Friday, October 15, 2010

Lost in the Noise

November 2nd is election day in America. All 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 38 seats in the Senate are up for re-election. The battle lines are drawn and half way into his term President Obama's influence hangs in the balance. Currently the Democratic party is in control of the House and the Senate with a narrow margin. The verdict is already out in the media. Come November it is predicted that the balance of power will shift, largely as a protest vote against the ruling party and the president.

Balance of power shifting midway through a presidency is not uncommon. The Democratic party under President Clinton lost control of both houses half way through his first term. Two years later he came back to win a second term with a resounding victory. While history could repeat itself, it must not be taken lightly, as the variables always matter. With the current president those variables are quite diverse and complicated.

American democracy, loudly proclaims it is "of the people, by the people and for the people", but gives very little choice to its citizens to exercise that right. With only two parties to chose from, there is only marginal diversity of opinion to be found. And that makes all the difference. Everything as a result gets defined in rather absolute terms as either left or right, liberal or conservative, FOX or MSNBC so on and so forth. While the diversity in human opinion is always gray, the opportunity to express that complexity seems to be diminishing drastically, especially in a world polarized by gut reaction and not informed thought. As a result, the notion of what is "right" in good conscience in relation to values of justice, life and liberty are pushed to the extremities.

Out of this aberration has spawned a group of people who like to call themselves a "movement" naming themselves after a seminal protest moment that took place in 1773, the Boston Tea Party. They call themselves the "Tea Party" and have emerged as a political force carved out within the Republican party. Helped along by some prominent TV and Radio talk show hosts, loaded financial backers and savvy campaigners they have garnered enough support among a certain class of American society to shake up this election. With President Obama as their pinata and a political ideology ranging from the absurd to the plain nonsensical they have captured the imagination of an electorate who find themselves having to make a choice as always between the devil and the deep blue sea.

As many as 138 Tea Party candidates are taking part in the election this year. Instead of forming their own political party, and being grass roots independent as they claim to be, they have decided to be part of the Republican party. Historically a third party in the United States has never been viable. Primarily due to an inability to raise money and influence on a national scale to take part in the mud slinging that has become so much a part of the debating arena. Also many of the views harbored by the Tea Party candidates resonate within the echelons of the Republican party. Those within the party that nurse those views are just too afraid to openly claim them for fear of a backlash. So it is only prudent for them to endorse Tea Party candidates and test the waters and capitalize on the malaise that has set into the voting population as a result of the way the country seems to be going. A perfect marriage of means.

The Tea Party on the surface seems to have mobilized in response to the government's policies of bail outs, stimulus spending, intrusion of individual freedoms by mandating health care, burdening the future generation with a massive debt and the high unemployment rate. All debatable issues which have been a symptom of almost every other administration since time began. But underneath the facade they stand for some radical policies. The obvious being anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-global warming and pro-gun, and the rest that comes with the package. Then there are those on the fringe who want to get rid of entire federal departments including the Department of Education and the IRS, and want to privatize social security and repeal Obama's health care bill. While everyone criticizes spending by the current administration not a single candidate supports any cuts in the defense budget that has long been a source of financial drain. Everyone unanimously want the wealthiest Americans to keep getting wealthier at the cost of an even more expanding deficit. Then the candidates themselves are quite colorful in every way. Overwhelmingly white, they range from Nazi impersonators, to witch craft dabblers to just outright racists.

Another thing the Tea Party, the Republicans and commentators such as Anne Coulter and Glenn Beck have been very successful at, is phrasing inaccuracies and falsehoods as facts and denigrating the fact checkers by branding them the "liberal media". By blowing their horn on the airwaves and confidently speaking lies masked as facts they have been effective in subverting the debate and painting the Democrats as socialists turning America into a European style nation. Anne Coulter, a woman who has made a career out of being offensive and in your face, has gone so far as to calling the Iraq war the "just war" and applauding George Bush for it and calling the Afghan war Obama's Vietnam (which it might as well have defacto become) and blaming him for bungling it when George Bush had in fact got it right.

When the Tea Party supporters came out of the wood work and started gathering across the nation the Democrats did not pay much attention. They thought the screaming dogs would die their own death and responding to them was below ones dignity. When thousands showed up at the Washington mall heeding a call by the right wing talk show host on the Fox network Glenn Beck, people stood up and paid attention. And now with the media at large calling the Tea Party candidates a force to reckon with and the threat of them forming their own caucus within the Republican party in the House and the Senate becoming very real, everyone is running helter-skelter trying to do some last minute damage control. The President, his wife and his Vice-President have rolled up their sleeves and have hit the campaign trail hoping to revive some of their "Obama-08" magic two weeks before D-day. It may already be too late.

If this election is a referendum on the two years of Obama's presidency, it is a bit premature. Yes he inherited a mess for which he is being blamed, but two years in, he has no choice but to take ownership, and that he has. If there is one failure that could be attributed to his Presidency, it is his inability to connect with the nation at large like he did as a candidate. The great unifier seems to have fallen victim to the political forces of division. He was propelled into the stratosphere by an overblown romance between his persona and the media. He was wrongly portrayed as the Messiah who would lead us to the promised land with his professorial ability to work across the aisle. His preacher like speeches and slogans such as "Yes We Can" made us all heady with over optimism, but it was certain that he would be heading into some difficult terrain once inauguration day came. Yet on record he has fared better than most and got a significant amount done, but some how failed to drive his accomplishments home to the public. He even cut taxes for 95% of Americans which should make him and his party popular in an election year, but even that has largely gone unnoticed in the noise. There is no doubt he has left many who would rise again for him disenchanted. Guantanamo Bay still remains open for business, the wars rage on, civil liberties still have not been fully restored since they were compromised by the Patriot Act, War and Wall Street criminals who brought American to ruin still roam free while new ones join their ranks, the peace talks in the middle east have stalled- yet again and even though wall street seems to be having a field day and the recession is "officially over" the high unemployment rate stubbornly eats away at his statistical popularity.

If this election is a protest vote against President Obama it is highly misplaced. If it is a protest vote against his policies, we have not seen them bear fruit yet. If this is about the right rallying its forces to victory, with an element of prejudice at its core, then it is time to counter that force, and do the right thing come election day. The way democracy works around the world is, at the end of the day, one eventually gets what one deserves. It is what it is.