So we're at it again, are we? Once again, the GOP is holding its breath over not getting what it wants. No, it's more like they've locked the whole country in a running car with a hose in the exhaust pipe. I'll be the first to say that I don't understand what their problem is with Obamacare, unless it's that it should be strengthened to include everyone for anything ever. Is it seriously the position of the Republican party that low tax rates are more important than healthy Americans? Maybe the next S&P downgrade will include explicit mention of Republican behavior and voters will finally learn their lesson. God knows the party won't.
Sadly, considering that the gerrymander-protected GOP held its House majority despite losing the popular vote, it's unlikely that majority acknowledgement of Republican obsolescence will rid us of their immotile decay. Still working out the kinks in Republican math, the GOP continues to put its money on bigotry and greed. In spite of continually worsening confidence numbers, multiple suggestions that John Boehner is the worst Speaker in history, and the abject failure of their members to appear anything but racist and out-of-touch, the GOP feels justified in their continued push against the initiatives of an Obama-led Democratic platform.
The Democrats aren't off the hook, either. Even with a so-called filibuster-proof Senate and a 78-seat majority in the House, we still got the most fat-cat friendly version of health care, impotent action on Wall Street, and the continuation of both wars, the Patriot Act, and the Bush tax cuts. We thought we were voting for a reset, to continue as if we had just finished a two-term Gore presidency and saw no reason to stop voting blue. What we got was an extension of the invertebrate cowering to conservative demands and the permanent disillusionment of the newest round of voters.
Being an American voter is like being stranded in the desert and choosing between espresso and moonshine. Both seem to be choices of flavor over utility. We act as if the choice really is between evil and incompetence, that the jejuneness of Washington is as immutable as the eastern sunrise. We shame one another for our idealism, for believing that a government can be strong and capable of sustaining the needs of an ever-increasing population without being creepy or authoritarian. We shrug our shoulders and say that politicians will always be corrupt and rich men will always game the system.
But thinking like that breeds cynicism, and that cynicism leads to apathy. I should know. I have, from a young age, maintained a tentative relationship with the Democratic party. As the son of formerly black-clad, socialist-pamphlet-distributing radicals who didn't hide their... let's say "blurry" photo albums of cats, it's fair to say I turned out somewhat far on the left end of the spectrum. My lead-up to being a voter was a Democratic president who signed gay-restrictive bills, tightened welfare, and bombed a tiny country while under investigation for an affair; and a Republican president who created DHS, TSA, and overdrew the country's checking account on two wars he didn't bother to finish. I was politically sardonic by the time Barack Obama charmed the nation.
Since I started voting in 2004, I have ignored all candidates with a D or R next to their name. I think it's so I can say I tried but no one listened. In 2008, even though I dedicated twelve hours a day to a private canvasser for the DNC, I voted for Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party. In 2004, even though I felt he ruined 2000, I voted for Ralph Nader because I was under the impression that John Kerry was the tails side of the scary post-9/11 government coin. I usually ignore congressional seats because, again, different heads of the same monster. If the option is available, I vote for the "other" guy with the funniest sounding name.
Living in Massachusetts -- where Democratic victories are all but certainties -- makes this apathy all the easier for me. My vote is just about wasted no matter what, so I might as well try to bolster one of the more plausible third parties. That's why so many people voted for Nader in 2000, not for a Green president, but for the party to get federal election funds in 2004. It would be nice to have a truly left party so the Dems could just be the centrists and the Republicans could continue on their path to antiquity. This past cycle, though, I was so terrified of a red surge that I did what I considered the "adult" thing and voted blue down the ticket. I made sure everyone I knew voted, if only to oust Scott Brown and pass Medicinal pot. I didn't support an Obama presidency so much as I rejected the alternative. I hoped, foolishly, that a Barack Obama without another election to fear would finally show some spine, and that a House rebuked in its feelings of being the anti-establishment would finally be willing to compromise. Today, not eight months into the second term, I think nobody has the slightest clue what's going on and everyone secretly wishes for their mother to swoop in and fix everything.
Of course, we are not limited to espresso and moonshine. Those who paid attention in American History will remember the near-success of the Populists and the Anti-Masons. Heck, even the Republicans were still a fledgling party when Abraham Lincoln won the presidency. Why won't the younger Republicans just sign up with the Libertarians? Why is the Green party unable to lure disillusioned liberal Democrats? I think it has to do with why I voted blue in 2012, because we view the two major parties as the only viable options. We may not agree with all the party platform, or even most of it, but whether you find yourself voting red or blue, I think most of us will admit -- if not on a popular news aggregate than at least to yourselves -- that you only do so because these are the parties that are bland enough to garner enough votes to win. You may agree more with the Green or Libertarian party, but you know that the financial infiltration and traditional weight of the Republican and Democratic parties is too much to overcome. The only way to get former hippies and current humanities undergrads to vote together is to demonize those stuffy penguin suits and religious nutjobs across the aisle, and vice versa. It's symbiotic in the way a monkey peeing into its own mouth is.
The solution isn't really changing parties, or even adding more of them. For one, third parties have a discouraging tendency to burn out like a fistful of cotton balls, which would make them energy drinks in my diuretic metaphor. Even so, the same problems will follow us from one regime to the next, so long as there is clout to be bartered. There is no panacea to our political problems. There are always going to be McCarthies and Issas who lead witch hunts with nothing but their own ego to light the way; there will always be Boehners and Gingriches who can barely hide their grins of ornery delight at obstructing progress; there will always be Anthony Weiners and John Edwardses who trick us into thinking there are honest people without selfish or scummy intentions. As I continue to forge into adulthood, I have come to understand why we all laugh at politician jokes, but not why we continue to allow them to be funny. Are corruption and slime totally immutable, or are we too attached to the divisions we've set between us and them? And if this is the proper course of a healthy democracy, why does it feel like we're stagnating? The guys who promised change are more of the same and the alternative's only credential is that they don't even attempt to hide their crazy anymore. Who wants to participate in that? You have to wonder if the Democrats are trying to hype up the potential for a government shutdown in order to ramp up registrations for 2014.
But you also have to wonder why the fringes aren't trying to capitalize on this. I don't think people are apathetic so much as they are simply tired of this double ouroboros. They want proof that someone hears their concerns and they want to see an actual fight on their behalf. That's what the Republicans did in the 1850's: When the Whigs and Democrats ignored snowballing abolitionist sentiments, the Republicans took up the cause and within less than a decade controlled both houses and the presidency. Are concerns about inaction on climate change or cannabis prohibition or wage stagnation publically popular and legislatively ignored enough to introduce a new player to the arena?
But just like no one gun reform is going to stop all gun deaths, we have to take strides towards diminishing corruption's effect on our democratic process. The problem is that friggin apathy. If you care you read the news, and if you read the news you know things are really discouraging at the moment. Dare I suggest the biggest issue of the pre-meltdown 2008 campaign? Are we finally financially secure enough to get back to the issue of campaign finance reform? The idea of asking the government to dedicate money to anything makes everyone queasy, but it would be a step, right? Just imagine an equal, fair election where money means money and speech means speech.
No, it's not glamorous. Yes, it is boring. But that's how the system gets tampered with so easily, because paying attention and knowing what to listen for are mentally grinding. The opposite of drugs is Washington. That's why so many politicians have to do drugs. But we have to do something, because the only other solution seems to be active participation in government. And that would really stymie my passive righteousness.