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Posts Tagged ‘2012 election’

On Republican Victories that Weren’t

October 1, 2013 Leave a comment

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.

On Race and Elections

November 8, 2012 3 comments

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.

On Gary Johnson, Third Parties, and 5%

October 31, 2012 1 comment

Today, I officially cast my 2012 ballot by participating in early voting. Upon completion of my ballot, I shared on facebook who I voted for which opened up conversation and allowed me to explain my views. One issue that was raised repeatedly (particularly by my friends in the Army) was the fact that I didn’t vote for Gary Johnson. It could be considered strange that my lack of a vote for a distantly-polling Libertarian candidate raised any eyebrows at all. However, one specific request made sense to me. I was asked to explain how a vote for Obama helps America more than empowering third parties. This is going to require some background information.

First of all, why would a vote for Gary Johnson “empower” third parties? The answer is a bit mixed. It would not at all empower third parties. It would empower one, single party: the Libertarian Party. This empowerment is addressed in Gary Johnson’s latest ad campaign, “Be the Five Percent,” which explains that by acquiring 5% of the popular vote this election cycle, the Libertarian party will receive federal funds and greater access to the presidential ballots in 2016. This fact was difficult to verify, but I finally found a source that seems to confirm it, to some extent. So it is true that if Gary Johnson receives 5% of the vote, the two-party system will be dealt a blow of sorts.

I am a frequent, open critic of the current state of the two-party system. I hate the partisanship. I hate the incentive structure that is created through this system–one which rewards more extreme candidates. I hate that the plurality of Americans are not represented by either party and thus have no role in the federal legislative process. I have taken some minimal steps toward a future of actively fighting against the two-party system, weakening its power grip. To many, this implies that I would be in favor a third party or third-party candidates. I am not.

Another party would not solve the problem of the unrepresented moderate. Here is a great article about what it means to be moderate by (moderate) conservative David Brooks. The gist of it is that moderates base their political vision on facts and data–observable from history–to make decisions. As the article explains:

For a certain sort of conservative, tax cuts and smaller government are always the answer, no matter what the situation. For a certain sort of liberal, tax increases for the rich and more government programs are always the answer.

The moderate does not believe that there are policies that are permanently right. Situations matter most. Tax cuts might be right one decade but wrong the next. Tighter regulations might be right one decade, but if sclerosis sets in then deregulation might be in order.

(emphasis added)

Meeting the threshold to put the Libertarian Party on the ballot, then, does nothing toward meeting my goal to see unaffiliated, non-partisans in decision-making roles. In fact, I am of the opinion that the libertarian ideology is among the least flexible, least situational of any I know. Libertarians, as a general rule will answer to cut, to legalize, and to privatize. Their expanded role in our political process would simply mean that there is yet another rigid ideology pushing platitudes and making compromise difficult. Rigidity is the enemy.

Rather than cast a “protest vote,” in the presidential election, I will vote for a candidate who can win within the current system. One I believe in, at that. If you want to end the vice grip of power that the two major political parties hold, I would recommend doing so far outside of the context of a presidential ballot. Take measures to actually reform the current electoral system. Start with your state, as state electoral policy determines primary election formats, procedures required to get on the ballot, and other important electoral issues.

You should also consider any qualified, intelligent non-partisan candidate for a congressional seat if (s)he does not have any views with which you vehemently oppose. I voted for an unaffiliated candidate for the Senate, although in heavily Democratic Maryland, he stands little chance.

But the key here is to start locally, where one vote counts more than it does nationally. Local officials are responsible for creating the state-by-state systems that are rigged toward the parties. Small congressional districts are more-easily moved than nationwide electorates. If there is less partisanship at the state level, and less partisanship in congress, things will move in the right direction. Government reform, cooperation, and non-partisanship need to be prioritized in voting blocs which can be realistically achieved before tackling the largest voting bloc there is. Focusing on a presidential ballot to enact change just isn’t going to get it done.