Despite the conclusion tonight of this year’s expensive and long campaign, to many Americans this is the “Seinfeld” election – the campaign about nothing. There has been no overriding theme or message, no Contract with America from the Republicans and no battle plan for the middle class from Democrats.
The Republicans have had very little to say except “Obama bad,” as some have noted.
The Democrats, despite a steadily improving economy, growth rates hitting 3.5 percent and unemployment falling to 5.9 percent, aren’t making the argument that they are the party to help middle class families raise their wages, send their kids to college and ensure a stable financial future.
In a sense, this is not just a campaign about nothing, it is also a campaign about everything – lurching from one so-called crisis to another: from endless investigations about Benghazi or the IRS or the Secret Service to the Ukraine to Syria to the Islamic State group to Ebola.
The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that Americans are seriously concerned about two things, jobs and the economy and breaking the partisan gridlock in Washington to get things done – both lead with 23 percent as the top problem.
It is almost as if Washington and the people are living on distant planets.
If this year’s $4 billion election should tell the Congress – especially the Republicans – one thing, it is enough with useless investigations, enough with wasting time on repealing Obamacare, enough with the politics of “no.” The public wants action, they want both parties to work together, to cross the aisle and to solve their problems.
In 2010, the tea party anger about the economy created a desire for intransigence for many: Stand your ground, don’t compromise. In 2014, the public is crying out for compromise and an end to the partisan gridlock in Washington.
That is why it is so sad that this campaign has been the Seinfeld election. Just when voters want answers, or at least proposals, they get negative attacks and all anti-Obama, all the time.
Like many others, our household has been enthralled by Ken Burns’ latest tour de force, “The Roosevelts.” Having read several biographies on Theodore and Franklin, I found that the film brought even more of their experiences to life. It also highlights a clear contrast between their times and ours in American politics.
The Roosevelts faced extraordinary challenges – two world wars and other foreign interventions, the most serious economic depression our nation had ever experienced, the advent of women’s right to vote and direct election of senators, the rise and fall of bosses in politics and robber barons in business as well as doubts about our system of government.
Despite coming from different parties, their overriding ethos was activist, high energy, can-do government. Not big government, not intrusive government, but smart, effective government to make the changes, right the wrongs and pursue policies that were populist and pragmatic. Both Roosevelts took on the establishment, even though they came from the establishment. Both Roosevelts recognized the use of power for good, whether it was breaking up monopolies, passing child labor laws, protecting America’s most beautiful open spaces, putting in place Social Security for the elderly or insuring Americans’ bank deposits.
Respect for our institutions, particularly government, is close to an all-time low. Every crisis drives approval ratings down even further. Support for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has gone from 60 percent in May 2013 to 37 percent in the wake of the Ebola crisis. Congress has seen its approval ratings go to single digits. President Barack Obama’s numbers are approaching an all-time low, beginning to enter George W. Bush territory when he left office.
In my view, these numbers represent a strong belief that our leaders don’t lead. Rather, we seem to have a group of politicians who spend too little time doing what the Roosevelts did and too much time holding their fingers up to the political winds.
We are faced today with a reluctance to act, a refusal to recognize that an aggressive response to our problems is required – whether it is current issues like Ebola, the Islamic State group, Secret Service transgressions, reform of our intelligence agencies and the IRS, or large issues like engaging wholeheartedly in rebuilding our infrastructure and reforming our schools. The list goes on and on.
The public does not just sense the gridlock, particularly in Washington, but they are losing faith in political leadership. Americans are looking for leaders like TR and FDR who call them to action and raise their faith and their optimism again. They are looking for leaders who follow through and take on the big battles of the day. They are looking for leaders who stop bickering about big government or small government and embrace a sense of activism that tackles the tough problems.
The problems aren’t any tougher or harder to solve now than they were during the first half of the 20th century. The difference is many of our leaders won’t take them on and use the power of government for good. We need more Roosevelts.
I have a confession. As much as I disagree with, and am appalled by, most of the views of the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, or Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., or Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, I respect them.
They stand up for what they believe in; they are honest about their beliefs, and they don’t pretend to be something that they are not. For nearly a decade, I sparred weekly with Pat Buchanan on television – we had different political perspectives but I respected Buchanan’s intelligence, his perspective and his humor. He, like Cruz, Paul and King, told it as he saw it.
What we are witnessing in this year’s campaign in a number of states is a collection of candidates who don’t want voters to know their real views. It is silly for Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., not to admit she voted for Barack Obama. She is clear about why she is running and her views, why get called out on this?
But there are a lot more insidious campaigns being run by several Republicans. Joni Ernst in Iowa is doing her very best to convince voters she has a moderate bone in her body.
Still, the ultimate fraud this year is GOP Rep. Cory Gardner in Colorado who is challenging Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat. This guy makes a chameleon look consistent in color. Gardner smiles as he lies to your face. He is trying his very best to bob and weave through the final weeks of this campaign to convince voters that he is not extreme and does not hold extreme views or cast extreme votes.
Folks, there are 435 members of the House of Representatives, and based on his 2012 voting record, National Journal rated Gardner the 10th most right-wing member of the House. With all the Tea Party Republicans in that body, being named more extreme than 425 of your colleagues is not easy.
It is not easy to run from that record, and yet Gardner is doing his very best. Gardner is waging the ultimate “Trojan Horse” campaign – he is desperately trying to get through the gates into the U.S. Senate by dressing up as something he is not. He is doing his best to pull the wool over the eyes of Colorado voters.
And Colorado women should be extremely concerned. This isn’t some run-of-the-mill conservative on women’s issues. Gardner is a radical. He wants to outlaw all abortions.
Let’s look at his record. For the past eight years, he has consistently supported federal and state “personhood legislation” that would make abortion a crime and even outlaw various birth control measures. Last year, he co-sponsored the “Life at Conception Act.” Back in 2007, Gardner signed on to a Colorado Senate bill that would make abortion a Class 3 felony, outlawing it even in the cases of rape and incest. In 2010, he supported Colorado’s Amendment 62 and reportedly said at a candidate forum: “I have signed the personhood petition. I have taken the petitions to my church and circulat[ed] it in my church.” Personhood USA President Keith Mason stated that Gardner has “built his entire political career on support of personhood.”
Now, in 2014, comes the Trojan Horse campaign. He puts up ads saying he supports over-the-counter contraceptives and says he isn’t supporting Colorado’s personhood referendum this year, though he still supports the federal legislation. Never mind the cost of the contraceptives or the issue of insurance coverage. If you believe Gardner, I have a mountain in Colorado to sell you.
The radical Colorado Right to Life group had called Gardner a “standout legislator” but even they are dismayed by his political opportunism, calling it “a cynical choice to give up on principles so he would be more attractive to moderate voters.”
Gardner has consistently opposed equal pay for equal work for women. He stands in the way of efforts to prevent violence against women. He was an original cosponsor of legislation to redefine rape. Gardner even opposed a bill in 2007 that required hospitals to inform sexual assault survivors of the availability of emergency contraception.
But his radical views and votes do not stop there.
Gardner has opposed gay rights consistently, even benefits and health coverage for gay couples. He has voted to cut Pell Grants by $6 billion. He voted five times in September/October 2013 to produce the government shutdown. He voted 16 times against opening the government, and this cost the taxpayers $24 billion.
Gardner is a supporter of transferring Colorado’s public lands, which would lead to their sell-off. The “No Trespassing” signs would go up. The “No Hunting” and “No Fishing” signs would prevent Coloradoans from enjoying their unique way of life. But during this campaign, Gardner has tried his best to convince the voters that his stands, his beliefs and his votes are not his – the ultimate Trojan Horse campaign.
Just the Facts
Republicans can’t disagree with the president’s latest speech on the economy.
By Peter FennOct. 3, 2014 | 1:00 p.m. EDT+ More USNEWS & WORLD REPORT THOMAS JEFFERSON STREET BLOG
This is for my Republican friends: What would you disagree with in Obama’s Northwestern University economic speech?
Would it be that unemployment has gone from 10 percent in 2009 to 6.1 percent? (Oh, and since his speech yesterday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the creation of another 248,000 jobs and that the unemployment rate is 5.9 percent, the lowest in six years.)
Would it be that the economy has created 10 million jobs, the longest uninterrupted stretch in U.S. history? Maybe that America has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan and every other developed country combined?
Would it be that the American manufacturing sector, including car sales, is back, and 700,000 manufacturing jobs have been created?
Would it be that the stock market has doubled since 2009, and that health care increases have slowed dramatically, while the number of uninsured Americans has dropped by 26 percent?
OK, I could go on with more statistics, more facts, but what Obama really was saying is that, despite this progress, we have more to do to help the middle class, which has not felt the improvements, has not seen family incomes rise, and has not been a big part of the upturn.
So here is where I really want my Republican friends to weigh in: the solutions.
How about rebuilding infrastructure here at home? Repairing roads, bridges, and investing in light rail? How about reform that cuts taxes on businesses here at home and also closes wasteful loopholes? How about high quality preschool, enrolling 6 million children in the next decade? How about making it easier for first time homebuyers to purchase a home, speeding up construction and the economic recovery?
And, of course, there are issues like comprehensive immigration reform, raising the minimum wage and ensuring equal pay for equal work for women, which most Republicans have already voted against. Fine, we should debate those and bring them before the voters.
But my central point is that politics and government is about solving these problems, not being obstructionists and producing roadblocks. It is about producing compromises that move the economy forward. Fundamentally, right now, it is about raising up the middle class, whose wages have been stagnant since 1999, according to the Washington Post. In fact, the top 1 percent took in 95 percent of the income gains during the recovery.
For Republicans and Democrats, it should be about solutions that lift up working families. That is really what Americans want to hear leading up to this November’s elections. Obama’s speech hit it. What is the Republican Party’s response?