And That’s a Wrap

As a canvass director for the Obama re-election campaign in Kingston, I have plenty of wonderful memories from the campaign, and I’ve made a lot of new friends in my community. I hope these relationships last a long time, well beyond Election Day. I’ve worked on a few presidential campaigns in the past, but this one was especially important to me because it reminded me about the importance of community, activism, and how important politics is, especially at the local level, knocking on doors, getting to you know your neighbors and talking to them about the issues. We finished the night at Bart and Urby’s in Wilkes-Barre, with a few celebratory drinks, and I was especially moved by the folks crying at the bar once the president was declared the victor.

Besides the president’s victory, progressives scored several major victories last night.

The Senate will have its first openly gay senator, after Wisconsin elected Democrat Tammy Baldwin last night.

Elizabeth Warren, who made her name known railing against Wall Street excess and lack of regulation, defeated Scott Brown last night for Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat. Look for her to run for president a few election cycles from now. The base LOVES her, and she has a populist message that should resonate with millions of Americans. If Hillary doesn’t run, it’s possible Warren could be the nation’s first female president.

The two men that became famous because of their absurd and sexist comments about rape, Todd Akin and Richard Murdoch, lost their Senate races to women.

Tea Party darlings Allen West and Joe Walsh  both lost their House seats to Democrats.

Gay marriage amendments were passed in Maine and Maryland.

African Americans and Latinos voted in record numbers.

More young people voted this year than in 2008, and that group broke heavily for the president, despite reports over the last few weeks that young people were less likely to vote, and if they did, less likely to support Obama. Here’s an article that breaks down the youth vote more.

After women lost a slew of races in 2010, they won several races last night. The Senate will now have 19 female senators, the most in U.S. history. Check out more info about the new female senators here here.

In Pennsylvania, Kathleen Kane, a native of West Scranton, won the race for attorney general, making her the first woman and Democrat to ever win that office in the state’s history.

I think, when we look back on 2012, this will be remembered as the year of the female voter and the female candidate. According to early reports this morning, Romney lost the female voter by about 19 points.

In regards to some specific women’s issues, it’s likely that the issue of Roe V. Wade and a woman’s right to choose will be settled because the president will likely appoint two Supreme Court Justices, at the very least, during his second term, ensuring Roe V. Wade is not overturned. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood will continue to be funded. It’s important to remember that legalized abortions are only about 2 percent of what Planned Parenthood actually does. For the most part, the organization offers health care screenings and medical care to uninsured and low-income women. So yes, it can be said that this was the year of women’s issues, of the GOP’s lurch to the far-right, trying to fight battles that were settled 10, 20, 30,  and even 40 years ago, and as a result, the Republican Party lost seats in Congress and lost the race for the White House.

Now Can We Discuss Climate Change?

I hope everyone is safe and dry after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast. I’m still astounded at the damage it did, especially to New York City and the Jersey Shore. The pictures of the gutted boardwalk and destroyed rides are haunting and mesmerizing.  I hope everyone’s power returns as quickly as possible. It’s reassuring to see the president and governors of both political parties do their jobs to secure funding for the clean-up as soon as possible.

Because of Sandy’s destruction, I hope there is more conversation regarding climate change and greater action to address it. I remember a cover story  Newsweek ran a little over a year ago which stated because of climate change extreme weather is the new norm.  Yet, despite articles like Newsweek’s and countless research that has addressed climate change, the issue has been totally absent from the 2012 election. It wasn’t that way in 2008, however. Then candidate Barack Obama mentioned it several times in his 08 campaign, and even his opponent, John McCain, addressed it. Since then, when the Democrats had majorities in the House and Senate, they tried to pass a cap and trade bill that addressed the issue, but it was torpedoed by countless GOP filibusters. After that, there’s been little to no talk of the issue. The president, to his credit, has used stimulus money and tax credits to develop new, cleaner energy, but it’s not enough.

Now, however, there is an opening to bring back the issue, especially if the president is re-elected. Since the hurricane, reporters have started discussing the issue again. NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo and NJ Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, have also mentioned it when addressing the hurricane destruction. This should allow the Democrats to address the issue again and the GOP to move more to the middle and accept science, even though Mitt Romney denounced climate change during all of those primaries last year. Sandy has proved that this country needs to get serious about the issue and start preparing, before the next catastrophe.

Sandy also raises one other important issue, and that is the role of the federal government. Reporters have brought up the point that in 2011, during a primary debate, Romney said states should handle emergencies on their own and there is no need for FEMA, due to its cost. Yet, we’ve seen with Sandy, that in times of crisis, the federal government is needed. The states can not handle the costs and clean-up on their own.  Not only has Sandy rekindled the debate over climate change, but also the issue of the role of government. Both are serious issues worth discussion, especially with a major election only a few days away.

Where’s the Enthusiasm?

In one of my writing classes, I begin each session with a short writing prompt. Today, I asked my students to write down their thoughts on the presidential election. I asked if they have been following it at all and which issues they would like the candidates to address during tonight’s presidential debate. When I gave out the assignment, I stressed that they did not have to reveal who they are voting for, but rather, just write about their interest or lack of in the campaign.

After they finished the prompt, some volunteered to share what they had written. A majority of them confessed that they really had no interest at all in politics, voting, or the outcome of the election. Some of them said they do not see how a presidential campaign  has any impact on their life.

The responses startled me some, especially since I have been extremely politically active since I was 18 and was eager to vote in my first presidential election. That said, I had a hunch that young people have tuned out the campaign season, and I suspect youth turnout is going to be low, especially compared to 2008 and even 2004.The youth vote played a major role in President Obama’s first election.

I pondered for a while why young voters are disengaged this time. Perhaps they are disillusioned with the dismal state of the economy and do not believe either candidate can fix it. Perhaps, as one student said, they don’t see how politics affects them, especially since they aren’t out of college and have yet to face real economic, bread-and-butter issues. Or maybe they just don’t want to spend a lot of their time thinking about foreign policy, the unemployment numbers, or other campaign issues.

Their responses were alarming in another sense, too. If there is a decrease in voting turnout, then it sure makes it easier for politicians to do whatever they want, if they know that a certain group of people don’t vote in large numbers. Why not slash Pell grants even more if you know a lot of young people don’t vote or won’t do anything about it? Why not slash education, which leads to tuition hikes?

By the end of the discussion, all I could  say is that in the past, throughout the history of our country, change happened not because of one politician and president, but because of movements, often fueled by young people. Any great movements over the last few years that led to a politician actually doing something was driven by civic engagement. I hope we reach a point in this country again where we can have meaningful discussions about issues.


Romney Gambles His Political Future on Paul Ryan

Late Friday night, word broke that Mitt Romney was going to pick Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan for join him on the ticket as VP. The decision was formally announced Saturday morning in Virgina, aboard the USS Wisconsin, which is a bit ironic since neither men have military experience.

Ryan should galvanize progressives to get out and vote for a number of reasons. The Congressman believes in a total Ayn Rand philosophy of the individual versus the collective and extreme limited government. Several articles about him point out that he used to make his staff read Rand.  He wants to turn Social Security and Medicare into a voucher system, basically privatizing it and ending it as we know it.His budget plan was even called “too radical” by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said it would lead to  “right-wing social engineering.” However, later Gingrich walked back those comments.  Ryan also draws the ire of the left because he’s had the support of the Koch-brothers for years in WI, and they helped him make his name by pumping money into his campaigns.

On the other side, Ryan will galvanize the fringe Tea Party wing of the GOP, though perhaps they’re not the fringe anymore, if Ryan is now sitting on the Romney ticket. The right has won, but in the end, it may sink the GOP’s chances to win the White House. Democrats and their SuperPACS have salavated at the chance to go after the Ryan budget in attack ads. Now they’ll have the chance, and the country will have a serious debate about the Ryan budget that nearly every Republican voted for in the House earlier this year.

For more about Ryan, I suggest reading this article that appeared recently in the New Yorker. To paraphrase the article’s author, Ryan Lizza, putting Ryan on the ticket is the riskiest move Romney could have made.

Obama’s Long Game

Newsweek has drawn the ire of conservatives yet again for a headline on its cover that reads, “Why Are Obama’s Critics So Dumb?” Inside of the current issue is an article by Andrew Sullivan that looks at Obama’s first term in office and pushes back against his critics on the left and right. Sullivan makes Obama out to be a rather centrist president with legislative victories that should please both the left and right. You can check out the article here.

Regarding critics of the right, who Sullivan says have sometimes made Obama out to be some left-wing, radical socialist, Sullivan points out that Obama has not yet ended the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and he has cut taxes several times, including the payroll tax. Furthermore, Sullivan points out that the stimulus package passed during Obama’s first few months in office included tax breaks for 95 percent of taxpayers.

Sullivan also addresses the claim by Mitt Romney and others that Obama’s policies have deepened the recession. According to the article, when Obama took office, the U.S. was losing 750,000 jobs a month, and since 2010, the U.S. has added about 2.4 million jobs, and unemployment has dropped about 2 percent.

Regarding the critics on the left, Sullivan says Obama did have legislative victories they should be happy about, including healthcare legislation that, when it fully takes effect, will require everyone to have healthcare coverage, and those that can’t afford it will be given government subsidies. Sullivan does point out, though, that the healthcare bill did not include a public option, which many progressives wanted, but he said in an era where anything in the Senate needs 60 votes to pass, this may be the closest to universal healthcare we  get. Obama’s other main accomplishment Sullivan addresses is a full withdrawal from Iraq, which was one of Obama’s key campaign promises when he announced he was running for president in early 2007.

Sullivan does admit that he is an Obama supporter, but I think the article does give a fair assessment of the president’s first term and addresses criticism of the president from the left and the right. The piece concludes with the idea that Obama thinks in the long term, that he runs a long game, and that he envisions himself accomplishing more if re-elected. But what Sullivan doesn’t point out is that Obama is going to have a harder re-election in 2012 than he did in 2008. His base is starting to wake up and get fired up, but the economy is still in a slump, and that will mar him  heading into re-election. Anyways, the piece is a good read that cuts through the stereotypes and criticism that surround the president and presents him not as a left-wing radical or a leader too timid and weak to stand up to opposition, but rather as  a centrist and pragmatist.