Monday, November 05, 2012

Your Vote Is Too Important to Waste

By this point, few people need reminding that tomorrow, November 6, is Election Day in the United States. Billions of dollars have been spent, advertising on behalf of Democratic and Republican candidates around the country--including $1 billion on the presidential race alone. And TV news and opinion programs have been crowded for months with pundits and partisans of all sorts, trying to analyze who’s ahead in the races and what the fallout of projected wins might be. Despite efforts by Republican officeholders in Ohio and Florida, as well as by right-wing tea party activists, to hold down early voting efforts (which favor Democrats), voters seem highly engaged in this election, and the Pew Research Center is expecting a “big turnout.”

Yet there are still people who don’t think it’s important to vote. They may be frustrated that their views aren’t represented by the candidates, or they don’t care to be part of the political process and don’t see the issues at stake as important to their lives.

I can’t speak to the former viewpoint, as I disagree with it, but the latter one strikes me as odd. There are important votes on the line at every level, from choosing the leaders of city councils and state legislatures, to broader ballot measures that would establish marriage equality and curb corporate contributions and expenditures in elections. The presidential contest, by itself, offers a sharp contrast between opposing views on the role of government and the need to ensure that all Americans are given affordable health-care benefits and retirement security.

Wealthy Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who served one term (2003-2007) as the governor of Massachusetts, has given his thumbs-up to an agenda--put forth by his running mate, Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin)--that would undermine and eventually force the collapse of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. He also wants to take away a woman’s right to choose, and make abortion illegal in the United States once more. He hopes to eliminate environmental protections and roll back the clock on equal rights for gays and lesbians. And he intends to immediately overturn the Affordable Care Act, and thereby put bottom-line-driven insurance companies back in control of whether Americans can pay for and be covered adequately by health insurance. Romney has even suggested he would favor starting a new war, this time on Iran. Although history tells us that businessmen make lousy presidents, Romney insists that his background as a venture capitalist gives him the qualifications necessary to repair an economy that was sent into recession by the last Republican president, George W. Bush. Of course, Romney offers few specifics on what he’d cut to bring the American economy back into balance, or on how his economic agenda would actually differ from Bush’s. Instead, he talks about more tax breaks for the wealthiest citizens and more military spending, and tells the rest of us just to trust him. (This coming from a man with a poor record of honesty during this campaign.)

Meanwhile, Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama is defending his pretty impressive list of accomplishments over the last three and a half years, but also trying to preserve a fragile social safety net that increasingly radical right-wingers hope to shred. “Viewed through the lens of history, Obama represents a new type of 21st-century politician: the Progressive Firewall,” writes historian Douglas Brinkley in a recent piece for Rolling Stone magazine. “Obama, simply put, is the curator-in-chief of the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the New Frontier, and the Great Society. When he talks about continued subsidies for Big Bird or contraceptives for Sandra Fluke, he is the inheritor of the Progressive movement’s agenda, the last line of defense that prevents America’s hard-won social contract from being defunded into oblivion.”

Obama’s second-term agenda includes spending more on education, boosting manufacturing jobs, creating more clean energy jobs, tackling the issue of climate change (a subject brought into even greater focus by Hurricane Sandy), and raising taxes on the wealthy in order to reduce the nation’s debt. (Republicans have spent years shifting the costs of government to a middle-class that simply can’t bear it, in hopes of building animosity toward government.) “We are going to have to get a handle on our deficit and debt,” the president told Rolling Stone, “but we need to do it in a balanced way that doesn’t simply stick it to middle-class families. I’m confident we can get that accomplished, in part, because the Bush tax cuts lapse at the end of this year, and we’ll have a showdown about how we’re going to fund the government that we need to grow in a sensible way, in a balanced way. Immigration reform I believe we’ll get done, because the Republican Party will start recognizing that alienating the fastest-­growing segments of our society is probably not good politics for them--not to mention the fact that immigration reform is the right thing to do.”

Anybody who thinks that his or her vote doesn’t matter this year is wrong. Yes, influential poll-watcher Nate Silver now gives President Obama an 86.3 percent chance of winning, and it appears that Republican dreams of capturing the U.S. Senate have been foiled. But all of these prognostications could still be incorrect; polls disagree on the outcome of tomorrow’s ballot contests, and much could be decided simply on the basis of turnout, on who shows up to cast their votes--and who doesn’t.

Despite all of the sports analogies pundits apply to politics, politics itself is not a game. Your vote decides your future, in concrete ways, as well as the futures of your community and your nation. It is not a right to waste or to treat cavalierly. If you haven’t already cast a ballot, please remember to do so tomorrow.

READ MORE:Whatever It Takes, Get Out and Vote!” by Michael Winship (Salon); “Obama Makes His Case for Re-election” (TalkLeft); “Will Mendacity Win?” by Bob Moser and Jaime Fuller (The American Prospect).

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