Monday, November 25, 2013

Pause and Be Thankful

Please join me in reflecting a bit about some events over the last few months. The news has been dismal about the Congress, the Government shutdown, the healthcare roll out, international tensions, elections and natural disasters. Yet, if one stops to really consider what is happening and how ordinary people are going about their lives, we can see much which has happened for the good of others.

Elections in New York City ended the Bloomberg era and brought a Democratic progressive into office as Mayor. He has already spoken out against the "stop and frisk" practices of the NYPD and promises significant changes in this policy area. He has also, in the city where Wall Street is king, spoken out about economic inequality. I await action in this area.

Elections in New Jersey and Virginia brought governors from two different parties into office. Chris Christie in NJ rode in, still on the tailwinds of Super Storm Sandy. Whether he rebuilt areas wisely or well is yet to be seen, but he presented the perception of a caring politician, bullied those who would disagree and hinted at bi-partisanship with his embrace of the President. His state still disagreed with him on the issues of women's rights, choice, a minimum wage bill and immigrant rights. The future holds many questions for him as he moves into his second term, being touted by many as ready to demonstrate Presidential form in preparation for 2016. In my mind, he does not possess the temperament, the philosophy, or the depth of a necessary world view to be heading in that direction. But for many, since he is not a wild eyed tea party foot stomper, he is given the undeserved mantle of moderate.

In Virginia, Democratic fund raiser and entrepreneur Terry Mc Auliffe defeated the Tea Party favorite Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Virginia was closely won by President Obama in both 2008 and 2012, but went Republican in an early Tea Party sweep of Virginia offices in 2009, so it is a decidedly "purple state". Several issues made this race closer than it should have been, in my mind. The Daily Show described the public choice as one being between choosing cancer and a heart attack. First, neither candidate was a strong performer with a large following.

Cuccinelli rigged the selection for the Republican ballot by foregoing the usual primary where the election would be open to all in the party in favor of a convention where he could control the delegates and the nominating process. The Democrats chose to have a primary which was mostly pro forma for McAuliffe. Cuccinelli was also linked to the "pay to play" scandal which the current Governor McDonnell is mired in with Federal investigations ongoing. Both the AG and the Governor became part of the anti-choice issue, mandatory vaginal ultrasound pregnancy matter, and climate change denial debates in recent years in Virginia, which made the atmosphere, in my mind, seem somewhat surreal. Yet despite all of these perceived negatives on the Republican side, the Democratic candidate did not produce major inspiration amongst the Democratic faithful.

Off year elections are often known for low turnout and lack a compelling reason for voters to show up with no national races on the ballot. This year was no different, as about 2.2 million voters took part in this election, compared to over 3.8 million in the Presidential election last year. Terry McAuliffe won with about 48% to 46% with a libertarian candidate taking a small percentage.. It is not yet known whether or not the Democrats will sweep all state-wide offices as the AG race is still considered within the margin for a possible recount. Suggestions were made that the Republican role in the Government shutdown hurt their side, but the issues with the healthcare roll out hurt the Democrats.

National figures such as President Obama and former President Clinton campaigned for Terry McAuliffe, while Governor Scott Walker and Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio stumped for the Cuccinelli campaign. Others noted that the shutdown was a major negative and that the AG ducked out of an event when Senator Ted Cruz was speaking, even though they have both been touted as Tea Party favorites.

Some claimed that since the national party and figures such as Reince Priebus and Chris Christie decided to keep this race at arms length, Cuccinelli's campaign was hurt in the final turnout.

Do these races have national implications for the 2014 races? I think it is hard to predict from this distance as voters often have short memories. Currently neither party is actually held in high esteem, although the Republicans still seem to be taking the hit for the shutdown and may take more if this show is replayed in January.

The President took a major hit with the ACA website debacle, but may regain positive poll numbers if the website situation and enrollment improve soon.

Certainly foreign affairs with destruction of biologic/chemical weapon from Syria, negotiations with Iran, and the wind down in Afghanistan are all positive events which should rebalance the slate for the President. Usually, foreign events do not poll high, but each of these situations could have prolonged military issues and now seem to be defused. The "Bomb Iran, Bomb Syria" chorus from Senators McCain and Graham have been stilled for a while at least and I do hope they are eventually silenced. The "nuclear option" exercised in the Senate last week may finally allow the President to have an effective team of officials and judges in place in order to pursue at least part of his agenda, since there appears to be little that will get done legislatively.

As we enter the Holiday season and many pause in their personal lives to reflect on what is working in their lives, I suggest that we can be pleased with much which has happened. There is still so very much to do, I admit, but I see more people being signed up for health care every day, despite major obstructions.

How soon will it be before the Red State Governors begin to get pressured from their communities for not expanding health care options in their states or for setting up their in-state exchanges? I see people donating to food banks to compensate for the devastating effects that the Republicans have caused with the food stamp cutoff. And sometimes karma works in odd ways, as the Florida Tea Party Republican Congressman who demanded drug testing for food stamp recipients was himself convicted of cocaine use and distribution and is taking a leave of absence.

So as you may take a pause this week, cook your Thanksgiving meal, visit with family or just kick back and watch football, please think of some positives we can find and use them to move a hopeful message forward. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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