The views expressed in this blog entry are solely my own and are not representative of any official campaign stance
Today is my last day as an unpaid intern on the campaign to reelect Scott Peters. Tomorrow, I will become a paid staff member. That makes this my last chance to tell everyone why I support Peters without facing accusations that I am “just doing my job,” or am “saying what I’ve been paid to say.” This is my chance to make it clear that I don’t say these things because I work for Peters. I work for Peters because I believe these things.
But first, background:
I am a politically independent Army veteran and graduate student with a couple of bachelors degrees. I’m so fed up with Congress’ inability to do its job that I once attempted to establish a new nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of independent candidates and voters–to put evidence and results above ideology. I recently moved to San Diego “for the summer” because I wanted to see if it was a place I might want to settle after my eventual graduation. Upon my arrival, I could have done just about anything–sought a “real” job, waited tables, mowed lawns, whatever. I wanted to get involved in the political scene out here, so I began looking into the local races and candidates. I could have picked anyone from any surrounding district to support and to volunteer my time. After researching the races and candidates in the area, I chose to dedicate about 30 hours a week, unpaid, to Scott Peters’ reelection campaign for the past five to six weeks.
In short, by most standards, I’d consider myself credibly objective in this matter. I’m not just going to shill for anyone in my party or district, since I have neither of those here. And I’m probably a lot like you: I love this country (so much that I painted American flag racing stripes on my car), but can recognize it’s flaws and shortcomings. And I want my government to get back to actually working for its people. I generally pride myself in being able to see multiple sides of an issue. But there’s one thing I just cannot wrap my head around: I honestly can’t see a single good reason not to vote for Scott Peters over Carl DeMaio. I honestly believe that if I were to sit down and have a real, honest, open-minded discussion with every member of California’s 52nd District, Peters would win 70-30, at least.
If you think Congress shouldn’t get paid unless they do their job and pass a budget, vote for Scott Peters, who ran on a platform for such a law, cosponsored it, voted for it, and it passed into law.
If you wanted a sensible debt reduction/shutdown avoidance plan that appeals to both parties, vote for Scott Peters, whose pre-shutdown plan was endorsed by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles–you know, the guys that created the Simpson-Bowles report that everyone wished were enacted but Congress mostly ignored.
If you want someone who puts policy and people above party, vote for Scott Peters, who was ranked the 4th most independent Democrat in 2013 by the National Journal, which noted that Peters is “part of the bipartisan freshmen United Solutions Caucus, which meets to try and translate the dissatisfaction their voters voiced during the campaign into bipartisan action. He said many of the new members feel emboldened to buck their parties”.
If you want to take care of our veterans and military, vote for Scott Peters, who played a role in the recent VA compromise bill, and who has also supported legislation aiding homeless veterans (introduced), increasing access to mental health services (cosponsored), and increasing economic opportunities (voted–across party lines).
If you support women’s economic and/or reproductive rights, then vote for Scott Peters, who has a 100% rating and an endorsement from Planned Parenthood; and who also has cosponsored multiple measures focusing on equal pay and workplace treatment. (And if you can’t vote for a pro-choice candidate, then you also can’t vote for Peters’ opponent).
If you want to protect the environment, vote for Scott Peters, who chairs the Climate Task Force for the Sustainable Energy & Environment Coalition and has the support of the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club.
If you want to support small businesses, vote Scott Peters, who wants to cut/reform taxes on small businesses and who has the endorsement of FOUR former chairs of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, such as in this letter to the editor.
If you’re tired of the corporate influence on politics and don’t believe that corporations are people, then vote Scott Peters, who cosponsored a resolution for a Constitutional Amendment to undo the Citizens United decision and has supported other efforts to improve the impact of small, individual donors.
If you want a candidate with strong family values, vote for Scott Peters, the family man that is the son of a minister.
If you’re a geek, vote for Scott Peters, who played a major role in keeping ComiCon (and its economic impact) in San Diego… and also put a Game of Thrones shout-out into his video for ComiCon 2014.
If you think the IRS has lacked accountability, vote for Scott Peters, who voted for the STOP IRS Act, which calls for the termination of those found to take certain official actions for political purposes.
If you think bipartisanship starts by building relationships outside the halls of Congress, vote for Scott Peters, who participates in bipartisan workouts to build bonds with fellow representatives.
If you’re tired of an obstructionist Congress that openly mocks working together to find a solution, vote against Carl DeMaio, who was the lone no vote on a divided City Council over 100 times and openly mocked “bringing everyone to the table” to find a solution in a recently-released video (1:10) from a 2011 speech to the local Tea Party.
Basically, you have a first-term incumbent who is doing all the right things to be a part of the solution in Congress; aiming to balance the budget, getting the support of wide-ranging groups from environmental to business to military to women’s groups. You have a guy who didn’t let being a freshman hold him back from introducing and cosponsoring legislation, balancing achievable (and achieved) goals with lofty legislative long-shots. If you’re tired of the same old crap from Congress, Scott Peters is what we need more of in D.C..
Carl DeMaio is trying to run his campaign against Washington and everything that is wrong with Congress. That makes sense for him because there’s a lot of anti-government and anti-Washington sentiment out there on which he can capitalize. Unfortunately for him, Carl DeMaio isn’t running against everything wrong with Washington. He happens to be running against one of Washington’s few bright spots. It only takes a little bit of research (and/or a few conversations with those who have worked/interacted with both men) to realize that. And as soon as people figure it out, I would hope and expect that Scott Peters would receive the victory he so rightly deserves.
My ex-girlfriend and I had an on-and-off relationship. Many of our friends had grown quite impatient with the constant indecision. When she asked me to move in with her, of course, those close to us were concerned. Those concerns made sense, and soon she started having second thoughts. Of course, to back out would mean that all of those concerned loved ones would blame and vilify her. When she first brought her uncertainty to my attention, I wanted the decision to be based on the issue at hand and not on how it would be perceived, and so I told her that if she backed out now I would tell people that it was a mutual decision that we rushed into things; I’d help her save face. (The end of this story isn’t necessary)
The more I read about the government shutdown, past shutdowns, and past congressional deal making, the more apparent it is to me that had this been averted before the crisis, no concessions would have been needed. But as things have now gone to this greater level, outside perceptions are going to matter a great deal. This sentiment has been well-documented by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post the past two days, who passed along this quote from Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Indiana) “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” If the Republicans are going to end this–even those who want to end it–there is going to have to be something that helps them save face in the public perception. Over the pat few days, I’ve been trying to decide what that might be.
We Did Everything We Could
One method for House Leadership to save face is to simply lose the fight. Although only 19-23 Republican House members have publicly stated that they would likely back a clean continuing resolution (CR) as was passed by the Senate, the estimates for its support behind closed doors are much higher. The National Review’s Robert Costa estimated that there are “potentially more than 100” Republican House members who would back a clean CR. Rep. Peter King guessed that “if you had a secret ballot, 180 would vote for a clean CR.” King is also among the numerous moderate Republicans contingency planning for a revolt against House leadership.
Many members, however, are worried about their home districts and pressure from the right. For this reason, I think that of the 100-180 that support re-opening the government without concessions, those in the safest reelection districts should be identified. Behind closed doors, Boehner could curry votes to end the shutdown, while protecting his vulnerable members and publicly opposing the move. As long as they have enough votes to pass the bill that way (they have enough to pass right now, but not enough to necessarily pull off the plotted revolt), then let the others vote against it, for political cover. This way, individual members get some cover. Leadership gets cover with the right wing by saying “we did everything we could, but we just didn’t have the votes,” and the government opens. Procedurally, this seems the most difficult and complex. It’s also the least likely.
There’s a popular refrain about what’s wrong with the world today that involves giving trophies to everyone just for participating and not keeping score during sports or other competitions. The story goes that liberal touchy-feely types are so worried about hurting their children’s self-esteem that they are instead sheltering those children from the realities of competition, failure, and the lessons of bouncing back from adversity. I’m inclined to agree.
But while keeping score in children’s athletics is wildly popular among conservatives and moderates, I’ve learned that those same rules do not apply to political commentary. Since writing “On the Shutdown Blame Game” yesterday morning in which I placed the full blame for the shutdown on House Republicans, I have been routinely and incessantly accused of having a liberal bias. Apparently, unlike kids playing sports, the right-leaning in this country do not appreciate keeping score in politics. The only acceptable answer is that everyone is to blame. Picking winners and losers; placing blame on one side or the other; these are unacceptable atrocities that can only serve to reveal your true inner bias.
Now, it’s true that there are often times that I espouse a point of view with which very few conservatives or Republicans would agree. Sure, I can often find an Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks, or a Bruce Bartlett to back my logic, but many (most?) on the right consider these men RINOs–not true believers in the cause (which in and of itself might be worth a whole post). Their backing provides no credibility with the right. These are the times that I expect to be accused of liberal bias, even when I feel I am simply conveying the facts as I see them.
I probably could have tried to dissuade people accusing me of bias by pointing them toward the time I wrote that passing health care instead of a jobs bill was President Obama’s biggest mistake and agreed that he leads from behind; or about how pushing everyone to go to college was misguided; or about how wrong-headed I thought the liberal-led anti-bullying campaign is; or wrote that labor unions continue to prioritize short-term gains over the long-term health of the industry in which their members work; or about how useless the focus on “fairness” is and how the word itself is all but meaningless. But I didn’t feel the need to do all of that. I decided I could look elsewhere for my defense.
In the case of the government shutdown, my opinion is simply this: The House Republicans embarked on an ill-advised journey toward certain defeat in a move that could only result in a shutdown, and that Republicans are the ones who are best able and most likely to re-open the government based on the realities of vote counts. It was easy to find agreement in the Washington Post, The Guardian, and a lovely media critique in Al Jazeera. But this straight-forward view can still easily be seen as one-sided if only the “liberal media” backs it.
If my viewpoint constitutes liberal bias, however, then Karl Rove has a liberal bias. John McCain has a liberal bias. A handful of House Republicans such as Devin Nunes, Michael Grimm, and Peter King have a liberal bias. Republican Senators Orin Hatch and Richard Burr have a liberal bias. Honestly, the list is huge. I can’t even begin to include all of the Republicans who have spoken out against the logic and chances of success for the current House Republican tactics. When party leadership is doing the right thing, groups of party members usually don’t attempt to plan a revolt by siding with the other party.
You see, a liberal point of view is unlikely to be replicated by elected Republicans and prominent republican commentators. In fact, the main bias involved in the reporting of this story comes from the people that are trying to claim that “everyone is to blame.” Those are the people who are getting more spin than substance; who are taking media sources at face value; who are buying all the mutual finger pointing on C-SPAN.
Blaming both sides is the lazy way out. It allows you to have an opinion and share outrage without having followed the story or understanding the appropriations process until it all hit the front page. But the fact is that Republicans generally don’t, en mass, endorse a “liberal” point of view. But here so many are. Be honest with yourselves; keep score. The House Republicans messed this one up. They shouldn’t get a trophy just for participating.
Examples of Liberal Bias:
- Getting angry about George W. Bush’s NSA wiretapping scandal and defending Obama’s NSA metadata scandal
- Only getting your news from MSNBC, Mother Jones, and Huffington Post
- Insisting with certainty that Obamacare will work as planned/intended when it’s success level depends on unpredictable human behavior
- Ignoring the perverse incentives present in some aspects of Obamacare
- Thinking that George W. Bush should be jailed as a war criminal and Obama’s drone strikes are just fine
- Agreeing with that old Occupy Wall Street list of demands
Examples of what ISN’T a liberal bias
- Agreeing with a huge number of Republicans and conservatives on any issue, even if that issue is that House Republicans are to blame for a given predicament.
If your social media experience today is anything like mine, you have some conservative or right-leaning friends crying “a pox on both your houses,” while your liberal or left-leaning friends are chanting “Down with the GOP!” Some could interpret this to mean that right-leaning friends are more fair, clear-eyed, and rational about the situation while left-leaning friends are being partisan nincompoops. In many situations, that could easily be the case. However, in this specific scenario, it’s simply that this whole shutdown is entirely the House Republicans’ fault. Let me explain the many reasons why this is true.
(For ease of writing, I’m going to refer to Republicans and Democrats instead of specifying “a large block of House Republicans including their leadership,” or “the Democrats in the Senate.”)
Play the Cards You Have
This is a fairly simple concept. How realistic is it for each side to secure that for which they are asking? Back when poker was a big television event, viewers always had the luxury of knowing which cards each player held. Well, in this situation the Republicans are waiting on a flush draw and the Democrats already have a full house. The only way Republicans can win is to convince the Democrats to fold a superior hand. I’m talking about vote counts. The House Republicans continually pass bills which have no chance of winning a majority in the Senate, where there are 54 Democrats who support Obamacare. Meanwhile, multiple reports have indicated that there are enough Republicans in the House who would vote for a “clean” continuing resolution that a vote would pass.
So the Republicans keep passing bills that will not pass the Senate. And the Democrats keep passing bills that will pass the House. All they have to do is put it up for a vote. The Democrats’ plan has the support of the majority in both chambers of congress. Clearly, on “winability,” it’s advantage Democrats.
The Electoral High Ground
There was an exchange just before midnight during the Ted Cruz non-filibuster in which Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia conceded that Sen. Cruz was elected by a wide margin in both the primary and the general election on a clearly-stated opposition to Obamacare, and thus felt legitimately honor-bound to fight for its removal. Sen. Kaine then went on to explain that other representatives were equally honor-bound to do the opposite, and there were more of them.
You see, in the 2012 election, Obamacare was a pretty front-and-center issue. Yes, the economy was on everyone’s mind when they took to the ballots, but the outcome of Obamacare was clearly known to be a consequence of this election. The results were that Democrats received more votes for the Presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. They picked up seats in both chambers, expanding the Senate majority and narrowing the gap in the House. The American people weighed in, and the Democrats got more votes. The Republicans were able to maintain the House majority only due to a combination of geographic realities and some gerrymandering (more the former than the latter; sorry liberals). But the conclusion remains that more voters cast votes for representatives promising to uphold the law than to repeal it.
Moral High Ground
You’ll notice, thus far, that I have not made any arguments about the merits of Obamacare itself. That’s because I find them irrelevant to the issue of a shutdown. There have been numerous government shutdowns in the past, and while a handful centered on abortion issues, the vast majority of the times that the government couldn’t agree to funding levels before a deadline passed occurred because the government couldn’t agree on funding levels. This is a budgetary debate. There are many, many things that take place within the government with which I do not agree. I don’t think that there is a single one that I find worth failing to meet the obligations of elected office, governing, and funding that government. I think that to inflict real harm on the nation’s economy and several hundred thousand federal employees over an ideological agenda is simply wrong.
One point often made is that the American people are against Obamacare and therefore the Democrats should listen to them and give ground. While this flies in the face of election results, polling data speaks fairly clearly. However, very few of those polls ask the proper follow-up question. The CNN Poll does. When asked whether they disapprove of Obamacare because it is too liberal or not liberal enough, a solid 11% of the respondents say they disapprove because it’s not liberal enough (that’s 11% of the total population, not 11% of those who disapprove). Suddenly, those election results make a lot more sense, don’t they? If you assume that those who disapprove of Obamacare because it is not liberal enough are more likely to back a Democratic agenda, then suddenly the 10-12 point majority opposing the bill swings the opposite direction.
On top of that, every single poll out there indicates that shutting down the government is wildly unpopular under any circumstances, for any reason. So on the health care bill, the public is siding less with Republicans than Republicans seem to think, and on shutting down the government the public is adamantly opposed to the Republican tactics. Make DC Listen!
The Republicans are reprimanding Democrats for not negotiating. “The President will negotiate with [insert terrorists, Iran, Russia, etc] but he won’t negotiate with Republican leaders,” they cry! Well, let’s look at where both parties stand.
Democrats want: To fund the government (at previous levels)
Republicans want: To fund the government (at previous levels) and to delay/defund/weaken/cripple Obamacare.
So let me get this straight. You want to negotiate when only one side has any demands? Funding the government is good for everyone. Not funding the government is bad for everyone. The Republicans are not offering any concessions. They are simply offering fewer demands each time and calling it compromise, but they are still the only one with demands.
And guess what. Time just ran out. People today will begin enrolling in Obamacare. The default position wins the day. When one side is asking for major changes, and the other side is asking for, well, nothing, it’s tough to negotiate.
Okay. Let’s say the Democrats go along with this and delay key aspects of Obamacare for a year. They won’t, but let’s say that they do. Now, a year goes by. A legislative body has to enact a new spending bill to keep the government open, and Obamacare is about to go into effect. The House has voted approximately 40 times to repeal this law, so the odds are that a simple delay is not their end game. What is to stop Republicans from, once again, taking a stand against the bill and holding the operational purse strings of the federal government for ransom? Nothing. There is nothing stopping them from using what leverage they have over federal funding to continue to attempt to derail this law. And if they succeed using this tactic once, why on earth would they not try it again in a year?
In closing, the Democrats have a more-achievable position; they have passed a funding bill which has the support of a majority in both chambers of congress; they have electoral results on their side; they have polling data on their side; and they have a stronger negotiating position. The only way this works out for Republicans is if the Democrats fold a winning hand. I don’t see any rational justification for them to do so. Hopefully, we remember these lessons in November 2014.
I often like to think about what might have been. I’m not going to contemplate a world without partisanship. I’m not going to ponder a world where everyone works together and sings kumbaya. Those are nice ideals, but within the reality of one-upsmansmanship and party message control, I can still see clearly a very different political path from 2009 to now; a path that starts with Republicans claiming a victory that was rightfully theirs, and would drastically change the political landscape in which we currently live.
It starts with a simple story of an idea: the individual mandate. As outlined here by FoxNews, the individual mandate made it’s way from the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation in 1989, into Republican-sponsored health care bill proposals in 1993 (by current mandate opponents such as Chuck Grassley), enacted by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts in 2006, and finally into another congressional bill proposal in 2007 co-sponsored by a Republican and a Democrat. Mitt Romney even referred to the rule as his “personal responsibility mandate.” In short, this idea was entirely of Republican origin and remained a popular means of reforming health care and reducing costs within the Republican party until very recently.
Let’s now think back on the 2009 health care debate. The Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, but did not quite have a filibuster-proof majority. They desperately wanted to have a public option in their health care legislation. Ultimately, the death of Senator Ted Kennedy and the strong opposition and threats to join Republicans in a filibuster by Democrat-turned-Independent Joe Lieberman crushed that plan. The end result is that a massive health care bill focused around Republican ideas and modeled after a Republican governor’s plan passed through the Democrat-controlled congress without having a public option attached. Just imagine if that’s how the story played out in the messaging.
Imagine that Republicans, seeing the embrace of a conservative ideal, participated in the framework and negotiations structuring the law. Imagine that upon the failure of the public option, a bipartisan bill was passed with Republicans claiming victory for the bill and their role in its success. Their idea had won the day. They had defeated the public option. They had, in effect, hijacked the President’s attempt at a signature piece of legislation. They had brought him along to an individual mandate he opposed in his primary against Hillary Clinton. What if what is now the signature polarizing piece of legislation of Obama’s administration was instead spun, messaged, and ultimately viewed (Republicans are pretty good at message control, after all) as a strong Republican minority exposing the President’s weakness. What if Obamacare was Boehnercare? What if, in 2012, Mitt Romney ran partly on the platform that the President’s greatest accomplishment was simply piggybacking off of his largely successful Massachusetts legislation? Might he have looked stronger? Maybe even won the election? Would Democrats still be clamoring for enough seats and votes to add a public option to the bill?
Certainly, we would not be here. Certainly, Republicans who embraced health care reform and undercut the President by taking most of the credit for it would not be orchestrating a government shutdown as a last-ditch effort to defund a bill based on a long history of their own conservative ideas.
Then again, if the Republicans didn’t shift the current debate to Obamacare, Democrats would probably be pressing them to undo the “sequestration” cuts in the new fiscal year. As it is, the Democrats are offering a “clean” continuing resolution, accepting the funding level reductions enacted by sequestration as the new status quo…. yet another Republican victory for which they are too partisan to notice and accept credit.
I’m not sure if this was exclusive to my generation or even just to my elementary and middle schools, but growing up there existed a pervasive myth: if you said the words “president,” and “bomb,” within a minute of each other over the phone, the FBI would be at your house within minutes. As this was in the earliest stages of the (public) internet, I have no idea how widespread this notion was, but it was a well-known part of my childhood. Interestingly, no one seemed to mind it. We were just kids, of course, but in most ways it was viewed as a sign of strength–almost as a token of nationalistic pride. Our government knows all; don’t cross it.
As we grew up, the Bond movies were revamped with Pierce Brosnan and later Daniel Craig. Shows like “24” and “Alias” unveiled a world in which top secret authorities had virtually unlimited access to all the information that they needed. As adults, we get sucked into NCIS marathons and gleefully watch Abby hack into any system or hard drive she wants in order to unlock the necessary intelligence. Yes, we are a generation that grew up believing–or maybe wanting to believe–that our government had an omniscient quality; at least in theory.
However, as that theory becomes more like reality, my generation is not pleased or unphased, but disgusted. A recent CNN poll revealed that those under age 50 are much less likely to value security over privacy. The libertarian movement has erupted among the nation’s younger generation, leading to Ron Paul’s relevance and a push back against privacy invasions of all kinds, often celebrating WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning, and now Edward Snowden.
But not me. In fact, I am more worried by the leaks than I am about the information collection. You see, when I assumed growing up that some secret government agency probably knew everything about me, I took solace in the fact that they wouldn’t tell anyone. If you are covertly or illegally acquiring information, you can’t tell people that you have that information, and you can’t use it in court against me. It can only be used in some pretty extreme circumstances, and I’m not really mixed up in anything that crazy. In fact, the original document leaker, Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers, was not prosecuted because evidence against him was acquired illegally through wiretaps. Thus, any information the government collected on me was known only to a select few, and would stay that way.
But in a world in which leaks are viewed as heroic acts; when disclosing classified information gives you instant notoriety (be it fame or infamy), I no longer have that assurance. Now that leaking is seemingly becoming en vogue, any information that the government may collect on me could at any point be leaked to the public. Top secret won’t necessarily stay that way. I always figured that the government has bigger fish to fry than to read my gchats and facebook messages, but that doesn’t mean I’d like them exposed to the public.
Having a top secret (or higher) clearance is a responsibility. It means that you are willing and able to safeguard information and use it judiciously. When that wall breaks down and classified becomes public… when it becomes trendy to “expose” that information to the media or to WikiLeaks or to anywhere else… my information is no longer safe. Maybe it’s naive to trust government entities with my day to day life, but being granted a clearance used to mean that I could trust you. And I sure would rather have it in their hands than in everyone’s.
I lost a friend on Tuesday (and no, it wasn’t America). To be fair, it was more of an acquaintance; I barely knew her. But we’ve been in touch on a superficial level for quite some time–facebook friends, IMs, text messages. She often checked in on me while I was deployed, and just last week I frequently checked in on her while she was stranded in a flooding, powerless house in New Jersey. Our communications were more frequent than they were deep, though, and we almost never actually saw each other. Still, I considered her a friend on some level and planned to visit her soon. That was before election day.
I have to start out by explaining that I really hate when race is brought into conversations. I know that it is still more of an issue than many in America want to admit, but I also feel that it is less of an issue than many people allow it to become. I think that frequently, race is brought up in conversations where it has little or no place–such as recent assertions in the sports world that the “only” grounds for comparison between rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and 2nd-year quarterback Cam Newton is that they are both black. The fact that the two both accomplished a statistical feat that hadn’t been done since the 1940s obviously is no basis for comparison. But I digress. The point is that I don’t like it when race is made to be a central factor on topics around which I think race is probably only a fringe factor. And that’s why I’m so reluctant to say that this election–and elections in general these days–really are a racial issue.
That brings me back to my friend–well, the girl who was my friend. The morning of the election, she wanted to talk about how I was voting. She’s a registered Republican, so I knew that she would be disappointed with my choice. But I had absolutely no idea what was coming next. It started with quips such as “Obama only won because he’s black.” I believe strongly that the only way to draw people out of a bubble of ignorance is to engage them–and to do so tactfully and peacefully no matter your disagreement. The next hour of my life challenged that notion of tact and restraint to the core.
I was informed that Obama “bussed the monkeys and apes out of the ghettos” in 2008. I was told that the only people who vote for Obama are “ghetto trash, white trash, the Spanish, and the Jews.” I personally was told that I was “nasty” because a girl I dated in high school was half-black. And of course, I was fed the line “I have plenty of black friends.” I attempted at great length to get to the root of how she could say such things and then work with and socialize with black people. I tried to find out if she ever shared any of these views. She told me that she knows that she is racist, she doesn’t care, and that “plenty of people” feel that way–they just don’t admit it.
We’ve all seen the racist anti-Obama Twitter feeds (do NOT follow that link unless you want to see very offensive, NSFW language), but this was the first time I have ever experienced such things first-hand; things said not just to draw attention to yourself or to be “funny” on the faceless internet, but as a core belief unshakably being hurled at me by someone I actually know. It’s probably the closest I’ve ever been to being speechless. And the story ended when, before I regrouped, she ended our “facebook friendship” out of contempt that I am not a racist. This last step fully blew my mind. I had just lost a friend–one that I would have cut from my life anyway–because she decided that she could not carry on a relationship of any kind with someone so tolerant.
Alright, I know. This is all anecdotal. I am in no way asserting that this is the dominant rationale of people voting against Obama. There are plenty of legitimate reasons not to vote for Obama. But a friend of mine currently in Europe informed me that in Ireland, the election is being covered largely on the basis of race. And then the aforementioned conversation happened. And then I watched the election results and reactions. More and more, I could not avoid hearing about and thinking about race–but in a wholly different context than outright racism. The dominant discussion about electoral math has now become one of demographics. And while women had their day in the sun during the election, the Hispanic vote and the “minority vote” are winning the conversation about the future, most famously summed up by Bill O’Reilly’s statement that “the white establishment is now the minority.“
What shocks me about these conversations is how taken for granted it is that racial voting blocs will remain in tact. The idea that Obama might help usher in the beginning of a post-racial society–even by the most conservative estimates of what that phrase means–are all but a joke now. Lost in the conversation is an effort to level the field to an extent that ethnicity ceases to be an electoral fault line. Conversations about “getting the Hispanic vote” seem to revolve around how best to pander and which issues are most welcoming of the group–as a whole. It all leads me to believe that in regards to race relations–both structural and social–we not only aren’t moving ahead but may even be taking a step back.
A very wise, close friend of mine often reminds me that it was only one generation ago that segregation and civil rights and race riots were the norm; that expecting the nation to heal from these fissures this quickly might have been too much. Maybe it’s not surprising when they bubble to the surface again from time to time. But my reaction to that (my hope, maybe) was always that it should be expected to subside within another generation as the last remnants of such a divisive era move on leaving behind a more tolerant, less wounded society. Given the discourse surrounding the election, I worry that we may be keeping alive these strong divisions for another generation. It’s rare to hear me say this, but… I hope I’m wrong.