In the last two US presidential elections, the American public really missed the boat in terms of the central focus of their decision-making processes. Forget the electoral versus the popular vote, the ballot issues, the lack of a paper trail, or even the voter-caging. Even before the people were able to sing “Hail to the Thief,” the public already had it all wrong.
A huge percentage of middle-America was not focused on global issues, war, international relations, or even domestic policies such as healthcare and education. That’s not to say that no one was focused on these issues, but a large enough faction of the population was more concerned with upholding the zealous principles of the conservative right as opposed to the issues that really mattered. It seemed that banning abortions and preventing gay marriage rights were more pressing issues to many Americans than many of the more pertinent social and global issues at hand.
In the prelude to the last election, I spoke to one twenty-something who told me that she saw eye-to-eye with John Kerry on every issue but one: abortion. That issue was enough to bring her to cast her ballot for a war-mongering idiot dangling from puppet strings controlled by a corrupt administration. During our conversation, I asked her if fighting for the not-yet-living was really more important than ending a war claiming the lives of millions. She said yes. It seemed that even the bloodshed of millions of Iraqi civilians was no match for her Christian faith. (Even though I could have sworn that one of the Ten Commandments was “Thou shalt not kill.” Apparently, this law applies more to a fetus than it does to living members of the global community.) This girl was not alone in her decision. Millions of Americans felt the same way. The issue of gay marriage was also way too hot a topic for my liking. Let them do as they please! We are talking about the leader of the world’s only super-power; is gay marriage really all that important in comparison to global injustice? Apparently so.
As we grow nearer to the 2008 presidential election here in the US, I fear once again that the American people are missing the boat, although this time in a different way. As usual, the Republicans pander on, selling their campaign with promises of tax breaks, which appeal to the vast majority of their wealthy supporters. Meanwhile, on the Democratic ticket, the focus of the primaries is centered more around race and gender than it is around politics, economics, or international relations. Sure, Hillary has her plans for healthcare and Obama his commitment to the working poor, but at the end of the day it still unfortunately boils down to one of two “firsts”: the first black president, or the first woman president. Neither of these superlatives should take precedence over the more pressing issues at hand, but unfortunately, that’s what’s happening.
The unfortunate reality is that the vast majority of American people are not well-educated about domestic politics, and even fewer Americans have a working knowledge of international politics. Most of us move through our day with our eyes focused on our pay checks, mindlessly believing most of what we hear in the media and deciding our political convictions based off of this misinformation. In the last two elections, millions of Americans did not even turn out at the polls, not to mention the millions of eligible people who never even bothered to register to vote!
Fortunately, the hot commodity of Barack Obama has sent millions out to voter registry; more African Americans and young people are registering to vote now more than ever before. In South Carolina, the turn-out of young people and African Americans was unparalleled. Of course, people heading out to the polls can only be a good thing; but I can’t help but wonder what exactly it is that is motivating them? Is it Barack’s policies, or his blackness? Barack may very well be the best man for the job, but he should win the vote based on his qualifications, policies, and initiatives, and not just on the merit of being the “first black president.”
If the commodity of a woman and a black man raises the bar for getting Americans active in politics, perhaps that is a good thing. Let’s just hope, as we grow nearer to Election Day, that more Americans will take the initiative to educate themselves on the more pressing issues, both domestic and international, before casting those votes on November 4.
1st February 2007