Clinton at the end of January.

Millennial lead

Convention electoral wisdom would indicate this doesn’t matter, because younger voters tend not to vote, especially not in primaries and particularly not in a caucus setting. This assumption would appear to be validated by polls conducted in the past couple of years showing how “apathetic” Millennials are.

The Sanders campaign is premised on the the idea that it’s more complicated than all that. It’s not that Millennials don’t care about the issues; indeed, their social behavior demonstrates intense concern about issues like LGBT rights, abortion, healthcare, and the economy. The problem has been that there hasn’t been a candidate who they felt adequately reflected their values, so they haven’t been very excited about the political process. Sanders, with his intensely progressive campaign, is aiming to change that, and betting that if they can get Millennials to vote, they can help usher in a more progressive Congress to advance his more progressive agenda.

IF Millennials show up tonight in Iowa to give Sanders the win, it says a lot about what’s coming down the pike. It would demonstrate that Millennials are more engaged than conventional political wisdom would suggest, which weighs heavily in Sanders’ favor, not only in terms of primary results, but in terms of drumming up support among more establishment Democrats. It sends them the message that they don’t need to run from progressive ideals to win. Plus, if he can bring out Millennials, he’s not only suddenly electable; he also has the ability to bring some serious heat for down ticket election Democrats. To be fair, if Millennials show up in lower numbers but Sanders still wins, the news is less likely to spark that revolution he’s hoping for, but it will still speak to his competitiveness. Tonight is incredibly important for Sanders.

In either case, Clinton can’t afford to lose. Her trajectory up to now is already mirroring what happened in 2008. For her to be beat by another upstart of sorts right out of the gates despite the massive power of the Clinton machine behind her would be devastating, especially since it appears that New Hampshire is already out of reach for her. If Millennials pour in and show Sanders love, it would echo something made clear in Clinton’s loss to Obama: she’s not great at youth outreach, and never has been. It’s almost worse if Millennials don’t show up and she loses, though, because that shows she doesn’t even have a firm grip on a base that many assumed would be handing her a coronation.

And here’s the other thing: even if Clinton wins, she may still lose. If the margin of victory is as small as it’s likely to be if she wins, it’s still an embarrassment. She’s got better infrastructure and bottomless pockets behind her, and somehow the political equivalent of an old man yelling at people to get off of his financial lawn is within striking distance of her? The optics aren’t great. The best case scenario would be her coming away with a decisive win, but that’s incredibly unlikely, so she’s got to hope she at least eeks it out. If she can do that, slim the gap between her and Sanders in New Hampshire, and capture the minority vote in Nevada and South Carolina, she may just come out on top.

But taking a step back here, let’s be fair. While momentum out of Iowa could certainly change things, Sanders still faces an uphill battle. A victory would counter the narrative that he’s unelectable or would cost the Democrats if nominated, but Clinton still has a lot of support and is widely seen as the most likely nominee. For him to get the nomination, the reaction to Iowa has to be substantial.

The Third Party Voter: Weather

To caucus in Iowa, you have to declare a party, but Mother Nature doesn’t play by the rules. Snow is in the forecast for this evening, and though most think it shouldn’t hit until after the caucuses have wrapped up, fear of a storm may keep some voters away. It’s anyone’s guess who that impacts most. On one hand, you could say that inclement weather would keep people who are not dedicated participants in the system at home. On the other hand, you could say that first time participants are so fired up that they’ll show up come hell or high water.

So there’s that.

Personally, I’m not willing to make any calls about what’s going to happen tonight except to say it’s going to be interesting, which, for someone like me, is as good as it gets.

The Bully Steps Up to the Pulpit

He’s in. At a high school suffering from the more than $1 billion in educational budget cuts pushed through by his administration, Chris Christie announced that he is gunning for the GOP nomination in the 2016 presidential election. It wasn’t unexpected, but all eyes were on New Jersey today, looking to see how he’d frame his campaign.

If you watched the speech, there’s no denying the man has charisma. He meandered casually about the stage with the intensity that’s become his trademark, his delivery as direct and energetic as ever. The refrain wasn’t unique. Most of his speech echoed what we’ve already heard from other GOP candidates. Arguably, most of it was fluff.

And then he actually said he was running. Suddenly, angry Chris Christie was back in full force. He railed against social safety nets, proclaiming their very existence a form of institutionalized theft. He spoke passionately on the importance of American hegemony, sneering contemptuously at Obama’s attempts to cultivate soft power through diplomacy. You could see him struggling to reign in the rage. The faltering composure and fuming rhetoric hardly aligned with his intermittent insistence that leaders needed to learn to work together.

Still, love him or hate him, Chris Christie is definitely a firebrand. But does he stand a chance? If we’d asked that question four years ago, it might be a different story, but things have changed dramatically for the governor since then. As Andy Kiersz wrote for Business Insider:

Many Republican donors urged him to run against President Barack Obama in 2012. His popularity soared in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. And he cruised to a blowout re-election as governor in 2013.

But over the past year and a half, different elements have pummeled his image in and out of his home state. There’s the Bridgegate scandal, to which he was never directly linked but which clearly damaged his reputation as an executive. Then there’s the economic story under his governorship: He has endured nine credit downgrades under his watch and has had continual problems with his state’s budget.

These problems have taken a toll on his approval ratings. The most recent polls put him at an all time personal low, with only 30% of New Jersey voters believing he’s doing a good job in office. Indeed, the local media has skewered Christie, warning the nation of what his presidency might look like. Some of it, like an editorial claiming Christie would launch America into WWIII, comes off as just as full of bluster as Christie himself, but others have been more sobering, like veteran journalist Tom Moran’s thorough account of the governor’s dishonesty from the inception of his career to today. He pulls no punches, writing:

Most Americans don’t know Chris Christie like I do, so it’s only natural to wonder what testimony I might offer after covering his every move for the last 14 years.

Is it his raw political talent? No, they can see that.

Is it his measurable failure to fix the economy, solve the budget crisis or even repair the crumbling bridges? No, his opponents will cover that if he ever gets traction.

My testimony amounts to a warning: Don’t believe a word the man says.

The article is as much a worthy read as it is a nauseating reminder of what passes as presidential material among GOP voters. But even if the approval ratings don’t matter, even if his track record doesn’t ruffle feathers, even if his lies don’t hurt him, the fire that gained him national attention may be his undoing in the end. Christie is well known for being a bully. As the Washington Post pointed out last year:

The reason Chris Christie is so good at this is that Chris Christie is actually a bully. That doesn’t mean he’s not also a nice guy who cares deeply about his family and his constituents and his country. It doesn’t mean he’s not an unusually honest politician who’s refreshingly free of cant and willing to question his party. There’s a lot about Christie that’s deeply appealing. But there’s one big thing that’s not: He’s someone who uses his office to intimidate people and punish or humiliate perceived enemies.

Watch this video of him screaming at a guy on the New Jersey Boardwalk. Watch him stalk toward the man, flanked by security and aides. Listen to what he actually says. “Keep walking. Keep walking.”

That’s not typical behavior for an adult. It’s definitely not typical behavior for a national politician. But it’s typical behavior for a bully. In fact, it’s not even very creative bullying. Anyone who’s ever been a boy in an American middle school has heard “keep walking!”

What makes Christie unusual is that he’s a bully with power. That can be a dangerous combination.

It can indeed. It also gives his opponents ample opportunity to talk about just how ill-suited he is to hold the highest office in the land; Rand Paul started with that last November. Put him on a debate stage, let his temper flare, and things could get ugly in a hurry for Christie. There’s only so much negativity that the electorate can stand.

Then again, Donald Trump’s racism pushed him within 3 points of Jeb Bush in New Hampshire. Who knows? Maybe a bully is exactly what Republicans want — capabilities and character be damned.

So, here’s the problem…

So, I’m trying something new these days. It’s called stability. Spurred on by a good friend who has seen me at both my best and rock bottom, I’m trying for consistency. I know- sounds like the antithesis of my life, right? I guess it’s just time to leave Neverland… even if growing up doesn’t completely eliminate my bouts of feeling/acting like a 14 year old girl. Not sure I’ll ever really grow out of that periodic madness.

Anyway, as part of all this nonsense, I’ve started frequenting the gym. Health, I figure, might help with that whole stability thing. At least, that’s how it started. Now it’s kind of morphed into anger/stress management. WordPress giving me an ulcer? The state of the American regulatory system getting under my skin? Men in my life competing fiercely for the “Douchebag of the Year” award? There’s nothing a little sweat and eardrum-damaging-loud music can’t solve.

At first, I thought my 5am bitching-via-self-induced-physical-exhaustion would have another benefit- I could catch up on the day’s morning headlines while I worked out. But because I live in Wheaton- the money-saturated, Bible-thumping capital of the world that allowed high school students during my senior year to opt out of reading Alice Walker’s The Color Purple for “religious” reasons (I’ll pause here so you can vomit… Done? Yes? Ok.)- the news selection at your friendly local Cardinal Fitness is pretty limited.

By which I mean, I hope you like Fox News.

After about a week of painful viewership, I decided I was going to have to balance out the toxic sludge Fox attempts to pass off as news with something else. Since then, I come home and turn on MSNBC while getting ready.

Don’t get me wrong- I know they are incredibly biased as well- but at that time of day, Morning Joe is on, featuring Joe Scarborough. Joe is a former elected Republican. He still identifies with that party. He is also, in my humble opinion, one of the most underrated journalists of our time.

The reason I like Joe is that, unlike others on his network, Fox and beyond, he doesn’t bend over backwards to justify the actions, beliefs or behaviors of his party or anyone else’s. Today, in particular, he was slamming Obama for being meek and failing to deliver change, and blasting the Republican candidates for some very stupid campaign moves. He’s not perfect, but he’s pretty reasonable, and he and the rest of the morning crew- including Mika Brzezinkski and Willie Geist- are constantly, on air, challenging each other to be more balanced. Does it always work out that way? No, but they do a better job than most. And they still have a sense of humor.

This morning, after a particularly rage-fueled round of self-flagellation (I am going to be so sore tomorrow….), I come home, pour some coffee, make some toast, and turn on Morning Joe. The gang’s all there, and they’ve got Michael Steele and Thomas Friedman on to boot. They’re talking about the Republican primary field, and the game of musical chairs that has been “Who’s in the lead now?”

Time for straight talk. Realistically, none of these candidates are good. Ignore ideology- it comes down to electability. The ones who had a chance at star power are imploding before our eyes (Cain, Perry, Bachmann), the newest front runner has more baggage with him than a fleet of air freighters (Gingrich), and the ones with a brain are being ignored (Huntsman, Paul). That leaves us with Romney, who has his own issues, but is still the most electable of the bunch… and no one really likes him either.

Joe started asking why none of the Republican shining stars- like Chris Christie or Paul Ryan or Jed Bush or Mitch Daniels- making a run of it? I’m not saying I like any of them, but they’d have the star power and the backing to shoot past the schlock they’ve got running right now. Yet, each and every one of these guys took a pass.

As the Morning Joe folks (in my opinion, correctly) concluded, it has to do with the gauntlet any Presidential candidate has to go through on the public stage. It’s the annihilation of your character in front of a global audience. It’s the elimination of any and all forms of privacy- not only for you, but for your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, your friends… I may think Sarah Palin is one of the scariest and most idiotic politicians in recent history (though Bachmann gives her a run for her money), but she had someone buy the house next to hers for the sole purpose of spying on her 24-7. No one deserves that.  No one. 

But it goes beyond that. Not only does this candidate have to put themselves and their loved ones from hell, but they as a candidate are not, and cannot be, defined by their policy proposals and solutions and so on in the primaries. They’re defined by a checklist. Are you conservative enough? Are you liberal enough? Can you toe the party line? We ask for their positions and track record on things like abortion and gun control and taxes, and measure it relative to the extremes we associate with the R or D at the end of a politician’s name. This only matters if you’re a single-issue voter, and many are.

I have pretty close to zero respect to single-issue voters (I include those who, without exception, vote down party lines and never consider the opposition’s opinions), because I think it’s making a mockery of what the civic duty of voting is supposed to represent (you know, selecting people that can effectively lead us to a better tomorrow- not just people who agree with you on one thing- especially one thing they probably won’t influence. See below). But it’s not just the voters, either. Candidates willingly and joyfully participate in the 3 ring circus, gleefully declaring that their opponents within the party are not “conservative enough” and that they are “true” conservatives based on this ridiculous checklist. Don’t get too excited, Democrats; you do the same damn thing.

When it comes to a race for the Presidency, realistically, this checklist should be largely irrelevant, especially in times like these. The President does not pass legislation- Congress does. I hear you already- but what about veto power, right? These stock issues matter when you think about that, yes? That may be the case, but with all the crap we’ve got going on right now- with the world melting down around us- why in the hell is Congress even touching these issues with a ten foot pole? Here’s a quick recap of what’s going on, just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock or watching too much of Fox News:

  • U.S. unemployment is listed at 8.6%. It’s probably, in reality, much higher than that.
  • Europe is facing a debt crisis of colossal proportions. Their solution is to create more debt (genius, right?), but they’re even having a hard time agreeing on that one (wonder why…), so the world’s solution has been to increase liquidity (read: money flow) in a global economy already struggling to keep pace with the tide. It was a temporary solution, and the markets still soared yesterday, as if Ben Bernanke had personally saved us all from disaster. But that debt is still there. And Europe is still a mess. And if they don’t get their act together (and I’m not holding my breath), you’re looking at a disintegration of the Euro, Eurozone, and demand for U.S. exports during a time when our economy already sucks.
  • Everyone points to China as a potential savior in all of this. Take a long, hard look at China. The numbers coming out don’t jive well with the actions they’re taking behind the scenes, and the major companies that stock investors were once so excited about are being decimated by corruption revelations, one by one. Oh, and we won’t be the only ones to have our exports impacted if Europe goes under. China gets the double whammy- decreased demand in Europe AND decreased demand in the U.S. as things spiral.
  • Don’t count on emerging nations to help us out either. If the developed world can’t supply demand, it doesn’t matter what these nations can supply- their growth will not be enough to save things in the end.
  • Let’s look at Egypt. And Iran. And Pakistan. And Syria. And Yemen. Hell, let’s look at the massive strike in London, and their riots earlier this year. And while you’re at it- look outside your window. There’s this little thing called the Occupy movement going on here in the U.S. People are angry. Very, very, very angry.

So someone please explain this to me:

WHY IN THE HELL IS CONGRESS WASTING THEIR TIME VOTING ON BULLSHIT THAT IS UTTERLY INCONSEQUENTIAL IN A WORLD THAT’S MELTING DOWN?!

Let’s look at some of the significant work of our Do-Nothing 112th Congress in November, shall we? A few of the voting gems for your consideration:

  • December 1st- Designating room HVC 215 of the Capitol Visitor Center as the “Gabriel Zimmerman Meeting Room.”
  • November 16th- Amendments to a law regarding reciprocity of “right-to-carry” laws across state borders.
  • November 14th- Naming 3 separate postal offices after military service people (all requiring separate votes).
  • November 4th- Issues pertaining to America’s Cup, which for those of you who don’t actively watch sailing competitions, is a boat race.
  • November 2nd- A bill authorizing presentation of a U.S. flag on behalf of Federal civilian employees who die of injuries connected to their employment.

Oh, and apparently we need to take time out of legislating to comment on a Twitter war between McCain and Schumer over a stupid, stupid joke. Oh, and don’t forget that little stump vote up there on gun control. Has absolutely nothing to do with solving a major economic meltdown, but damn, will it ever give folks something to harp on in front of their constituents next November.

To clarify- I’m not saying that any of these issues are explicitly unimportant (except maybe the boat racing thing). I support the troops and believe they deserve the utmost respect and reverence. But I also feel like many of the members of the armed forces that I know would agree with me when I say that we need to take care of the things that could knock us on our ass before we dedicate time to the issues above.

But even in a world where we weren’t wasting time on votes that have no impact on issues that are sort of a little more pressing and important (can we have Todd Graham, Glenn Prince, Nick Dudley, Josh Anderson, and Kevin Garner- just to name a few- go teach these clowns about impact calculus, please?), it wouldn’t really matter, because all anyone seems to care about is making the other party look bad. When the Speaker of the House admits that his party’s behavior is motivated by the goal of defeating President Obama, the system is broken. When Democrats reinforce this us-versus-them mentality with their own rhetoric, the system is broken. When party politics, campaign checkbooks and re-election become more important than the welfare of the nation, the system is broken.

It has become all about the campaign for our representatives on the Hill- a campaign where we choose nominees based on an arbitrary checklist and blast their skeletons (real and imagined) out of the closet and into the limelight.

But enough about politicians, because as angry as I am with them, I’m even angrier with us. When I say us, I mean We the People. I mean the voters, the citizens, Americans.

Because we’re to  blame, too. In 2008, it was only just over half of eligible voters that turned out at the polls. In the midterms, it was under 40%. That’s a problem.

Single-issue and party line voters who remain uninformed on the bigger picture and how their issues interact with it continue to vote in candidates that fail to represent the public and fail to protect our best interests. That’s a problem.

People continue to say that their vote doesn’t matter. Or they don’t say it but they still don’t care. And that apathy allows politicians to use and abuse the system, and encourages them to engage is shallow and divisive politics. That’s a problem.

Perhaps the bigger problem is this: we, as a population, have become selfish. We are demanding monumental solutions and enduring change, but none of us really want to change, because change requires sacrifice. We don’t want to raise taxes because there’s not enough money to go around, but we don’t want to cut whatever programs directly impact us, because then we still lose. Even if our politicians weren’t more dysfunctional than a Kardashian family reunion, they’re not magicians. They can’t waive a wand and wash away all of our problems.

Newsflash: the profits you saw before 2008? The boom you saw in the 90’s? They aren’t coming back. The levels we’re at right now? They’re not the low. Those people freaking out that corporate profits aren’t growing as fast as they want them to? Those growth levels you saw before were not only unsustainable- they were entirely artificial. You want to know why banks started batting around Debit Card fees? Suddenly they’re not allowed to make money the way they did before- which was essentially lying to investors and themselves while selling hot air- and they’re desperate to keep their profits up in a world where those tactics are no longer available.

There is no magic solution. The only way this situation gets any better is sacrifice, and sacrifice on every level. Yes, tax the millionaires. But yes, we may need to cut some of the Medicare, Social Security, Military, and Arts budgets, as well. And it’s going to hurt. And it’s going to suck. Both companies and their employees are going to be making less than they did before.

But it’s the only way this ever gets better.

We can keep squabbling in this world where we pick winners and losers, but no one actually comes out on top, or we can own up to the responsibility that we all had in this situation and step up to the plate.

John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

One of the most over-quoted sound bites ever? Probably, but it’s never been more applicable than it is today. You want to fix this country? It starts with us.

Start voting.

Start calling out politicians who appeal to party affiliation and empty rhetoric. Refuse to vote for someone who doesn’t answer questions with explicit answers.

Start writing. Blog, submit editorials, email your Congressional representatives. Send them a letter. Send them a fax. Spread the information as widely as you can. I don’t care how you do it, but-

Start talking. Politics can no longer be considered taboo. Talk to everyone in your life about these issues and make it clear that this has nothing to do with what party you belong to- this is about the good of the country and fixing what’s broken. A friend of mine commented not too long ago on Facebook about how he wishes people would leave politics out of social media. No risk- and don’t you dare do it either. This matters too much.

Start looking at the big picture. We all have things we care desperately about. Think about those issues in context. Think about how cuts to your interest would impact out- how severe would the consequences be? How many people would they impact? In what timeframe would we see those impacts? Stop the us versus them, my way or the highway rhetoric and start thinking about the long run.

Would I like to participate in a world where these things come to fruition? Absolutely, but that’s not the point of this post. More than anything, I want to see these changes for the sake of my daughter.

Ava, for those of you who don’t know her, is a precocious little monkey. Watching her grow and play and learn gives me so much hope. She certainly saved my life. I guess, at this point, I’m hoping to return the favor. Let me explain.

See, she takes so much pleasure in the smallest things. The cliche about children being entertained by cardboard boxes? That is so my kid. I’ve literally watched her laugh and squeal while crawling in and out of a box and being moved around in it for hours on end.

If there’s something she wants that she can’t get to, she looks for a solution. Sometimes that means she pushes a plastic tub up to the counter so she can reach the cookies. Sometimes that means she asks for help.

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t throw fits- because she does. When she’s angry, she lets you know it. Screaming, tears, and more. But she also moves on to more productive pursuits eventually.

She’s constantly learning. Man, that kid is better on the iPad than me or her grandparents. She’s three years old, but she can count to ten, sing the alphabet, identify letters on sight, and repeat back lines of movies and books on command. In fact, put on one of her favorite Disney films, and she’ll act it out along with the characters on the screen. She’s just so, so smart.

She loves unconditionally. Her first instinct is to love, actually. Her first instinct is to smile. Maybe Nana put her in time-out 5 minutes ago, but she’ll be more than willing to give her a big ole bear hug now.

I don’t want her to inherit a world this complacent, shallow and self-destructive. Maybe if we took a few lessons from her, we’d be better off. Maybe if we could stop expecting the sun and the moon, complaining without acting, closing off our minds to anything that creates cognitive dissonance, embracing passive aggression as a good idea, and making life about conflict instead of camraderie, we’d laugh like Ava does. Maybe if we could appreciate the little things, be constructive and honest with one another, pursue knowledge the way we pursue success, and showed some universal compassion, we’d get that kind of unadulterated joy back. Maybe then, we’d succeed in achieving the ever elusive and appealing stability we crave.

Anyway, thanks, Mr. Scarborough, for getting me all riled up again. I need to head back to the gym…