We’re all feeling pretty good right about now, having elected a record number of women to the House and Senate, and of course, having re-elected Barack Obama. And we should be. It was a tough season but we all got out there and pushed and made our voices heard. But now’s a perfectly good time remind ourselves not to repeat our recent mistakes.
You know what I mean. In 2008, you elected Obama, got your “I Voted” sticker and wore it till the glue gummed up, and figured you’d done your job. The economy was going to be fixed, and everyone was going to get healthcare, and birds were going to come in the springtime and fly in a synchronized circle around your head while singing “Brindisi” from La Traviata.
And then came the 2010 Tea Party.
We’d seen the polls about the healthcare issue, it seemed clear that a majority of Americans wanted it, and that was that. So, yes… while you were sleeping and/or waiting for your opera birds to show up, these Tea Party folks organized foaming-at-the-mouth town hall meetings, intimidated their legislators, and then, impossibly, stormed Congress and got themselves elected, where they proceeded to put peanut butter in the gears, sugar in the gas tank, and kick holes in the hull of the ship of state. They blocked the debt ceiling negotiations and caused damage to America’s credit rating. They sat on jobs bill after jobs bill. They were curiously, creepily obsessed with regulating women’s lady parts. It was not a good time. By the time we stopped seeing stars and got ourselves together to mobilize against all this, a lot of damage had been done.
Now, in this election the Tea Party cost the Republicans a total of five Senate seats that were supposed to have been easy pickups, thanks in large part to their bewildering, seemingly pathological need to re-define and minimize rape. So, everyone, send your local Tea Party chapter a cheese wheel. They’ve earned it. But –and this is important– many of the most extreme incumbents kept their seats. Michelle Bachmann clung on by her fingernails. So did Steve “I’ve Never Heard of Anyone Getting Pregnant From Rape” King. These people are still loose in our Congress, and continuing to put their grubby paw-prints all over laws that affect you and me and everyone we know.
It’s crucial to note a couple of things here. One is that the demographics in the 2008 and indeed, the 2012 presidential races were quite different from the infamous 2010 March of the Angry White People. Minority voters turned out in greater numbers in the 2008 election than they had before; in 2010, without Obama on the ballot, a lot of them stayed home. Can you imagine if those voters had remained engaged and active in supporting the president that they had elected by turning up to vote and making sure he still had a Congress that would work with him? Active involvement when it mattered, in 2010, might have rendered this election year’s insurgency of minority and women voters far less urgent.
The other thing that’s worth noting about this election is the gender gap, and how big it wasn’t. In the end, Romney’s gender gap is being estimated at somewhere between 9% and 11%. While surely signficant, by itself, it wouldn’t have been enough to tip the election, and it absolutely should have been.
It’s difficult to imagine that any woman who was paying attention during this seemingly endless election cycle could have come out for Mitt Romney. Leaving aside his ever-shifting positions on reproductive issues, this was the man whose campaign, back in the spring, couldn’t answer a simple question like, “does he support fair pay for women.” And then whose idea of damage control was to dispatch Reps. Mary Bono Mack and Cathy McMorris Rodgers to vouch for him — two women who had voted against the Ledbetter Act. But again, the key part of that sentence is “paying attention.”
Don’t mistake my intent here, ladies, I am not yelling at you. We’re glad that you’re here. We are constantly blown away by the support and enthusiasm in this community. And now we need you to stay engaged, and you need to get your friends, your sisters, your mothers, your daughters engaged in the process too. Know your representatives and their policies. Know what they’re saying, and what they’re doing. And if necessary, call ’em up and give ’em the business.
Fortunately, we and a whole host of other groups, big and small, are here to help with that. We do that by watching and keeping you updated on what our government is up to, and talking with you about what matters. In the coming months, we’re going to be looking at ways to foster and maintain that engagement, to do our part to make civic involvement a force of habit instead of an eat-your-peas drudgery, or a once-every-four-years exam where you drink a bunch of coffee and cram the night before the election so that you have some clue of what’s going on.
We need an America that shows up for the less sexy, less exciting midterm elections to vote for dog-catcher, because they know it matters just as much. We need, desperately, an electorate that isn’t basing their decisions on one debate performance, or a couple of sound bites, or a political ad bought with dark money and so densely packed with lies that if you pried one out, it would cause a second Big Bang. Come to think of it, maybe that explains that parallel universe that the Tea Party lives in.
This is your country. Stake your claim. Revel in it. Enjoy it. Or else you may be waiting an awfully long time for those opera birds.