Since the election season began, I have found myself biting my tongue against denigrating phrases like "the bubba factor" to describe the working class. I have sat on my hands to prevent myself from writing diatribes against poisonous Republicans, and often-elitist liberals. After a lackluster VP debate, I will be watching Obama-McCain spar with both waning hopes and an ear towards personal relevancy. I wonder if the poor and working classes are to be referred to in something other than pejorative terms like "Joe Six Pack". Will the middle class once again be reduced to the parody of a "soccer mom", (or parent), whose most urgent worry is getting Billy or Suzy through college?
As a lower class, gay, liberty-loving, pro-choice, pro-peace, uninsured, empty nester Democrat who is swimming upstream in this corrupt, leaden economy -- and who does not want her government, courts, and schools ruled by religious dogma -- Barack Obama became the only reasonable choice. However, as I drive around the wealthier suburbs of Minnesota I see the McCain-Palin signs that those living closer to the city do not see in any appreciable number. It worries me, but more than that, it leaves me feeling angry in a way that maybe only someone who has really struggled in the past eight years can understand.
I watched Sarah Palin and Joe Biden politely dance with each other the other night. It was her folksy charm versus his bleached smile; her soccer moms and "Joe Six Packs" against his Scranton coffee shops and gas stations. It was an easy debate, mellow and slowly paced and, from where I sat in the living room of my rented apartment, passionless. Neither candidate exhibited a sense of urgency over any of the issues facing us today; both seemed out of touch with a large portion of Middle Americans, who are not just worried about sending their kids to college but about being able to provide them with essential basics, like food and shelter.
Yet the only mention of the increasingly poor working class when Palin stated the she wants to make sure that they cannot declare bankruptcy. Here in Minnesota, bankruptcy reform has made it almost impossible for the poor to file. Meanwhile, wealthier filers can still find relief. The Republican solution to perceived bankruptcy fraud was to maintain a financial safety net for richer Americans while leaving the poor trapped in a life cycle of low wages, high debt, and wage garnishments. Palin not only sees nothing perverse about that, she finds that there are "good lessons" to be found in these predatory times.
People, she said, should not live above their means. They should not buy a $300,000 house when they can only afford a $100,000 house. This, if a $100,000 house truly existed as anywhere near the average anymore, might be good advice. Instead, there are "starter homes" in the heartland selling for $230,000, while the minimum wage is still $5.75. Retail employees make $8.00-$10.00 per hour, and bus drivers earn $10.00-$12.00. Factoring in taxes, and the cost of insurance, (if available), it is easy to see how and why so many Americans are living "above their means". It is the economy, stupid, and buying a cheaper brand of toilet paper and clipping coupons is not going to get the average working class American out of the downward spiral of debt.
While I was stunned by Palin's myopic adherence to Republican dogma, I heard little from Biden that raised my hopes, which sunk quite a bit after Obama, (and McCain), voted yes on a, (now), $800 Billion bailout filled with pork barrel spending, that EXCLUDED consumer protections that were part of original bill.
Both candidates voted for the bailout, as did the majority of Congress, even while the public's phone calls to Senate offices were running about 100-1 against. What shall we say about politicians who ignore the will of their constituents and who refuse to rise above the din of political panic? Even if one was to believe a bailout was the solution, there was no logical reason for the pork barrel earmarks or the exclusion of consumer protections.
There were no mavericks in the VP debate and I am still hoping to see one on the horizon. For now, there is more of the same or some hope for change. There are all the usual clichés from both sides, a disconcerting lack of substance, an unwillingness to fight the good fight and there's been no sense of urgency about anything other than Wall Street's financial institutions.
As for the war, and spending for the war, I find the misleading rhetoric amazing. Funding for the military has not just gone towards armor and equipment for the troops; it has gone to enormously expensive contracts for giant private entities like Halliburton. Voting against "funding the troops" is not always about support for the troops, but about whom we are choosing to rebuild parts of countries we have demolished, how much we are willing to pay and how accountable we wish to hold them.
Patriotically baiting one-liners such as "brave men and women who have died for our freedom" continue to chill dissent. The awful truth is that many of our dead soldiers did not die to save our freedom. Our freedom was not in danger. While 9-11 was an unparalleled disaster on American soil, it was not an attack from another country, but from a group of Muslim extremists most of whom hailed from our government's ally Saudi Arabia. We have caught very few of the well-known extremists, including Bin-Laden, and even if we had, the destructive bane of radical Islam would not stop with their capture. Even if America and her allies can force democracy on Islamic states, there is no guarantee of permanence; there is more than a strong likelihood that it would be temporary. Islam does not separate the political from the religious, and Sharia law, which Muslims subscribe to as part of their faith, is at odds with American-style democracy.
Our want, (and greed), of oil from these regions has, in so many ways, hampered the evolution of the Middle East. We have propped up dictators, made multi-billionaires out of royal families, funded madrassas, educated their scientists and given technology and weaponry to oppressive armies. Our worries that the religious extremists in the Middle East will go nuclear are not without basis, yet we continue to pour money and other resources into the region for the sake of oil. At the same time, we have failed miserably in developing, producing and promoting other forms of energy.
I am angry. Disgusted. Disappointed.
Nevertheless, I will vote for hope, even if scant and waning, because the alternative is just too frightening to consider.