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As the 2020 elections approach – almost too quickly – here in the U.S., I’m almost amused at the thought of who’s going to grab the Democratic presidential nomination and how they will combat (faux) President Donald Trump. Key word here – almost. A lifetime of watching political battles rage across the media spectrum and nearly three decades of making every effort I could to register my own vote, along with discussing a variety of issues with family, friends, coworkers, gym partners and strangers, have perhaps left me cynical and jaded. I feel that usually happens once you get past the half-century mark in birthdays. Not only is my body now wanting to lead a life of its own, so is my mind. Can I get a new persona?
But, despite the anguish and frustration, I realized something crucial a while back. Every election cycle candidates for whatever office rushes out to visit potential constituents; shaking hands, kissing babies (born or unborn), eating virtually everything that approaches their lips, and – of course – dishing out a cadre of promises. Then, as often happens, they get into that designated office and find out it just doesn’t work out that simply. So they disappoint us and shove their spokespeople and p.r. reps before our faces to explain why things didn’t go as planned. So, what’s new this year?
Nothing, really. Yet, I know THEY seek our votes for a certain high-profile position and – if elected – they will get paid with OUR tax dollars. Ultimately, THEY work for US. We DON’T work for them. WE employ them, in fact, based upon their qualifications for the job (in theory), and THEY are assigned specific duties, according to that particular role. These are not full-time, permanent roles for them; they are CONTRACT jobs. In other words, they are nothing more than glorified TEMP WORKERS.
Whether it’s the U.S. presidency, a governorship, a judgeship or a spot on a local school board, they present themselves to us as job candidates and ask to be hired. WE, the People, analyze their skills and experience and make our decisions afterwards. We are charged with the complex responsibility of assessing their viability for the job and choosing whether to grant them that role. In all cases, the majority rules; regardless, WE, the People, are essentially their employers. Again, the salaries for those positions comes out of our tax dollars.
They are contracted out for an X period of time, and when that term is up – if they’ve chosen to continue – WE, the People, review their job performance and decide if we want to renew their contract. We look at what they’ve done and how they’ve handles themselves during their tenure. Both work performance and attitude matter equally. As with the initial hiring process, the majority rules. So, while some of us may be thrilled to see the official re-hired, many among us aren’t. Sadly, that’s just how it is.
These election events are always difficult and frustrating. It’s not that they can be difficult and frustrating; they ARE difficult and frustrating! Things don’t always turn out clearly. Evidence: the 2016 U.S. elections.
And no official in their right mind (and understand many of them aren’t from the very beginning) will take their contract renewal for granted. Evidence: the 2018 Senate race here in Texas. Republican Junior Senator Ted Cruz almost lost to Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke. Cruz had coasted easily to his 2012 maiden run and perhaps assumed last year’s contest would be equally undramatic. As I always love to see happen to such arrogance, Cruz assumed wrong and won by literally a handful of votes.
It is such an unpleasant task to sort through the chaos and the rhetoric and determine who is best equipped for that designated position. But it is what We, the People, have to do to keep our society functioning properly and soundly. Democracy is one thing that can’t be automated.
Just remember, my friends, the people who run for office are asking for our votes. That simply means THEY work for US. We, the People, hire them and we can fire them. They all have to remember that. But so do we.
It’s been one month since the midterm elections, and a lot of people are still smarting from the results. But several folks saw this coming. As expected, the Republican Party has retained control of the House of Representatives and taken the Senate. But, few anticipated the GOP would garner such high numbers. Moreover, Republicans have attained most of the state governorships. Here in Texas, the GOP has won every major state-level office for the fifth consecutive election cycle. A Democrat hasn’t won a state-wide office since 1994, when Garry Mauro won reelection as State Treasurer. By the time the current crop of officeholders finish their respective terms, Democrats will have been shut out of state-level offices for two decades.
Texas Democrats had hoped this year would be theirs; that they would recapture at least one office, preferably the governorship, but at least maybe attorney general or state treasurer. But they didn’t. They lost – in the worst way. As usual, most voting-eligible Texans failed to turn up at the voting booths this year. In fact, Texas had the lowest rate of voter turnout than any state in the union – roughly 4.75 million people, or 28.5% of the vote-eligible population. In the Dallas – Fort Worth metropolitan area, some local officials blamed the damp, cold weather for the dismal response. Really? I recall an election in India several years ago where some people were being carried in on their deathbeds – literally! – to cast a ballot. Overall this year’s midterm produced the worst voter turnout since 1942. That particular year was understandable: the U.S. had just entered World War II, when many young men had already joined the fight overseas. Men were much more likely to vote than women back then, plus there were a slew of voter restriction laws – especially in the Southeast – to keep poor and non-White voters from casting ballots. But that was then; things have changed considerably in 70 years. I don’t just find the low voter response appalling. I find it disgusting. What happened?
After the 2007 – 2008 financial downturn – a period in which the U.S. came as close to a completed and total economic collapse – people felt their elected officials simply weren’t responding to their needs. President Obama and the Democrats inexplicably focused their energy on passing a healthcare bill and reforming the immigration system. The latter was labeled an attempt to appeal to Hispanics; once again, assuming Hispanics only care about immigration in the same way women only care about abortion and gays and lesbians only care about same-sex marriage. Sweeping assumptions like that are an insult and always dangerous. It’s bad enough, though, the Republican Party was determined from the moment Obama won the 2008 presidential elections to obstruct his agenda. Every conservative lout from Dick Cheney to Mitch McConnell stated publicly and emphatically they wanted to make Obama a “one-term president.” Fortunately, they failed. But they and the Democrats have failed miserably over just about everything, mainly the economy.
My gripe with Obama is his overt willingness to compromise. His first major capitulation to the Republicans came in December 2010, as the Bush-era tax cuts were due to expire. The GOP literally threatened to withhold votes on extending benefits for the long-term unemployed, if tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens and largest corporations weren’t kept in place. Obama bowed to them; declaring openly that he didn’t want “the hostages” to be harmed. In December 2010, the Democrats still held majorities in both houses of Congress, and the President could have very well issued an executive order extending the benefits in question. But he backed down. And that’s when I began to lose respect for him – in the same way I’d long lost respect for most elected officials.
In 1934, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt realized just how bad the Great Depression really was, he made the bold – and shocking – decision to raise taxes on the wealthiest citizens and largest corporations (the same ones who benefited from hefty Republican-spawned tax breaks the previous decade) to stimulate the economy. He convinced these people that such hikes would benefit them, too, in that more Americans would be able to enter the workforce and pay their own taxes, plus have money left over to buy goods produced by a variety of industries. It made sense. The policy worked to some extent, but the 1929 collapse had been so bad, the positive effects weren’t immediate. Thus, economists and the politicians who think they know so much have been debating the logic of this move ever since.
The Democrats failed on another front regarding the economy. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder never indicted anyone in connection with the recent financial calamity. Anyone with at least half a brain knows it didn’t happen by chance. It wasn’t the inevitable result of market ups and downs. Major banking entities such as Citigroup and Fannie Mae were key players in the debacle. Both helped to create the massive housing bubble at the turn of the century, replete with outrageous features such as zero-down purchases and mortgage-backed securities. As the crisis worsened towards the end of 2008, Citigroup managed to convince the federal government to give it a life-saving multi-billion-dollar loan. But it also began laying off people at its various offices across the globe. Fannie Mae, along with Freddie Mac, also received a multi-billion-dollar, taxpayer-funded bailout; this one in 2009. Yet that investment didn’t become profitable for taxpayers until this year. The average American worker hasn’t seen a lot of positive returns on their “investments” to save the “too-big-to-fail” banks. Those lounging in the economic ivory tower certainly have. For example, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, received a $16.2 million compensation package for 2011, despite a serious drop in corporate profits. The following year Blankfein urged Americans to consider a later retirement age.
“You can look at history of these things,” he told CBS News, “and Social Security wasn’t devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. … So there will be things that, you know, the retirement age has to be changed, maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised. But in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.”
How thoughtful. In February of 2009, two months after I earned my college degree, the engineering company where I worked held their annuals employee reviews. Due to budget crunches, my then-manager told me, they couldn’t afford significant salary increases. So, while my living expenses continued to rise, my salary essentially remained flat. I was laid off the following year.
People like Blankfein are part of the current problem of wealth inequality in America. That the Obama Administration neglected to prosecute the scoundrels responsible for all those business closings and job losses – again, this didn’t happen by accident – is reprehensible. If I rob a convenience store of a hundred bucks and get caught, I’d be sure to serve some serious prison time. Hedge-fund managers who manipulated the stock market seem immune to the most egregious of financial indiscretions.
Still, the economy has rebounded since Obama first took office. The unemployment rate, which reached a high of 9.9% in April 2010, now stands at 5.8%. GDP growth stood at negative 5.4% in the first quarter of 2009 and is now at 3.9%. The national deficit was $1.4 trillion in 2009 and now is $564 billion. That all brings up yet another complaint. Why didn’t the Democrats highlight those facts? In his 2012 reelection bid, Obama proclaimed, “Bin Laden is dead, and GM is alive.”
It was simple, yet effective. For many of us, though, the economy really hasn’t recovered. Wages remain stagnant, and jobs are tenuous. We’ve become a contract society.
Moreover, I don’t really blame many people for not voting. I understand the frustration with the hollow words and obstinacy of some candidates. Wendy Davis, for example, began her campaign for Texas governor by attacking her opponent, Greg Abbott, instead of highlighting her own accomplishments. I think it was about 6 months into the campaign before she ran a more positive ad; one telling her life story. Voters really get put off by such animosity from the start. Criticizing the opposition is a dubious tactic. It’s almost as if the individual is hiding something nefarious about their own past. That’s essentially how George W. Bush won his two presidential terms: he had no redeeming qualities, so his campaign team attacked the other guys. And some voters fell for it.
I don’t know what the immediate future holds for this country. With Republicans now in control of the U.S. Congress, I foresee further adolescent bickering between people who are otherwise educated business professionals. I don’t envision economic improvements or tax relief for us regular folks. It’s depressing. That Mars One venture is looking more and more attractive.
One of the many elements that came out of the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” was a loud call for the United States to honor its commitment to voting. People here often don’t think much about it, but voting is a critical factor in any democracy. If you look at what’s happening in Syria right now, I’m certain a number of that country’s citizens wish they had the luxury of just voting, or impeaching, Bashar al-Assad right out of office.
A positive effect of the March on Washington was the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed that the U.S. would uphold that right for every proper citizen to cast one vote for the candidate of their choice. It struck down poll taxes and literacy tests; measures often used, particularly in the Southeast, against non-Whites and poor people. Why don’t people take this seriously?
I’m especially concerned after a report showing my beloved home state of Texas ranks 51st, after the District of Columbia, in voter turnout. On average, declares the Texas Civic Health Index, only about a third of eligible voters in the nation’s second-most populous state make a concerted effort to vote. I think that explains why Texas looks to be a blood-red bastion of far-right lunatics. It’s why Rick Perry has been able to hold onto the governorship like the Pope and why Ted Cruz easily won a Senate seat last year, despite his extremist views.
The state’s Democratic Party hopes to turn its political establishment a striking royal blue. I personally don’t want to see Texas metamorphose into another California or Illinois where extreme taxation and heavy regulations drive away businesses. But, I definitely don’t want it to remain mired in crimson red. A nice fuchsia would be more palatable, but I’m not a color maven.
The study noted – not surprisingly – that people with higher levels of education are more likely to vote. Thus, it recommended improving civic literacy through education, starting at the grade school level. But, recent cuts by the Texas legislature in education funding may make that challenging. Conservative state officials moved Heaven and Earth to ban abortion, but don’t have too much concern for those children once they reach school. Hence, the need for voting.
It’s actually an embarrassment. I’ve made a concerted effort to vote in every major state and national election since 1992. Obviously, I haven’t always seen the results I’d like – but, at least I tried to make a difference.
Low voter turnouts appears to be a national trend. Last year only some 57.5% of eligible voters made it to the polls; lower than in the 2 previous elections, but surpassing the dismal rate of 54.2% set in 2000. Critics at the time liked to point out that more people voted in “American Idol” than in the 2000 presidential elections. When you realize that, in 2012, Mexican voters turned out at a rate of 62.45% – despite the omnipresent threats of violence and endemic corruption – it certainly speaks poorly of Americans.
Voting is like budgeting: you just can’t let things go and hope for the best. It requires work and patience. It’s what any civilized society – not just the United States – is all about. It’s the foundation of democracy. It really does count.
Who said voting isn’t an art form?!