One of the buzz phrases for the midterms has been “enthusiasm gap” and the talk of how the Republicans are so energized this year while the Democrats are rather indifferent. First I am not willing to concede the point that the gap exists, but what I will say is that the Republicans/Tea Party supporters certainly appear to be more vocal about it. What I will look at today is not if the gap exists, but analyze why it might and the responsibilities of the different parties if does. In doing that I am going to look at the voter, the media and the politicians themselves to see what role they play in ability for an enthusiasm gap to exist.
In the case of the voter it is understandable to focus first on the day to day issues and keeping your head above water in the tough economic and financial situations many are in right now. It is also understandable to be angry with the fact that as much as the economic indicators of the overall economy and stock market are advancing the main street situations on jobs, and housing do not seem to be improving for enough people. The anxiety is legitimate and I will not seek to tell you otherwise. What I will tell you though is that the anxiety and anger does not necessarily mean that voting based on it will make the situation any better.
There was this notion for many that the election of Barack Obama and a Democratic House and Senate with wide majorities could walk in the door on Jan 20, 2009 and by Jan 21, 2009 things would be all better not only with the economy but any problem people could think of. Against those expectations there was no way to view the first two years of the Obama administration as a success. There are plenty of missed opportunities on a larger stimulus; jobs; climate change; pushing Health Care further; implementing Health Care earlier; drawing down instead of ramping up in Afghanistan. Forgotten is the accomplishments of staving off a depression; saving 8 million jobs; drawing down troops in Iraq (I don’t consider it over with 50K Americans left); adding diversity to the Supreme Court with two women, one of whom is the first ever Latino on the court; passing the biggest Health Care reform since Medicare.
Whether we fully feel it or not in our day to day lives the overall health of this nation is better than it was 21 months ago and as hard as so many worked to give the vision laid out in 2008 a chance to be seen, it would be a shame to watch it be killed; to watch obstructionism win. As far as I am concerned there is some blame to go around to the people who forgot or didn’t fully understand how a democracy works. This system while better than the rest is still based on the idea that people are to be held accountable, but what I lost is the fact it doesn’t mean only on Election Day. The level of engagement that existed before the 2008 election especially among those who had never been involved before was immense and it seems that as soon as Inauguration Day came most thought the job was done. What I am saying now is that to either be apathetic for the midterms because you didn’t get all you wanted is to throw away all the work you put into setting the table in the first place. Now is not the time to take the ball and go home as the Republicans have for the last two years it is the time to remember again why you voted for one vision for the future of this country over the other and work twice as hard to make sure the negativity that marred the past two years doesn’t get rewarded.
One of the biggest causes of the assumed enthusiasm gap in my opinion is the main stream media because for some reason the media has stopped reporting the actual news and just begun to focus solely on whomever makes the most noise. Part of this is because of places like Fox News, but CNN and MSNBC are no better in that they feed into whatever the storyline of the day is and report it as if it is actual fact. Some of these places report it with the idea that people will actually ask questions and want to find out the facts, while others want you to believe exactly what you see and never ask for proof. Either way you have a cycle of similar talking points floating around and in the day and time of everything being gotten by the easiest means necessary the time is not always taken to find the truth. The media used to be a place where it was vetted and checked before it was ever reported but in the age of the 24 hour news cycle, breaking news, ratings focus and the need to be first it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should anymore.
Now I want to focus on the least talked about cause for the enthusiasm gap, which is the politicians running for office themselves. Democrats almost as a natural state of being are used to being defensive and going into a shell. In 2006 and 2008 they did not do this as they attacked the policies of George Bush and co to rousing electoral success. This year with all the talk of the awful environment to be a Democrat they have gone back into the crouch position and many seem willing to just ride it out hoping to survive. That philosophy engenders ZERO enthusiasm to be supported by anyone. You will not find a Republican/Tea Party candidate that is ashamed of any position no matter how out there it might be and like it or not in engenders passion for their side.
Why more Democrats don’t just stand up and say, “You elected me to do what I believed was right to restore the prosperity of this nation and I am doing that in the ways I told you I would” is beyond me. Democrats have run on the idea of fixing Health Care for generations, in this term they passed a step in that direction, more progress than anything since Medicare and yet because a pollster says the term “Obamacare” is not popular they wont run touting the accomplishment. It is time for the Democratic candidates to buck up, have a spine and let the voters have a choice not between returning back to the Bush era with a more extreme group controlling it, and a scared child afraid to lead, but between the Democratic vision of America and the somewhat loony hypocritical ideas being shoved down the voters throats. If there is one thing that I wish Democrats did more like the Republican/Tea Party politicians it is be proud of what you believe in. Stop apologizing for the vision that got you elected to begin with. Stop apologizing for believing that in certain areas government can make the lives of all Americans better. If you run with passion, run with pride in who you are, what you stand for, if you LEAD people will have a reason to be enthused and follow you. We are seeing this now in recent polling in the Senate when it comes to races like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania where the Democrat is not apologizing for who they are, and fighting back against the Republican they face. So Democrats, show your face, and people will fight to put your body back in your place in Congress.