Weed, Weddings, Wombs, Wonks, and Whackjobs
Barack Obama has been reelected President of the United States, and beleaguered citizens sigh in relief (or, for some Mitt Romney supporters, in sputtering denial). So do Canadians, who again are spared a massive fantasy influx of disgruntled Democrats, although a handful of remarkably ignorant Republicans are making the same migratory threat to our neighbors to the North. Way to escape socialized medicine and reproductive rights, guys!
After a couple days of reflection, I’ve isolated five rather unexpected outcomes of Election Day and speculated a bit on how they might play out.
Weed: The referenda to legalize ‘recreational marijuana’ in Colorado and Washington State had flown below my East Coast radar. That they passed was at first surprising, at second intriguing (I’ve never visited Seattle . . . and am quite fond of Denver . . . is it time for first and return trips?), at third sensible (tax revenues and better use of police resources), and fourth – well, the fourth is potentially very important indeed. These referenda may be the first cracks in this country’s draconian and counter-productive drug policy. If so, and if Federal law enforcement pretty much ignores these anti-prohibition laws (as it has softly signaled it will), then the country could be turning away from imprisoning drug users to ignoring them (when individual use has no effect on the public) or to treating them (as with chronic alcoholics, or even chronic gamblers and chronic angry people). This will really, really save money, as fewer non-violent ‘lawbreakers’ are chucked into prison for long, expensive, and pointless terms, and in so doing reducing the truly shameful percentage of people (often Black males, but increasingly Latino males) incarcerated in this country. Further, de-criminalizing marijuana may knee-cap the easy profit base of serious and dangerous drug cartels.
Weddings: Maine and Maryland voters approved marriage equity by popular vote, and Minnesotans rejected an amendment to the State constitution that would have outlawed it. Previously, the handful of states that had legalized ‘gay marriage’ had done so via judicial or legislative action. As a resident of North Carolina, which disgracefully ratified such an amendment a few months ago, I’m happy to see other parts of the country move toward social sanity. Combined with the small but significant upsurge in young people’s voting percentages, these States suggest a slow but unstoppable trend toward making DOMA and its correlates go the way of anti-miscegenation laws. Possible ramifications down the line? Other than giving LGBT citizens the same opportunity for wedded bliss, purgatory, or hell that straight citizens have, ‘mainstreaming’ gay families could reduce the growing problem of bullying. Simply being gay, or being a child of gay parents, may sooner rather than later not be a causus belli teenagerus. Further, more weddings are good for the economy. Florists, caterers, calligraphers, fashion designers, photographers – rejoice! Oh, and there’s also the signally important (and oddly Libertarian) issue that the government, on any level, has no business whatsoever policing its citizens’ amatory preferences and bedroom activities, unless they involve unconsenting two-year olds, Gabon vipers, bazookas, and Sarin gas.
Wombs: Twenty people with wombs were elected to the United States Senate, the highest number ever in this country. Congratulations to the newcomers and to the incumbents, all of whom were re-elected. The United States, however, still lags behind most other countries when it comes to female participation in government. So why does it matter that now women Senators have reached a measly 20% of the whole? One would hope that there are finally enough women that male Senators cannot make idiotic and/or ignorant assertions about female biology and agency without being immediately challenged and/or ridiculed. And that such matters as funding Planned Parenthood are not patronized as ‘women’s issues’ but seen as economic and equal rights issues. And that reasonably progressive (or at least centrist) Supreme Court appointees would be confirmed, and other Federal Judiciary appointments would not be blocked on rigidly ideological grounds. I don’t believe that women are more ‘accommodationist’ than men in any absolute sense, but I do suspect that many women’s life experiences and cultural positionings make them more comfortable with compromise and mediation than some of their male colleagues in high-powered jobs (which would include the Senate). Now, if there could only be a big surge of women in the House of Representatives . . .
Wonks: The new Progressive/Liberal hero is Nate Silver, the wonkiest of all number-crunching wonks. He even has his own ‘Drunk Nate Silver’ Twitter hash tag (well, it’s not his, but it’s pretty funny). The point of the Nate Silver celebrity boomlet is simple: he has predicted the outcome of elections with amazing (to people who don’t understand statistics, which is most of us) accuracy. Nate Silver is just the milk-carton boy, however, of a whole phalanx of number-crunching wonks who range from serious pollsters (who, despite face-fanning from losing political factions, actually have figured out how to assess the political leanings of people without land-lines) to seriously mathematics-empowered campaign strategists (see: President Obama’s Chicago operation – why do you think they were so non-spinningly confident for the past few months?). Micro-targeting, data-mining, poll algorithms – sorry, folks who think politics and more particularly political prognostications are gut emotions – are what prevailed this week and only will become more influential in the future. Gone are the days that simply repeating a wish (as in, ‘Governor Romney’s got momentum’) will make the wish come true. And maybe also gone are the days that ‘political commentators’ feel comforable predicting on completely unscientific samplings of a few old cronies’ ‘feelings’ about a race – and are given airtime to do so. Most wonderfully, maybe also gone will be self-massaging billionaires who let their ‘guts’ open their bank accounts to craven fundraisers who also survey political landscapes by dragging their guts (and greed) across the terrain like foggy retirees wielding cheap metal detectors.
Whackjobs: Unfortunately, they’re not all gone. But some of the most flagrant are. The eminent 18th-century sexologists, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, will not ascend to the Senate (and will not return to the House, due to their singular take on the Peter Principle). Absolutely hatefully crazy Joe Walsh has lost his Illinois House of Representative seat to the triple-amputee war veteran Tammy Duckworth, whom he calumnied for flaunting her military service (uh, and she was supposed to disguise her crutches as what?), and absolutely deluded (and probably certifiably insane) Floridian Allen West – the Joe McCarthy-channeling communist hunter who wears his scattering of military medals on his civilian suits – lost his Republican congressional seat as well, although he’s protesting the defeat on grounds that seem as unfounded as they are sore-loserish. There may be enough whackjobs remaining to keep the House of Representatives dysfunctional, which would be a real shame, considering how we need politicians on both sides of the aisle to be serious about our country’s problems. Does it help that the Democrats have re-elected their very own whackjob, Florida Representative Alan Grayson? Probably not. What might help is that, in the Republican stampede to blame people for this week’s epic fail, the magic finger has pointed (not exclusively, of course) at ‘bad candidates,’ including some of the previously mentioned whackjobs who cost seats for the GOP. Behind whom are Tea-Party fueled primaries that reward the craziest conservative available. Maybe this isn’t such a hot idea, fellows.
So these are some of my thoughts and hopes and trepidations about this recent election. I have more, of course, but I’m kind of tired of politics for now. Got to think of new things to write about . . . Duke University Basketball (and maybe North Carolina State’s – who knew?), art projects in Mozambique, fiery Tibetan protests, the problem with American Public Schools, General Petraeus thinking that John Edwards is a good role model. Stay tuned!