So, How F*cked Are We, Exactly? Let’s Talk About the Midterm Elections.

We can’t pretend we didn’t know it was coming. Statistics whiz Nate Silver has been warning a bloodbath in the House for at least a month. Though he has repeatedly acknowledged the limitations he’s facing and the things his models might miss, his near-perfect track record in 2008 warrants deference.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t make the outcome any easier to take. While last night was in some ways a victory for LGBT candidates, we lost more than 50 seats in the House of Representatives, and just barely maintained a simple majority in the Senate (which is hardly encouraging given the struggles we’ve faced with almost a filibuster-proof majority). Unless suddenly our politicians decide to compromise and learn to work together again, Washington is going to have a hard time getting anything accomplished in the next two years.

Which may be absolutely devastating for the country.

We have so much we need our congressional representatives to accomplish. Officially the recession ended in June 2009, but everyone knows we’re not safe yet. The economy has consistently been one of the most important issues among likely voters. Conventional wisdom suggests that this is the reason voters ran away from the Democrats in droves; the economic recovery simply hasn’t happened quickly enough.

The problem is, though, that we need to do more, not less. Our economy is in dire straits, and we need Congress to act decisively “to get us out of our economic trap” (to quote Nobel Prize winning Economist Paul Krugman). Much of the backlash against current politicians stems from the stimulus package and abstract rage over government spending. However, economists generally agree that that the stimulus was absolutely necessary, and that the real problem is that it didn’t go far enough — we needed more government spending. Our economy isn’t going to improve by shutting down the government.

By ushering in a wave of conservative politicians, we’re also facing incredible battles on social issues – “social issues” being political code for most of the issues that matter to our community, like being able to marry or adopt. It’s unclear now where we’ll find the votes to repeal DADT or reform immigration laws or fix the prison system or protect the environment. It seems like all of the social issues may simply get pushed off the agenda.

So, from a governing standpoint, this election is anxiety-inducing.

What about from a political standpoint? We’ll leave the punditry to the pundits. Some want to claim that this indicates a loss of faith in Obama and we’re in for big changes in 2012. Others point out that the majority party almost always loses seats in the next election, and that swings of this magnitude are not entirely unprecedented. On the other hand, while it wasn’t necessarily a surprise that we lost the House majority and the number of Republican seats has increased, many are disturbed by the political extremism of those inhabiting those seats. It’s one thing to lose a majority; it’s another to lose what was a Democratic seat to Rand Paul, who opposes parts of the Civil Rights Act and whose supporters have been known to physically attack counterprotesters. Although Obama’s stated mission has been to bridge the political divide and work towards ending the polarization of American politics, it seems like that hasn’t been accomplished as well as we might like. With the advent of the Tea Party, the candidates who were elected last night are the most extreme and least willing to work together with Democrats on important issues in a long time; they’re also the least ashamed of their homophobia and racism. Maybe it means a lot and maybe it means a little and two years (or twenty years) from now, we can all sit around discussing the ultimate political implications of the 2010 midterm elections.

Did the Democratic administration have this slap in the face coming? Were people right to vote against Dems who have shown themselves to be less than committed to the change they promised? Maybe. It’s a pretty personal question. As a kind of heartrending hindsight, however, statistics have suddenly popped up all over the internet reminding us of what the Dems have accomplished, even if it wasn’t with fireworks or fanfare. How much has job growth changed in Obama’s first two years from Bush’s last year? “In 2008, we lost an average of 317,250 private sector jobs per month. In 2010, we have gained an average of 95,888 private sector jobs per month. (Source) That’s a difference of nearly five million jobs between Bush’s last year in office and President Obama’s second year.” What else have they accomplished? We’ll let Rachel tell you. [Skip to 1:40 if you're impatient.]

At the very least, those of us who support progressive policies should take this election as an indication that our messaging needs some work. The key to winning any election is convincing the populace that your party is the best able to accomplish what they want, fix their problems and give them what they need. Somehow the Democrats, while trying their hardest to push through bills that would change lives, failed to convince voters that those changes were real – that they would be able to end a war by pulling out troops, or that they would be able to provide accessible healthcare by allowing everyone to access the healthcare system. People are voting against their self-interests because we are not communicating effectively. If we hope to advance any of our causes, we need to fix this.

On the day after, the question is always “What do we do now?” and we always feel at a loss for an answer. We already voted, which is supposed to be the ultimate exercise of power in a democracy, and that didn’t work. But it doesn’t help anyone to give up, either. In the months to come, we need to look for political capital everywhere we can find it. We need to communicate effectively with our politicians and demand the things we need; when those needs are met, we reward our candidates with our support, and when they’re not, we let everyone know. Knowledge is power, and we have to believe that people like Rand Paul were voted into office because people didn’t know how much damage they could do, didn’t know that there were other options to work towards jobs and peace and education. So we need to educate both ourselves and the people around us, our friends and families, about the way things should work, so that they can join us in making it happen. Ready? Go.

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73 Comments

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    Obama and the Dems got screwed partially due to the “wealth redistribution” thing. People do not want to work their asz off only to have their taxes paid to welfare losers and benefits for illegal aliens and thier anchors. Too many entitlements and too much gov’t spending. The stimulus was to help unions, banks, car producers, etc but not to help the American people. Healthcare that no one wanted and suing AZ instead of the gov’t enforcing immigratino laws sure didn’t help. The Dems deserved what they got. Americans spoke but Obama thinks he knows better. Maybe now he will listen to the majority of Americans instead of the kooky lefties.

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      Oh wow. I never thought I would encounter a comment like that on a website like this…I’m sorry Debbie, I think you got lost in cyberspace somewhere. I highly recommended educating yourself on the issues and reevaluating your comment.

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      Lady. This is a site for LESBIANS. if you don’t like our very liberal political leanings, please leave. And, just in case you’re personally offended by people who love people of their same gender, I’m offering you this.
      When I’m older, I’m gonna fall in love. WITH A GIRL.We will fight for our right to marry and adopt.Our kids will be raised in a happy loving home, unlike a lot of the homes of straight couples.And someday, My kid and yours are going to meet, possibly by yours running away from your disowning him/her because of their sexuality. And your kid is gonna fall in love with mine. And your grandchildren, well, they’re going to have a big old homo (ME) to look up to.

      Jesus, when I want to vent, I really fucking vent.

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      Commiecrats unite!

      Geesh, I think some folks did get a little lost on the interwebs today. Desperate to spew some right-wing talking points, they ended up here. Which is kind of hilarious.

      Look, on behalf of my state of Wisconsin, I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize for losing Russ Feingold for you all. Now, instead of a truly progressive, hard-working voice for sanity, we’ve given you another blank-slate, zero experience, climate change denying, pedophile defending rich dude. And that sucks.

      FWIW, my voting ward went for Feingold 25-1. I don’t know what the hell happened in the rest of the state.

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        This is why I act extremely girly whenever I visit my family in wisconsin. They all live in Appleton, which is the only city in wisconsin (I think) that’s mostly republican, and I’m pretty sure that I’d get shot for humming tegan and sara songs.

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          i knew a girl who was president of the gsa at appleton before i realized i was gay. actually, she’s pretty responsible for making me think it was alright to be queer. i think they’re there, they’re just hiding.

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            God I hope so. my whole family there is super catholic so I need to find someone I have stuff in common with there before I shoot my head off.
            actually no, that joke is unacceptable. before I take a greyhound to Madison.

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            Always, always remember: WE ARE EVERYWHERE. Like bedbugs. Only, y’know, way cuddlier.

            Yeah, the Fox Cities area is definitely one of the more conservative enclaves in the state. But there are good folk all over – they’re just a bit more subdued in Appleton, I think.

            Worse comes to worse, everyone’s welcome in Madison! Man I love this city.

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    Now that I have stopped indiscriminately swearing at passersby, I’m trying to take a deep breath and make some sense of this mess. These results are so disheartening. I knew it was going to be bad, but this is worse than I expected. I’m having flashbacks to 2004, but this Congress and my new governor actually seem more conservative than that dark time.

    So, okay, game plan: Today we cry, listen to lots of Le Tigre, and read up on our newly elected officials. It’s normal to be upset, but it’s not the time to disengage. This election might be a setback, but we’ll survive it. We have to.

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    Thanks for this insightful write-up.

    Although I did very much enjoy Riese’s doom and rayguns post, I believe this one may better equip me to converse about this issue while outwardly appearing to be a grown-up. Here are some thoughts from an outsider.

    There’s been quite a bit of coverage in the British media about these midterms, I think a lot because of a car crash kind of fascination with the Tea Party. From an outside perspective, everything I have watched and read about the shift in US political feelings (from a broad-ish spectrum, bearing in mind that in the UK everything is a good way left of the US), specifically the Obama criticisms, has been rife with insidious racism. Or in the case of some of the more outspoken Tea Party-goers, utterly blatant racism.

    Usually cynicism and a general desensitisation to (and distance from) the craziness of Republicans leaves me unmoved. But hearing the rote right-wing responses of ordinary American voters, seeing how quickly their disillusion has been preyed upon and swayed by thinly-veiled fear-mongering and prejudice left me genuinely reeling in surprise and sadness.

    I suppose that’s because Europe still mostly holds the Obama administration in high esteem, and though I never thought that his election would suddenly end all inequality in the US, I hoped it would at least signal a sea change. Now I fear it’s triggering a complete regression in values, and not for the better.

    I think the point “people are voting against their self-interests because we are not communicating effectively” really sums it up most succinctly; the GOP/Tea Party have an easy time spreading negativity and fears about socialism and government spending/policy, it’s much, much harder to campaign positively and for necessary change.

    I heard that younger voter figures are still up though. Maybe some flickers of hope can be found there: that the rise of the Right may help snap liberal folk out of apathy and into action.

    Anyway, if things get much worse, run away to Europe: I can prob sleep two asylum seekers on my sofa.

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      Car Crash fascination is probably not what we’re aiming for over here. But I suppose it’s fair.

      The NAACP just released a rather damning report regarding racism and the Tea Party:

      “The result of this study contravenes many of the Tea Parties’ self-invented myths, particularly their supposedly sole concentration on budget deficits, taxes and the power of the federal government. Instead, this report found Tea Party ranks to be permeated with concerns about race and national identity and other so-called social issues.”

      Which is perhaps not actually surprising at all. But still sad.

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    There are so many things I want to say in response to this article but I’ll try to keep it simple and to the point. I’m a lesbian and I’m a registered Republican, but it wasn’t always this way. I grew up in the house of democrat as both of my parents were and are democrats. I grew up believing that democrats were for the working man and republicans were for the rich. Why? Because that’s what my parents taught me. My parents taught me a lot about life, most of it wrong. Unfortunately I believed their misinformation for most of my life, but then something happened. I started researching, I started reading and reading and reading. At the same time I was researching and reading something else was happening. The democratic and republican parties began to resemble eachother. It seemed as though it no longer mattered which party was in power because they were both voting to limit personal freedom and encroach upon our personal liberties, not to mention shred the Constitution. I know, I know I said the “C” word and anyone who talks about the merits of the Constitution must a whack, I know. Call me what you like, but I have a passion for freedom, I have a passion for personal responsiblity, I have a passion for being able to defend myself through the use of arms, I have a passion for keeping MY money in MY pocket. In your article you said, “Knowledge is power, and we have to believe that people like Rand Paul were voted into office because people didn’t know how much damage they could do, didn’t know that there were other options to work towards jobs and peace and education.” You want to know why so many people voted Republican, candidates like Rand Paul. Thats what we are drawn to, people who will stand up to corruption and the encroachment of government. You see knowledge really is power, and WE educated ourselves about history and the slippery slope we were standing on the edge of and we didn’t like what we saw. Yesterdays victories were not Republican victories, they were victories for freedom and liberty. The revolution has already begun and we will not be denied.

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      Though we probably disagree on many things, I appreciate your well-developed response. I fully recognize that educated people can reside in all corners of the political spectrum, and I thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      The republicans and democrats have set certain rules of engagement, if you will, and third-party candidates help to challenge these seemingly fundamental assumptions. At the same time, the two parties really do have significant differences. To note an example perhaps relevant to the AS readership, Democrats are almost universally on board with at least civil unions for same-sex couples, if not full equality. Republicans are almost universally not. This matters in a very real way for me and many others here.

      I like keeping my money in my pocket. We all do. But I think tax day should be a national holiday. I love roads and schools and libraries and the fact that sewers exist. I love the arts and research and I really really really love the Internet. I love that in paying my taxes, I can help to ensure that fewer kids go to sleep hungry at night. And I don’t even mind that it’s forced, cause sometimes I’m not as generous as my community needs me to be.

      I support personal responsibility. I really do. But I believe in social safety nets. We have sufficient resources to ensure that everyone in the country can have basic services. When we fail to ensure that, we fall short of what we can be and should be as country.

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        Well then you will be particularly disappointed to find that not one penny of your tax dollars goes to roads, schools or libraries. Every penny Americans pay in income tax is gobbled up by interest on the national debt. Thats a fact. Which causes our oh so smart congress to borrow more money. Here’s another fact you might be interested in…the Federal Reserve, (you know the privately held corporation who controls our money), creates and prints money from thin air then lends it to the American people with interest. It’s called fractional reserve banking and its one of the biggest frauds ever perpetuated on the America people.

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          That simply isn’t true.

          At the request of the Wall Street Journal, an organization called The Third Way has prepared a “tax receipt” of sorts, demonstrating where our tax dollars go (using hypothetical income levels and family situations). It’s a left-leaning organization, but the project was non-partisan and endorsed by the Tax Foundation.

          Some of our tax dollars go to interest on the national debt, but certainly not all of them.

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      You know, I like freedom and personal responsibility too.. so why the fuck do the Republicans care so much what I do as a responsible adult in the privacy of my own home with other consenting adults?

      If these are your espoused values, you should probably be voting libertarian, not defending a party that hates you and has a shitty track record when it comes to actually doing the things that you purport to care about.

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        Agreed, and this what many of you outside the movement do not understand. The Republican party is changing for the better. You see, the Republican party was hi jacked some time ago by the crazy right wing christians and became more about legislating morality than limiting gov’t. The movement was forced into the Republican party because of our oppressive 2 party system. No party outside of the dems or repubs got a seat at the table. It made sense that the only way we could turn this around was to take back the republican party and that is exactly what we are doing. It would be more accurate to call the tea party republicans, libertarian. I hope this gives you hope ;)

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      Give it up Shelly.

      You’ll find nothing but an echo chamber in here.

      Try GOProud.

      Unlike these “tolerant” ballwashers, we won’t demand you hit the bricks when we disagree.

      Keep the faith, babe. There are lots more of us out there.

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    Your research went astray when you ended up at brietbart and Fox News. Also do you work for some republican pr company and spam message boards all day? I’m pretty sure I’ve read what you posted somewhere else verbatim.

    Anyways, have fun trying to justify your incredibly selfish philosophy by telling yourself that you are a special snowflake and that you worked harder and that you deserve more.

    Oh, and unless you’re a top 4% income earner don’t expect those people you just put in office to be fighting for tax breaks for you. The ones who gave you the lowest tax rate in 60 years or so? You just kicked them out, so good job I guess.

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      It frustrates me that many people continue to value a candidate based on whether or not their taxes will be raised or lowered. There are good and bad reasons to raise or lower taxes. We need to look at the overall picture.

      If taxes are being lowered, is the lower tax revenue just adding to a budget deficit? Or are programs being cut or spending lowered? Do you agree with the cuts needed to lower the tax?

      If taxes are being raised, will the budget be balanced? Will the new tax fund a program you believe in?

      If you voted for someone specifically based on a tax, without thought to the budget behind it, then you were just bought.

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    Shelly-
    i could see where you were coming from until you mentioned Rand Paul, the senator-electt who believes that private business and individuals and business should have the right to discriminate. I dont see how you would see this as a “victory for freedom and liberty”- especially if you are a lesbian as you claim.

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    “Were people right to vote against Dems who have shown themselves to be less than committed to the change they promised? ”

    I wonder how much of the results had to do with people actually changing parties, which I feel like is rare, and maybe even a little unfortunate since it might help to elect politicians who are more constituent-centered and less party-centered, and how much of the results had to do with disenchanted Dems not voting, while Republicans, who felt they had something to fight for, showed up in full force.

    Also, I always have to wonder, in response to, “the key to winning any election is convincing the populace that your party is the best able to accomplish what they want, fix their problems and give them what they need,” why it seems like Conservative scare-tactices and name-calling are always the best in achieving votes.

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    The good news is…every two years you get a chance to elect 435 new House members and 1/3 of the Senate. All was not lost yesterday, our country existed long before any of us were here and will long after we’re gone. Sometimes weird stuff happens(like the electorate having selective memory re: how crappy 2001-2008 was and failing to realize that much of what they blame Obama for was inherited). Sometimes stupid stuff happens (like the electorate not wanting to pay taxes but expecting/demanding their roads get paved and public schools and Medicare!). And sometimes great stuff happens (like the Civil Rights Act and SCHIP and Jon Stewart rallies). We shall overcome, my loves.

    2012 will be here before we know it! Volunteer! Be active participants in your party of choice! The future is bright! Government is not the problem or the enemy…it only sucks if we give up and pretend like we can’t make a difference. Take collective action! Change is a process and one in Washington that is long and winding; our Founding Fathers designed it to be that way. A thick skin, perseverance, and a touch of patience helps ease the pain.

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        yeah, i think everyone wants to have their voice heard, but it just doesn’t work that way. i mean, i don’t have any solutions, but i just feel like it’s 300 million people shouting their opinions as loudly as they can without listening to anyone else and thinking that’s going to accomplish something.

        i think one of the reasons why canada’s system works a bit better is because we have like 10x less people than the states. less people, less shouting.

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        But you guys don’t *have* representative democracy. I mean, I don’t doubt that the size of the US makes government a dicey, difficult thing. But I think a democracy that was representative (as opposed to one which includes representatives) might, IDK, help.

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      it’s not a democracy, it’s an aristocracy. obama winning was a departure from the aristocracy so it gave us a lot of hope. everyone thinks that america is a meritocracy but it’s not really. at least overseas people admit that not everyone can achieve the same things in life because of various oppressive forces. Idk. I’m not allowed to talk about my socialist feelings in public i think

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        No way, we should *all* talk about our socialist feelings in public and not let the far right and slightly less right dictate public discourse.

        Down with hegemony! Up with an actual political spectrum!

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        Discussing Marxist theory does not make one a socialist, even if the american right thinks so.

        And Americans must stop misusing the term Socialist. Europe is not a mass of socialist country´s. A collection of Social democratic country´s maybe(and thats a BIG difference.)

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          I just read through it and I can say with a lot of confidence that I’m pretty sure we will get our shit together before we take up arms against our brothers. You look fairly young so I can understand why you might be worried about a revolution. I CAN tell you this, the good people of the United States are sick and tired of the gov’t over reach in every aspect of our lives. Our gov’t is getting too big and while most of the people in this comment section seems to believe that big gov’t is good, always remember this…If the government is big enough to provide all you need, it’s big enough to take all you have. And preventing and avoiding a violent revolution is what the tea party influence is trying to accomplish. We want to leave our kids better off when we leave this world not buried under a pile of debt levied by an oppressive gov’t. If you want a better understanding, watch this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1XGXFufq14

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        Well you are right about the aristocrasy part however, America was never intended to be a democracy as it is now described. America was formed as a Republic. “And to the Republic for which it stands…” Here’s the big difference, democracy allows the oppression of the few by the beliefs of the majority, you know, majority rules. The founders believed that we are born with inalienable rights, you know life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that could not be infringed upon by the beliefs and whims of the majority and THAT is what a REPUBLIC is. There is a huge difference. And to think that Obama in not part of the aristocracy you believe exists (and does exist) is so wrong I can’t even begin to explain the ways he is. His entire adminstration is made of wall street insiders. You know the people who recieved almost a trillion dollars in bailout money, and where do you think this money went? Hm, let’s think to CEOs who received 200 million dollar bonuses…

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      WE’R DOING IT WRONG

      No, really — the way American democracy is currently run sucks. The one-vote-per-person thing isn’t the only way and other countries have successfully implemented solutions (run-off elections, the ability to vote for multiple candidates) that result in more representative democracies and less binary politics.

      Not to mention the dismal voter turnout that can be attributed not to apathy but the ridiculous difficulty of actually getting registered. Australia has *95% voter turnout* — because registration and voting are compulsory. We have compulsory draft registration for all males over 18, but not for voting.. shows where our priorities are.

      I swear, I’ll be less crabby tomorrow, but I’m just giving myself today to wallow.

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        1. I’d like to give you a hug. It’s going to be okay!
        2. You can register to vote anytime you go to the post office, or to get your driver’s license, or to check out books at the library. It’s not difficult. Making every single person register won’t necessarily encourage them to exercise their civic duty. It might just lead to even more voter apathy.
        3. Other countries with those other solutions haven’t lasted as long as our democratic republic. I’m not asserting American superiority by any means…but our system really can work. It’s just been a bad decade.
        4. I’d like to give everyone a hug.

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            i was referring to the US Constitution being the oldest democratic constitution in existence today. i am not asserting that other countries are wrong or crumbling

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          1. Thanks, hugs to you too!

          2. The laws are different in each state and I’m pretty sure my post office (which I visit maybe every 3 months) and local library (which I also don’t visit often because I have access to my University’s stellar collection) don’t have voter registration. Also, going to the post office and the library are not daily facets of life for a vast swath of Americans, particularly the poor, mobile (in the sense of changing addresses) urban population that don’t need to go the post office often, don’t have time to visit the library and read, and don’t have a car and therefore no driver’s license. Also, how many people that you pick off the street know where they can go to register? We’re not teaching these things in our schools — our current state of civic education sucks.

          *90%* of registered voters voted in the last presidential election, and that wasn’t an anomaly — it’s close to that figure for most even election years and also for the youngest segment of voters, 18-24 year olds. Americans that are registered vote. The difficulty in getting registered (and also of finding out how to do so) manifests itself in the low voter turnout from the 1/3 of Americans that move addresses every 2 years, a demographic that’s overwhelmingly skewed toward young adults. In the Nordic countries, the government keeps you registered at your current address — why isn’t registration as easy as your post office change of address form that you can do online for $1?

          The most under-registered citizens are poor, uneducated and young. If we saw this across the board, then you can make the case that people are apathetic. When specific demographics are disenfranchised, it’s a systemic problem.

          3. Our country has changed a *lot* since we set up our system, yet besides expanding the franchise, the system has stayed largely the same. Our congressmen represent almost 20x the number of voters as they did in 1776, campaign finance is spinning out of control and lobbyists have undue influence on our lawmaking process. It’s been a bad decade of backwards progress.

          4. I hope this doesn’t sound like a personal attack, it’s just something I care about a lot and have researched a fair amount. I love democracy and hate when I see it come under attack by special interests with tons of money and no scruples.

          On that note, HUGS!

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        As an Australian studying constitutional law, in my opinion the US democracy is much less direct than many others, largely because it was one of the first and the framers were legitimately worried about the consequences of tyranny by the majority. Which makes it slightly ironic when it is the American style democracy which is exported to developing countries.

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    I don’t have anything intelligent to add, but I would like to say that “Boehner” is apparently pronounced “bayner” but last night I didn’t know that so I was saying “boner” and laughing every time and now I can’t even think about him without laughing.

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    “Democracy is buying a big house you can’t afford with money you don’t have to impress people you wish were dead. And, unlike communism, democracy does not mean having just one ineffective political party; it means having two ineffective political parties. …Democracy is welcoming people from other lands, and giving them something to hold onto — usually a mop or a leaf blower. It means that with proper timing and scrupulous bookkeeping, anyone can die owing the government a huge amount of money. … Democracy means free television, not good television, but free. … And finally, democracy is the eagle on the back of a dollar bill, with 13 arrows in one claw, 13 leaves on a branch, 13 tail feathers, and 13 stars over its head — this signifies that when the white man came to this country, it was bad luck for the Indians, bad luck for the trees, bad luck for the wildlife, and lights out for the American eagle.”

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      Oh…And as to “Lesbian Repubicans” or “Republican Lesbians”…Makes PERFECT sense….Everyone knows they’re the party of inclusion…OMG..Writing that made me throw up a little in my mouth…

  11. Pingback: Mombian » Blog Archive » Weekly Political Roundup – Election Edition

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    I’ve never been on this website before. I like the column but am surprised by the content of the first responses above, to the conservative commentator. Attacking peoples’ motivations and beliefs is not going to change anyone’s mind. Failing to respond to the substance of even a comment we might consider ill-advised or even bigoted is not going to make the person go away, or change their vote. We just drag ourselves down to a very low level of discourse when we attack like that, rather than making the sane, reasoned responses that will win hearts and minds.

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