The next election is exactly one year away. It's difficult to overstate the significance. The economy remains stagnant. Unemployment remains punishingly high, particularly amongst youth and minorities. Housing, the greatest source of net worth for most households, has cratered. The world is more unstable than it's been in decades, both economically and politically.
We're at a tipping point, where bad decisions—including the unwillingness to take needed action—could affect the quality of our lives for years and even decades to come.
November 2012 will be on us before we know it. Will we once again install a divided government too dysfunctional to meaningfully address our urgent needs? Will we elect a Republican President and Congress despite clear intent to reboot the same shortsighted policies that brought us to the brink three years ago? Will we empower Democrats—including our centrist incumbent President—to steer us out of rough waters.
Or will the Occupy movement and other grassroots initiatives, all fueled by unprecedented frustration with economic inequality and a dysfunctional election system, change the dynamic altogether?
Whatever the outcome, it's going to be simultaneously fascinating… and ugly. In Orlando last week, feminist icon Gloria Steinem cautioned that the entrenched ruling class—wealthy, white, male and heterosexual—won't give up leadership without a fight.
“They're scared to death we'll turn their triangle, where the masses are at the bottom and the privileged few are at the top, into a circle,” she said.
Perhaps that explains their high stakes bluff game.
“Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage,” wrote Nobel Prize-wining economist Paul Krugman in a New York Times opinion piece during the debt ceiling standoff. “They're threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never be able to enact through legislation.”
What is astonishing is how unabashed they are about it, and how willing they are to ignore facts—and public opinion—to promote their deluded and self-serving trickle-down theory of social justice. Consider:
- Republicans deride President Obama for huge budget deficits, but more than 75 percent of those deficits are the direct result of tax cuts and other policies enacted by his Republican predecessor, the free-spending President Bush.
- At a debate, Republican presidential candidates were asked if any would walk away from a “real deal” to fix the federal budget deficit that traded $10 of spending cuts for every $1 of tax increases. All raised their hands. None will abide increased taxes of any kind.
- The 400 wealthiest Americans now have a greater combined net worth then the bottom 150 million Americans.
- The top 1 percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.
- During the Bush years, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent of Americans.
- The number of Americans living below poverty level is now a record 49 million, or one in six.
- A recent CBS/New York Times poll showed that just 9 percent—9 percent—of voters approve of the job the U.S. Congress is doing.
In Florida, where Republicans control the Governor's mansion and super-majorities in both branches of the legislature, they're going for the jugular. New laws designed to dilute Democratic turnout will restrict voter registration, prohibit voters from changing their address at the polls and limit early voting. And with 600,000 more registered Democrats in the state, Republicans have become champions of minority representation as a means to thwart the recently passed constitutional amendment requiring more compact and competitive voting districts.
But this craven abuse of the system may backfire, particularly along the I-4 corridor. In Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk, Osceola, Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties, there are 200,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. Yet we are represented in Congress and the state legislature by 45 Republicans and 13 Democrats. As large and spirited Occupy demonstrations in Tampa and Orlando demonstrate, a critical mass of people is fed up with the results.
Hopefully, they will see where the immediate fix lies, making the pivotal I-4 corridor a harbinger of a 2012 Democratic rebound to power. With recent gains hanging in the balance, the LGBT community has a greater stake than most. 2012 is not a year to sit out. We should do everything we can to influence the elections, particularly at the all-important legislative and congressional levels.
In the meantime, some emerging electoral sci-fi suggests that a merger of grassroots activism and new technology could turn the whole process upside down. What if you could register to be part of a massive voting block online, engage in an orderly and civilized dialogue to identify and prioritize issues, allow candidates to address them in video presentations before online voting narrows the field, and then require finalists to name a running mate from a different party to underline the importance of cooperation toward results.
AmericansElect.org will select a candidate for President in this manner in April, 2012. Futurist Thomas Friedman describes it this way: “What iPod did to music, AmericansElect.org plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life—remove the barriers to competition, flatten the incumbents and let people in.”
Like I said: 2012—fascinating.