Tuesday night was a tough night for the United States. The Republicans slaughtered the Democrats, not only winning back the House of Representatives, but also capturing state governments all over the country. Because Republicans ran on a campaign of opposing President Obama’s every move, we can now expect complete gridlock on all matters of domestic policy for the next two years, as well as two ugly years of teachers being laid off, public transportation projects grounded to a halt, and unemployment benefits slashed. Money will continue to pour into political campaigns at record levels. If there’s one message to take away from Tuesday night, however, it’s that we MUST stay involved.
Staying involved means voting, first and foremost. Tuesday’s turnout numbers were far below 2008 levels, as midterm elections always are. This befuddles me. Voting is a core civic duty. Anyone who cannot make the time to vote from 7am to 8pm, or request an absentee ballot, better have good reason. One simple explanation for Tuesday’s result is that the demographics of the voters looked a lot more like John McCain’s supporters than Barack Obama’s supporters. To the many people in my age demographic who have moved around after college or grad school, take this week to update your voter registration.
Staying involved means supporting good local candidates. While we lost a number of good men and women this past election cycle, most politicians are not irreplaceable. Because most candidates for Congress, governor or senator are drawn from lower elected positions, we should make sure to support men and women of integrity and intelligence for our local offices. In New York, one of the few states to weather the Republican wave, we still have far too many corrupt local Democrats. Support good local candidates, and support them early.
Staying involved means getting active, regardless of what Jon Stewart says. Check out this exact quote from the webpage of his “Rally to Restore Sanity” rally: Ours is a rally for the people who’ve been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs). While anti-war rallies may not be your ideal gig, there are many ways to stay active- from volunteering with seriously underfunded non-profits in your community to boycotting certain products to simply spreading awareness on Facebook. Some forms of activism are more effective or visible than others, but everyone should be doing something.
Staying involved means communicating with your family, friends and co-workers. The joke about political endorsements is that outside a handful of big players, a typical politician’s endorsement can only guarantee the support of his or her family. What about the apathetic people in your inner circle? Did you encourage them to vote, and educate them on issues beyond the mainstream news sound-bites?
Staying involved means updating your civics education. What we all learned about American government in high school and college is simply false. Even with massive Congressional majorities, President Obama was barely able to carry out major planks of his legislative agenda from 2009-2010, largely due to arcane rules that allow the minority party far too much power and special interest groups that control many of the key players in both parties. Consider this: Alabama’s Republican Senator, Richard Shelby, held up literally dozens of President Obama’s executive appointments. He did so single-handedly and secretly. On what grounds? Shelby was blocking these appointments so that Alabama could receive more pork spending on his donors’ military contracting projects. But after a national spotlight was cast on him, Shelby largely backed down. Politics and governance will always be ugly, but this is the system we have chosen as a nation. As Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms.” Being aware of how government really works may not improve your day, but it will temper your expectations and help you put your energy in the right place.
Staying involved means not getting discouraged. The insiders who control local and national politics want you to be discouraged. When fewer people vote, pay attention to the issues and make noise on the streets, backroom deals that help connected individuals and corporations become that much easier. By tuning out, you only make it easier for things to get worse. Democracy is not a spectator sport. America has been through worse times than these. The U.S has had far worse people in office. The media has been more shallow, the politicians more corrupt. Let’s shake off Tuesday night and pull ourselves together. There’s a country out there that needs us.