2014 is one of the strangest elections that I can recall. What should be obvious is not. What conclusions to draw are messy. What trend line to follow wanders into the wilderness and disappears. Lack of clarity seems to be the only clarity.
America, and Americans, seem stuck in a paralyzed state, unable to move decisively in any particular direction. Numerous key senatorial and gubernatorial elections are judged “too close to call” only a week before the November 4th election. Americans roam through most national issues continually split somewhere between 45-55% apart. And even when they occasionally come together on some issue (e.g. 90% for expanded background checks for gun purchases), vested political and monied structures override and block any movement. The Supreme Court still decides most significant issues on 5-4 votes, with seven of the nine justices voting as predictably consistently as entrenched members of Congressional political parties.
Americans notoriously suffer from short-term memories, but in 2014 we seem to have slipped into absolute amnesia. In 2008, America fell off an economic cliff into the worst crisis second only to the Great Depression. Unemployment over 10%; stock market values cut in half; housing market at a standstill with underwater mortgages and unending foreclosures; and the financial industry on the brink of collapse due to their own irresponsible (and illegal) mismanagement and greedy pursuit of profits. Today, virtually every economic indicator is back to or better than pre-2008 – notwithstanding the negative words of many pundits. It is the most successful recovery across the globe, yet people still incessantly criticize the progress that has occurred. Are there continuing soft spots and vulnerabilities latent in the U.S. economic machine? Yes. But “problems remaining” should never obviate “progress made.” Yet we are poised to potentially elect politicians who protect those economic terrorists who caused that crippling recession, with nary a “thanks” to the people who have been leading us out of it.
Remember the government shutdown? It was only seven months ago. A political game that was an economic train wreck that accomplished none of its supposed goals of governmental austerity while causing real pain to many citizens. The most telling residual images of the whole affair were the immoral photo ops of legislators standing in front of national monuments decrying their closure – closures caused by those same hypocritical politicians. Yet we are poised to potentially elect many of these same politicians with nary a reminder of that anti-people and anti-government fiasco.
Political tactics – winning and losing – is the order of the day, rather than solutions to real problems affecting real people. Solutions that can help a wide swath of our diverse population, rather than benefiting only the few. We oppose the President’s proposals just for the sake of opposing him, regardless of the merits or tangible effects for the citizenry. And we turn back the clock on the expansion of democratic process and equality of rights by passing laws restricting access to the ballot box. All in the name of phony protections against non-existent voter fraud, but with the real intent to defend political power.
Billionaires on both the left and right drown us in superficial negative attack ads, essentially cancelling each other out. Politicians avoid citizen meetings and debates, and defect from their congressional responsibilities from August through the election, just to avoid real questions that expect real answers regarding their policies and governing principles. Substantive debate and learning, leading us to creative solutions and outcomes, are lost in the clattering noise. Yet we are poised to potentially elect many of these same politicians with nary a reminder of their lack of responsiveness.
“Fairness” legislation gets defeated while “corporate’ legislation dominates. The progressive income tax is reversed so that, given the loopholes, special rules and exemptions, high-earners now de facto pay less percentage tax than middle-income earners. Equal pay for equal jobs, regardless of gender, is defeated by a unanimous party-line vote. Interest rates on student loans that cannot be refinanced are kept at above-market rates while banks thrive on 0% Federal Reserve lending rates and pay out microscopic interest income to their customers. All in the name of protecting America’s “job creators,” even though corporate earnings and CEO pay are at record heights while middle-income wages are stagnant. Yet we are poised to potentially elect many of these same politicians who have created this upside-down income economy, with nary a holding-to-account of their culpability.
The only rational explanation for this irrational American mindset is FEAR. Most Americans live perfectly productive and secure lives. But a fantasy world of doom seems to encircle us every day. The Ebola disease dominates the news headlines, yet the number of Americans likely to catch it and die is infinitesimal. A new terror organization called ISIS/ISIL threatens more chaos in the Middle East; our vigilance against such criminal thugs is required. But boatloads of invading terrorists are not on our beaches. Racial riots over police abuses continue to happen; shootings of schoolchildren seem to have become weekly stock footage. These are troublesome issues that certainly need to be addressed by our society, but it will be a minority of people personally and directly harmed from these events.
Republican politicians are excelled at exploiting people’s real fears, inventing new unreal ones as needed, and turning the real history of their actions upside down – truths no longer recognizable. Democrats cower on the sidelines seemingly incapable of counteracting these exploitations, trying their own clumsy versions of fear-scaring, running against their own President, afraid of their own message – if they could find one. Both parties want to pretend that the last ten years did not happen. Republicans reduce every issue to over-simplified bumper-sticker slogans; Democrats create thousand-page position papers that no one can comprehend. The current political landscape is a discredit to both political parties.
Hence the overwhelmingly negative mood of the people. Opinion poll after opinion poll reaffirms no confidence in any of our public institutions. No confidence in our “leaders,” though rarely can we explain why in any detail or specificity. No confidence in political platforms or proposals, because few are seen as having any chance of becoming reality. No political party is winning this war of non-confidence.
The world seems scary, with all the threats we hear daily about events in every corner of America and the globe. Events we have been insulated from in the past simply by distance and isolation. Yet the reality for most of us is that our life is pretty good. Challenges, yes. Difficult choices to make, yes. Lack of cooperation in getting things done, yes. But that has always been somewhat the case. America’s strength has been a cocky confidence in meeting and beating the hurdles that face us. That is the confidence we seem to no longer have. And that is what is driving Election 2014. Striking back angrily at an America that feels lost, unsure, threatened and threatening, leaderless.
So this election result will yield a mixed, confused message that will baffle the pundits and be analyzed to death. A result that will move us little beyond where we already are. Nevertheless, the presidential election of 2016 will unofficially begin only two months later. All while America waits desperately for true leaders, not more politicians. Leaders who can make some sense out of the natural mood. And then begin to lead us to a better place. The better place that America used to be, now grown up into the 21st Century. But we must await a later, better time. That time is not now.
© 2014 Randy Bell www.ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com