obama

Why the 2012 Election Matters More Than You Think

Source: Politico

It’s official. With Romney revealing Republican Congressman Paul Ryan as his Vice-Presidential pick, and a mere 86 days until election day, the election season is ramping up to fever pitch. This election is set-up to be one of the most significant in decades, but not for the reasons that most are talking about.

The economy sucks. There’s no doubt about that, and there’s a good chance it gets a lot worse before it gets better. The deficit is ballooning, and then there’s that buzz word everyone likes to throw around- the Fiscal Cliff. What does that mean, exactly? The Fiscal Times explains:

The “fiscal cliff” is what Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke has called the many major fiscal events that could happen simultaneously at the close of 2012 and the dawning of 2013. The events include the expiration of the Bush era tax cuts, the payroll tax cut and other important tax-relief  provisions. They also include the first installment of the $1.2 trillion across-the-board cuts of domestic and defense programs required under last summer’s bipartisan deficit reduction agreement.  At the same time, lawmakers may have to raise the debt ceiling once again, potentially triggering another standoff in Congress.

So there’s that. The problem is that Congress won’t tackle the issues in any meaningful manner until AFTER the election. The cuts in question are, at a minimum, controversial, and it’s much easier to run on fluffy talking points than actual policies. The economy, has, deservedly, become the focus of this election, but the reality is that, despite the focus, the campaigns aren’t actually addressing the concerns in any substantive manner, and the solutions that HAVE been presented aren’t all that great. Even with the sparse policies available for examination, the campaigns aren’t pragmatically discussing the pros and cons, relying on sweeping campaign rhetoric to guide public opinion.

With neither side presenting a great case on fiscal policy, other issues are of greater significance, but none more so than the battle over same-sex marriage. I’m pretty sure I’ve made my position on the issue abundantly clear by now. Its importance cannot be understated. If the Constitution says all humans born or naturalized in the United States are entitled to the same privileges under the law- and the tax benefits, survivorship rights and more associated with legal recognition of a marriage are privileges granted by the government- banning same-sex marriage, and access to the privileges therein, tells those in same-sex relationships that they are less than human. 

But why should anyone pay attention to the candidates’ positions on same-sex marriage? Typically, I’m not one to encourage single issue voting, especially since Presidents do not control the legislative process, but this time is different. Consider, via the Wall Street Journal:

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday declined to rehear arguments over a California ballot measure banning gay marriage, after previously upholding a district court’s rejection of the law.

The decision is the final marker before the case likely moves to the U.S. Supreme Court. […]

Andy Pugno, a lawyer for the group supporting Prop 8, said the ruling “essentially clears the way to where we ultimately knew this was going, which is the U.S. Supreme Court.” He said he would ask the Supreme Court to take the case. […]

Ted Olson, another lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the Supreme Court would likely decide in October whether to hear the case, and if it does, would probably issue a decision by June 2013.

Mr. Olson said the case could head to the Supreme Court in the same time frame as a separate challenge to the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act. A federal appeals court in Boston last week ruled that the federal measure, too, was unconstitutional.

The case would head to the Supreme Court at a time when public opinion on gay marriage is shifting. Polling analyses by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life showed that in 2004, 60% of Americans opposed same-sex marriage and 31% supported it. This year, Pew said, 43% of Americans oppose gay marriage while 47% support it.

This issue is about to be heard by the highest court in the land, and the decision will either be the Plessy v. Ferguson or Brown v. the Board of Education on this subject. For those of you wondering why a pending decision by the judiciary has any bearing on a Presidential election, consider, via (begrudgingly) the Daily Caller:

The final reason for the especially high stakes is that the Court’s balance is up for grabs. Since Justice Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall 21 years ago, no president has had a chance to alter the Court’s precarious 5-4 conservative majority. But during the next administration, three justices — conservatives Kennedy and Scalia and liberal Ginsburg — will reach their 80s. Whoever wins the presidency likely will have the chance either to strengthen the Court’s conservative majority or shift the balance to the left.

The replacement of a single conservative justice by a liberal would produce a profound shift in constitutional law. Most important cases are decided by a 5-4 vote along conservative/liberal lines, encompassing such vital issues as property rights, campaign finance, school choice, federalism, the rights of criminal defendants, Second Amendment rights and constitutional limits on congressional power.

When the Romney campaign has made clear that they believe in a “traditional” definition of marriage, and gone so far as to express support for a federal law banning same-sex marriage, it’s not hard to consider the potential ramifications of their nominations on the Supreme Court. Of course, there’s no guarantee that such a nomination would occur before the issue of same-sex marriage hits the docket, but because there is a chance it does, potential nominations are of the utmost importance.

Your vote could determine whether the courts adhere to the Constitution or regress to the pre-Civil Rights era. The economy may be the most immediate challenge we face, but in a world where neither side is offering a solution, it’s time we pay attention to the issues upon which they can and will act. Quit hiding behind the rhetoric of tax rates and breaks that are being misconstrued and abused on each side, and hold these candidates accountable for their influence on the most critical civil rights issue of our generation.

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…