What is 2011 going to look like in politics? Despite having a name that implies some knowledge of the future, I have no idea what 2011 will look like and the truth of the matter is, neither do you. Sure we Democrats had huge losses in November; the 112th Congress is the most divided since the Civil War; and Republicans have already signaled their intent to cut education spending by 20%. A girl can still dream or at least make a few wishes! Here are a few of my political wishes for a productive 2011.
1. The media grows up -- 2010 may go down as one of the most sexist years in media coverage in modern history. From the relatively mild (describing the South Dakota Congressional race as the "Battle of the Babes") to the horrifically egregious (ladybugs anyone?) 2010 set a new low in offensive portrayals of women. Perhaps in 2011 we can all grow up a bit. My own experience in 2010 with the media and photos of me was very positive and I felt I was treated fairly -- but the fact that my story was such a big story says a lot about how women are viewed. Has this experience made me personally more sensitive to the way women are portrayed in the media? Probably. Is sexism in the media a serious and important problem? Absolutely.
2010 marked the first time in 30 years that we experienced a net loss of women in Congress. We are stuck at a dismal 17% female representation in Congress which puts us 90th in the world behind countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Kazakhstan. What's more, new research by Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners shows that even mild forms of sexism can be extremely detrimental to female candidates. Research also shows that women tend to have a different approach to decision-making and that Fortune 500 companies with women in senior management are more profitable. It seems to me like having more women in the halls of power is not just good for women, it's good for the country.
So for 2011, please remember that there are plenty of legitimate ways to criticize the likes of Christine O'Donnell and Sarah Palin without resorting to obsessive commentary about clothing, witches, ladybug costumes and graphic allegations of one-night stands from anonymous sources in which no one actually had sex. In 2011, I will be doing my part to get more young women to consider entering the political fray. I consider the lack of young women in politics to be a serious enough problem to devote a significant amount of time and energy towards making a difference in this area. More on my plans to come...
2. Centrism for Dummies -- In 2006 and 2008 we kicked out the moderate Republicans. In 2010 we kicked out the moderate Democrats. Some have called this the most divided Congress since the Civil War. Add to this a 2010 election cycle featuring blatantly racist signs, fist fights at debates, and calls for armed revolt, and it's no wonder that more than a few people are calling for some civility and moderation. My greatest wish is that we could actually have a reasonable civil discourse and a commitment first and foremost to solving our nation's problems rather than engaging in some Tom and Jerry type, zero-sum political game of Whack-a-mole. Centrism for centrism's sake however is not the antidote to this self-destructive behavior.
I have strong opinions on virtually any issue you can think of. Some of my views are progressive, some are moderate and a few are conservative. All of them are firmly held based on my evaluation of the available evidence combined with my own convictions and values. None of my views comes from identifying the extremes and then placing myself in the middle of these two poles. What does centrism mean other than defining your self by what others believe? I would argue that in 2010, we had WAY too much of politicians defining themselves by what others believed. Let me give you a few examples: Mitt Romney implements health care reform in Massachusetts and then opposes health care reform for the country because President Obama supports it; John McCain opposes the Bush Tax Cuts when they are implemented and then supports them when it's extension time because the Democrats oppose them, etc etc.
Because centrists tend to have shifting views defined by wherever the center happens to be at the moment, they also have less room to negotiate. This is counterintuitive so I'll explain. Right-wing fiscal deficit hawk Tom Coburn and left-wing pro-union progressive Dick Durbin both signed off on the same Deficit Reduction Plan. How the heck did that happen? It happened because both have track records and credibility as individuals with strongly held principles. Coburn's signature on the plan meant that he consented to certain tax increases but because he has been such a consistent fiscal conservative, he is immune to attacks of being a RINO. Durbin's signature meant consenting to certain reductions in Social Security and Medicare but because he has been such a strong voice for vulnerable populations, he is immune to attacks of wanting to gut Social Security and Medicare.
In 2011, the problem is not that we need people to abandon their principles and move to the center. The problem is that we need people who are civil and who put our country ahead of politics.
3. The President gets visionary -- I was at a conference in South Carolina last week in which a gentleman from Australia took it upon himself to give the entire (almost 100% American) audience a pep talk about why we should get the spring back in our step and feel good about the long term prospects for our country. It does kind of feel like the whole country needs a pep talk.
2010 was the third wave election in a row. There's a sense in America that we are truly at a crossroads. The future is kind of scary and uncertain. We're not sure what to do and our politicians don't seem to get it so every two years we vote overwhelmingly to kick somebody out of office and try something different. In 2008 we voted against the Republican irresponsibility and arrogance of the first 8 years of the millennium. But it wasn't simply a protest vote, we also voted for the hopeful and uplifting vision of the future articulated in broad strokes by then Senator Obama.
We could really use some hope and some vision right now. I remember during the 2008 presidential campaign there was a common criticism that we weren't getting any details from Senator Obama on what exactly he would do as President and where he would lead us with his inspiring words-in other words how his dazzling speeches and inspiring words would translate into a specific vision for the country. Two years into his term as President, we have had an abundance of policy and a paucity of vision. We are left with vague memories of soaring rhetoric and the reality of a bunch of incremental policy improvements that seem disjointed. We are still waiting for leadership -- to be lead as a country toward some brighter future. We have no vision of where we are going as a country and it is the President's unique role to provide that vision. For all the positive policy improvements that have happened...we are starving for that vision.
Again I am optimistic. What impressed me more than anything about Obama's presidential run was his ability to learn and grow immensely during that process. Do you recall how badly Hillary Clinton beat him in their first debate? I believe that our President will continue to grow and improve every year that he is in office. We also saw in the lame duck session just how powerful President Obama is when he really tries to sell policy. The repeal of DADT, the ratification of the New START Treaty, and the passage of the 9/11 First Responders Bill were all extremely important victories won in large part thanks to a President who knew what he wanted and made it clear to Congress that he would accept nothing less.
In 2011, we want to be inspired again and we want to feel hopeful. My final wish for 2011 is that President Obama will fully embrace the power of his office and be the visionary leader that we elected.
Let's look forward to 2011 with expectation. Let's encourage each other to maintain our own positive vision for the country. And let's demand more of ourselves, and our leaders in 2011.