Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Thoughts on the 2010 Midterm Elections

I missed posting yesterday because I had to run to a coworker's going-away party, then book it to yoga, then rush to an election watching party. I fell asleep as soon as I got home. Perhaps I'll post twice today to account for the difference. Here's some jumbled thoughts about last night's returns.

I can't say I wasn't disappointed by the red wave that engulfed the country last night, especially in places like Illinois, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Illinois went red because Rod Blagojevich, like so many Illinois governors before him, was either corrupt, incompetent, or both. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin because they are rust belt states with intractable problems no one has fixed in years. I don't think the way to fix our current economic woes, which arguably is what drove this shift (which, as Matt Yglesias pointed out, is still better than Dems were doing from 2005-2008) is to cut taxes and public spending and dismantle the healthcare bill. I don't know exactly what public spending we intend to cut, given that no one's come up with a solution for medicare and the republicans won't touch defense spending, so I'm not sure what better policies we might get out of this wave of anger. I am not in love with the health care bill, but it seems absurd that we would want to reverse many of its provisions. I'm pretty sure most people like the idea of getting to keep their coverage when they get sick and that all children have coverage regardless of preexisting conditions. I also wish we could all grasp that our insistence on private coverage is inherently inefficient, and we are committing to paying more, and distributing access unequally, because of that. If we soberly admit that our current system consigns many people to a life characterized by chronic illness (rather than the more treatable acute) and significant health care debt, maybe we can start to see how pooling our resources can ease the burden for all.

But I don't really think last night was about the healthcare bill's specific provisions-- though I'm sure there's still uneasiness about the false bogeymen that many have heard about (death panels?)-- I think Americans are reacting to a lot of change-- not necessarily legislative in nature. The housing market declines, unemployment (structural and cyclical), no puppies in every backyard nor unicorn rides to school. For some reason, this seems to push folks away from innovation and towards isolation. It's the job of our elected officials to balance the fear with the need to invest in the future. For a bit, we had folks that focused on the future and appeared to dismiss the immediate concerns of the electorate, or at least appeared unresponsive. Now, the balance of power has shifted to those who appear more responsive to the immediate concerns of the populace (whether they are or not is another post), at the expense of those future concerns. It sure would be nice if we could balance the two.

So what's the takeaway? I've been ardently following politics and policy for the past 15 years or so, and I'm inclined to agree with Jon Stewart's argument that our political discourse is not helping us. And I would include in this all the snobby comments liberals make about people who vote for conservatives. I thought that Barack Obama would usher in an era of civil discourse in which our politicians might begin to speak to us like adults, to articulate the trade-offs necessary for the country to enact and benefit from good policies, and enable us to finally move forward, at least a little bit, from the distrust that has built up since probably the beginning of time. I think there's a significant role for news organizations to play in this. I realize the complaints about horse-race coverage are cliched at this point, but it doesn't make them any less true. I heard a lot of stories about voter unrest, but only last week did I hear something that represented my perspective on the current climate - that you can't rebuild Rome in a day, that the policies we've implemented are working incrementally, and that the current incumbents deserve a chance to fully implement their agenda. I know, it's not sexy, but I think it represents the views of at least a plurality of voters, which is more than I can say for a lot of what gets passed off as widespread public opinion, depending on your news source of choice.

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