I cast my votes today in the gymnasium of the local elementary school. One of the women with the registration lists reminded me that I'd known her back when I was a cub scout leader and our sons were in the troop. I'm sure she's right. We chatted as the others got my ballot ready.
Southern Rhode Island is a conservative part of the state, most of which is more or less reliably Democratic. In fact, at the state level Republicans are mostly a rump party without much influence or appeal except as a way to punish the occasional politician.
I voted on the offices being contested - and a few that were uncontested. Voted no on a casino, abstained from one on bonds for higher education facilities (how about for faculty instead?), voted yes on some other bonds for conservation and cultural events. It took two or three minutes to complete and I slipped the paper ballot into a machine that digested it with a whirr and a beep.
I don't have a TV, don't read a printed newspaper these days, and the only radio I hear is when I'm taking Nico to school in the morning. So I've been spared the campaigning and the stupefying effects of most of the corporate-owned, corporate sponsored media. I understand it's been the usual misinformative mudslinging. In any case, there was nothing that the moneyed players and professional pundits were going to say to change my vote.
Unlike other elections I'm not paying close attention to the minutiae of it all. The Democrats have had a majority in the US Senate, which they are expected to lose. But they never seemed motivated to do anything with that majority. For the past 4 years the Democrats have claimed to be unable to do anything without 60 votes - allowing the Republican minority veto power over every action. I fear the Republicans will be less passive with their majority. Perhaps Obama will have to find satisfaction in vetoing conservative lunacy for his final two years. It may well be what he deserves.
As I've interviewed people these past months, I find myself speaking with thoughtful, politically-aware people. People who value diversity and democracy, who hold progressive ideas about our collective responsibilities and our ability to solve problems through collective action, community and government. People who would readily acknowledge the importance of collecting taxes and using them to make a better, more prosperous and more civilized place for us, our neighbors and our children to live.
And at some point I would ask them whether they hear anyone out there in public life who is advocating for this point of view they were articulating. Anyone speaking to that familiar, if old-fashioned, American quality of civic responsibility and government problem-solving? And they would wrinkle their brow, and try to think, but almost never could they recall hearing anyone talking about these things, much less fighting for them.
That's why the Democrats lost the House of Representatives and why they are going to lose the Senate.
The Democratic party is unable or unwilling to push forth an unapologetic progressive or populist or even liberal vision for governance. Instead they settle for being less bad than Republicans. Less crazy, less intolerant, less extreme, less partisan. Rather than staking out liberal positions, they take conservative positions and try to moderate them. Tame Republicanism. We'll cut taxes and reign in spending (but not as recklessly as conservatives); we'll be tough on crime and secure the border (but not be as racist as Republicans); we'll shrink government (but won't drown it in a bathtub). They convince no one that they have a plan to end the unpopular wars, the surveillance state, or the corruption of politics. Not to mention reversing the destruction of the labor movement, halting the erosion of women's reproductive rights, or putting an end to the shame and racism of our prison-industrial complex.
Outside the elementary school I chatted with a woman running for the school board. She was smart, progressive, articulate, and running as an independent. I felt a twinge of guilt that I haven't taken part in any of this local politics. My activism, such as it is, has been much more diffuse and aimed at changing the discourse in other states and at the national level.
I'm going to get back to reading transcripts today. My job - one of my jobs - is to help to construct a progressive discourse that politicians would be willing and able to articulate, and which would resonate with regular citizens. Give them an alternative plan - something with which to build democracy and good governance - rather than tearing it down. I'm glad I don't have a TV.
UPDATE: Dean Baker pretty much comes to the same conclusion.