Monday, November 1, 2010

One girl's opinion on the midterm elections

One of the many brilliant signs I photographed at the Rally to Restore Sanity.

Tomorrow is election day. Though it's a midterm election, you'd never know it for all the sound and the fury. As the native of a battleground swing state, Pennsylvania, who is currently in the heart of our political world, Washington, D.C., I've been inundated with this election cycle for the past several months.

I guess the best way for me to tackle the many things I want to say about these elections are with some firsthand examples. I'll start with the day I met the Tea Party.

I wanted to believe the Tea Party was something made up by Fox News... kind of like conservatives want to believe the human impact on climate change is something made up by Al Gore and the 'mainstream liberal' media. Disbelief and denial are excellent coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, they are just that; coping mechanisms, not solutions. Indeed, the Tea Party is real. The inconvenient truth I encountered a few months ago in DC on the day of Glenn Beck's Rally to Restore Honor was that these people really do exist.

That they exist wasn't what bothered me. That people exist who actually support the people they do; that's what bothered me.

It was mid-August, the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's transformative "I have a dream" speech. I was minding my own business, waiting for a friend at a restaurant a few blocks from the rally site at the Lincoln Memorial (also the site of MLK Jr's - who was no doubt rolling in his grave - speech) when half a dozen tea partiers descended upon me.

There was no mistaking the fact they were all here for the Beck rally which featured Sarah Palin as a keynote speaker. All were wearing matching Beck shirts with his picture on the front. I instantly knew they were probably better Americans than I was when I saw the Beck logo, and my suspicions were confirmed when I caught a glimpse of the back of their t-shirts, revealing a Florida Marlin with an American flag for a dorsal fin. 'Murica.

All were white. All in their late 40s to early 60s. All slightly overweight and carrying their foldout lawn chairs. All eager to tell the hostess they were in town for the rally because they were going to "take back this country" and "restore honor". They had all the divisive propaganda nonsense talking points down pat.

I was tempted to touch one to prove this wasn't just a nightmare. I didn't, though, because I feared if I did, they would accuse me of inflicting upon them the poor, the Muslim, the gay, the entitlement, the socialism, or one of those other afflictions plaguing America which are carried and spread by liberals.

Beck opened his rally earlier that day to these people and the tens of thousands like them by joking, "I have just gotten word from the media that there is over 1,000 people here today." ...all "over 1,000" of whom undoubtedly failed to note the incorrect grammar or, in the alternative, if they did, began accepting it as proper speech, right up there with the word refudiate.

You see, my problem with the Tea Party isn't their beliefs. My problem is with stupid people. My problem is with mindless sheep. My problem is with extremists, on either side of the aisle, who are virtually always the product of the aforementioned issues.

Before I get railed by my friends on the right who are always quick to snap back with an eye-for-an-eye "but liberals...!" argument, this isn't to say the liberals don't have these stupid people, crazies and ideologues. Oh, we've got em alright.

The difference, as of the past several years, is in the distinct way the parties are handling their lunatic fringe. The Democrat party marginalizes these subsections. The Republican party, however, is being overrun by them. To say they are embracing them is a bit of a misnomer. Rather, the tail is wagging the dog.

A few years ago, the Republican party was hijacked by the religious right. These ideologues drove the party away from its roots in fiscal conservatism and essentially handed the '06 and '08 elections to Barack Obama and the democrats. Not only did Obama and the dems have the support of democrats, but also independents who were driven away by the extremism and lack of intelligence evident in the religious right. Even moderate Republicans swung left, unable to identify with what had become of their own party. When Senator John McCain chose the painfully far right, uninformed and unintelligent Palin as his running mate, he quashed his shot at the presidency.

As the Republican party learned from this and pried the religious right's claws from its back, it was no sooner beginning to rebuild itself as a voice of reason than the Tea Party showed up to, well, crash the party. As the voice of the woefully uninformed and uneducated, simple-sweeping-solutions-for-complex-problems extremist Tea Party got louder and louder, the voice of intelligence and moderation in the Republican party began to change its tone. Desperate to get the votes and do whatever it takes to win in this election cycle, the mainstream Republican party began pandering to the Tea Party. Just as the religious right had done to it, the tail once again began wagging the dog.

While people on both sides of the aisle hurl the term "extremist" at those leading the opposing political party (because, let's face it, people buy into it), one cannot help but look at the indisputable and stark contrast between the so-called extremists on the left and those on the right.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we accept as true that Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are the "extremist" counter points on the left to those on the right, they pale in terms of scare factor to the ideologues who are currently spearheading the Republican party. The right is currently being lead by the voices of Beck and Palin. The most extreme voices who cost the Republicans the last election are now leading it. Instead of touting the agenda of the religious right, they've found new talking points to sell, authored by the Tea Party.

Republicans are even tucking tail and supporting the even more painfully unintelligent and extreme voices of candidates like Christine O'Donnell, a Tea Party candidate now wrapped in the Republican banner, who the Republicans campaigned against in the primary.

These people frighten me not because of how extreme they are, but because of how stupid they are. And, even then, it's a bit of an exaggeration to say that they individually frighten me. What is truly scary, however, is that people - even those who I know personally to be better, more intelligent, and much more moderate than this - will en masse, de facto support them, defend them to the hilt, and vote for them if it means gaining a few seats come election time.

This brings me to my next personal story. This past Saturday, I attended John Stewart and Steven Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity, ironically nicknamed by Colbert, March to Keep Fear Alive. It was neither a Democrat nor Republican rally. In fact, it openly mocked both parties, biased political pundits, and a culture of fear, stupidity, extremism and over-simplification perpetuated by the media. Optimistically, the rally drew an estimated 215,000 people. Beck's drew approximately 87,000.

This was my America. It was intelligent and informed. It was interested in a rational discourse. It was interested in what was best for the country, not for a specific party.

I saw a sign there that perhaps summed it up best: "If your beliefs fit on a sign, think harder." Everywhere were people pointing out the flaws of allowing unintelligent, uninformed, and unqualified people to lead us. They recognized that the blind leading the blind might be of temporary benefit to a political party, but it certainly doesn't end well for our country.

There are, and always have been, extremists and stupid people on both sides of the aisle. As of the past few years, however, it has become apparent that the two political parties are handling them differently. If you feel I am unfairly harping on the Republican party, it is because of late, these people are becoming more prevalent and more common within its ranks and leadership and are directing its discourse. These same people are writing the political talking points and acting as political king makers. These same people are the voices that turn out campaign donations and rally numbers.

This isn't to say that because the Republican party is being lead by truly unintelligent and uninformed extremists, that all or even most of the party, or their candidates are like that. This isn't to say that because the Democratic party handles these people differently that they don't also participate and have a voice in the party and hold political office within it. This is simply an observation I think deserving of an acute awareness, especially by those within the Republican party, so they can try and salvage it from the dunces. You tried to take back your political party and you once again lost your grip.

Socialism is not facism. If you don't know the difference, turn off Fox News and open a book. All tea partiers are not racists. If you can't discern this, turn off MSNBC.

If you let your party and the talking heads tell you what to think and what to say and for whom to vote, you are part of this country's problem.

As Stewart put it at his rally, these are hard times, but these are not end times. The best way to show our parties, our government, and our media that we aren't as stupid and extreme as they want us to be is to stop letting the tail wag the dog. Don't let them tell us who to be. We need to send them a message about who we want them to be; reflections of ourselves: real people with real problems and not the problems they create for us; rational moderates who see the world in gray, not black and white.

Tomorrow, support those who are intelligent and capable and informed, regardless of political party. Refuse to blindly support those who you know to be unintelligent and unqualified and uncompromising.

These past few months, and especially tomorrow, the political parties and pundits are going to go out and tell you this is about a party victory or loss. They're going to tell you this is about gaining or losing a net amount of seats. It isn't... or, at, least, it shouldn't be. It's about a net victory of loss for America.

I am of the opinion that the best qualification a candidate can have is not being a Democrat or Republican, but, rather, being intelligent and informed. I have faith the American people realize this too. If you look at one of the most important key special elections held since '08 - the PA-12 Congressional election in which Mark Critz (D) [for whom I wrote an endorsement: http://onegirlsopinionogo.blogspot.com/2010/05/endorsement-for-mark-critz-pa-12.html ] defeated the unintelligent and out of touch Tim Burns - it is a crucial indicator of the same thing that Stewart and Colbert's rally turnout suggests; the American people want what is really best for them, and that isn't something you can fit neatly into a political party package. They want the candidate who is best qualified, who is intelligent, who is aware of the issues, and who isn't extremist.

If pundits think this election will be a referendum on incumbents, they're wrong. If pundits think this election will be a referendum on the majority party, the Democrats, they're wrong.

Instead of "Remember the Alamo", tomorrow, remember Mark Critz. Remember to do what is best for our country by electing the best candidate, not the candidate best for your party. This is less a plea to vote moderately than it is to vote intelligently, though, as I have said, I find that the former characteristic tends to follow the latter. Vote with your brain, not with your party.

We are better served by an intelligent, educated, informed, thoughtful candidate on either side of the aisle, than by the idiot who agrees with us.