As far as human emotions go, if the 2004 elections were about fear and the 2008 elections about hope, it seems fair to say that the 2010 midterm elections have been about anger. Anger at the government for what's perceived as a weak economy. Anger at Congress, either for not getting enough done, or for turning the country into a cesspool of socialism, depending on one's political leanings. Anger at immigrants, who are so crafty to get into the United States that they'll even crawl under fences that aren't on the border with another country (at least according to the ads in Louisiana and Nevada). Anger at liberals and their long affair with taxes. Anger at gay people. Earlier this week Mother Jones ran a cover with Sarah Palin in the image of the '50s movie poster, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, to attempt to show how middle class anger is so fever-pitch high that people are talking about voting against their own interests, and what was the response? Anger that they would replicate such a sexist image.
Although elections may be marked by cultural moments or zeitgeist, they are also ostensibly about issues. So it saddens me that there have been several issues this cycle that have barely made it into the press at all. Here's what we haven't been paying attention to:
Environmental Issues—Anyone remember the drawn-out, massive disaster that was the BP oil platform explosion? Eleven workers killed, and we saw month after month of cleanup attempts, as time marched from April to August. People were up in arms for a minute, mostly because of the antics of BP's CEO Tony Hayward, who was eventually shipped off to the company's operations in Russia. BP came in with a couple of fake pictures on its website, and spent a ton of money on PR. When it came out that the environmental situation in Nigera dwarfs what happened in the Gulf, the wind went out of many people's sails, and then finally, the underwater well was capped. Recently the Obama Administration lifted its offshore oil drilling moratorium, without any fanfare. There have been few mentions of drilling in Anwar outside Alaska's three-way senate race. In the Northwest, any mention about the perennial problem of logging is nowhere to be found; instead people are arguing over whether Washington State should privatize its liquor sales and open an income tax on people earning more than $200,000 a year (Washington state currently has no income tax). And after the Bush Administration intentionally stopped enforcement on several EPA regulations for clear air and water, nobody has campaigned in 2010 on making improvements to damaged areas.
Education—The Democrat-controlled Congress passed a large reform for student loans, wrapped in the health care reform legislation last March. But other than tout the savings to the government and taxpayer, and how this opens up more funding for Pell Grants, little has been said about education in the United States. Maybe we are all still fatigued by the No Child Left Behind law. It's striking that in an autumn in which so many people have finally focused on the issue of LGBT youth suicide and child bullying, that what the Federal Government should be doing in our schools to help correct these problems hasn't come up as an important topic in this election. Maybe it was too late to get into the candidates' position papers? Sure, that must be it.
ENDA—Last spring and summer saw some debate on the Hill; on the right-wing this was about frustration with catering to the special interests of lesbians and gays, while on the left it was over the exclusion of transgender people from the bill language. People following the legislation got chronic neck pain as ENDA was batted around like a tennis ball. It's going to the floor for a vote. It's not going for a vote until Don't Ask Don't Tell is revoked. Transgender people will be included. Oh, no they won't. Perhaps because ENDA is a reminder of something the Democrats failed to achieve, they don't bring it up in their debates or talking points. And there's no reason a mainstream Republican, not to mention a Tea Party-affiliated candidate, would talk about it. And many people in the queer community wonder how it will fare next year, if the House is more tightly divided than it is now.
The Economy—Nearly 10 percent of working-age Americans are unemployed, and even more are underemployed. After the housing bubble burst, after people began failing to pay their mortgages en masse, and after the recent revelations about fraud in the privatized foreclosure process that banks have set up for themselves, there are somehow very few discussions in this election about what our next steps out of these messes should be. The GOP would like to cut more taxes or at least extend the Bush-era tax cuts, claiming it will free up more money for people to spend on more things. Democrats say we need to let those cuts lapse so the government can get that $680 billion back into its revenue stream. But other than arguing about whether the cuts should stay or go, conversations about the economy quickly have devolved into angry rhetoric over who is at fault for our financial struggles. All this while many major economic indicators show growth.
I know there are more issues out there that haven't really received their 15 minutes of fame, but it's striking that such big-ticket topics like these have fallen by the wayside when we've been arguing about undocumented workers, the Islamic "threat" to our national security, who is pissed not to have received an endorsement, which campaign ads are the most frustrating to watch, whether flouride is out to get us, and any manner of other subjects that amount to a distracting din. With less than a week until Election Day, I wonder how many people will be voting on issues from an informed standpoint, and how many will be voting only on a party line.
By the way, this article has been brought to you by the letter E.