What’s wrong with politics (AKA: Why Scott Brown beat Martha Coakley in Massachusetts)

Wednesday 20 January 2010

When I woke up this morning, I remembered there had been an (important?) election yesterday and asked someone who won.  I was not surprised in the least.

I’m not a political correspondent.  I don’t live in Massachusetts.  But you don’t need to be either of those to know why Brown (a Republican) beat Coakley (a Democrat) to take the Senate seat formerly held by Ted Kennedy in (what the NY Times calls) “the overwhelmingly Democratic state of Massachusetts.”  You just need to follow the political system a little bit these days.

Here are my three reasons why Brown beat Coakley in Massachusetts:

1. There is no such thing anymore as “party loyalty.”
While there may have been such a thing in the past, we’re past that.  Sure, people my have liberal or conservative views, but for the most part, people don’t care what party label the person carries on the ballot.

The first example came in the 2008 election.  Barack Obama won many “formerly Republican” states.  I say no, these weren’t “Republican states,” but instead states that had previous voted in the majority for the Republican presidential candidate.

Secondly, the current “tea party” people.  Many would say they’re Republicans who are mad at their party.  I say no, these are conservatives who no longer see enough Republicans championing the issues and values that are important to them.  In the special election in New York’s 23rd congressional district in November 2009, you actually had the officially endorsed Republican candidate drop out after massive pressure by a conservative, “tea party,” challenger backed by people like Sara Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Fox News’ Glenn Beck.

People can no longer be counted on to vote a “straight party ticket,” as they call it, for people will choose to vote as they see fit (see reason #3 below).

Reason #1 is the basis for the next two reason:

2. Marth Coakley got lazy and ran a horrible race (if you can say she ran a race at all)
Again, I’m not a political correspondent, but if you followed the news stories before the election, you know this to be true, and it was definitely a factor in her loss.  Obviously, she was counting on the “party support,” but as I said in reason #1, that doesn’t exist any more.

3. Voters are sick of all the government bureaucracy and things not getting done, and they’re not afraid to voice their opinion about it at the ballot box
It seems to me that recently, voting has become not a way to select what you want but a referendum on what you don’t want.  Since I can recall, I’ve been told that voting is the way to “make your voice heard,” and I’m sure millions of others have been told the same thing.  While this is definitely true, voters are now using this in a new way, a way that really fuels the fire they’re trying to put out!

Underlying voter habits the past 5 or so years has been an overwhelming feeling that government is broken, and it needs fixed.  Thus, the remedy, it’s been decided, is to get rid of all the people in Washington (and maybe the state capital, too) and get new people in there who will surely do a better job.  Instead of focusing on how to work with the government already in place (when was the last time YOU called your representative?), the general consensus has been to just get rid of what’s there and start over.  That’s why there was so much turn over in the recent fall 2008 and 2009 elections.

The problem comes in the disconnect between the reasons voters are making their choices and the way politicians, our elected officials, interpret them, as I don’t think politicians are getting the message.  Let me simplify this, again with a few points.

a. Voters want government to do something
b. When government is stagnant and not making things happen, voters get frustrated
c. When frustrated, voters get upset and want to get the politicians who are the problem out and someone (usually anyone) else in
d. When a politician is voted in, they think the voter picked them because of their ideas and beliefs — who they are — when, in fact, it may have more to do with who they aren’t
e. When an elected official doesn’t realize the actual reason they were elected, they make no effort to change the structure of government, and not much changes
f. If nothing changes, voters continue to be upset and the cycle continues.

Now, here are a few suggestions that might help remedy all these problems:

1. Elected officials need to work together…
… their jobs depend on it!  Until politicians get the picture that no one is safe and voters aren’t afraid to continue turning over the name cards on office doors in Washington and state capitals, no one is safe.  The “Obama brand of politics,” where you try to get support from conservatives and liberals alike, doesn’t work when he’s the only one playing — and unfortunately for Obama, he’ll suffer, too, if no one else joins in.

2. Voters need to work with and pressure their current elected officials, not just wait until the next election to change them
Perhaps, when all is said and done, the change really needs to happen here, or else there really won’t be any change at all.  Politicians aren’t dumb people (no matter what you believe), and part of their job is doing what it takes to get reelected, and in most cases, that means making the constituents happy!  The “whatever it takes” mentality is obvious in politicians switching parties, as well as recent retirements by those who feel they couldn’t win anyway.

Elected officials do listen to their constituents — if only because they want to get elected again!  They may not believe everything they have to do, but that’s not the point, the point is that they act on behalf of their constituents.

Unless we, as voters, communicate with them, they can’t do that — and just voting them out for disapproval isn’t how it’s going to happen.

3. Voters need to pay attention to their representatives, not the outcome as a whole
It takes some energy, but just because the end results didn’t come out how you, the voter, wanted them to, doesn’t mean your rep is personally doing a bad job and needs to be axed.  Voters need to recognize this when they go to the ballot box instead of holding a “get rid of them all” mentality when things don’t go as they hoped.

OK, so there’s a lot of room for discussion here.  Please have some!


making babies, pt. 2

Monday 4 January 2010

A few weeks ago, I wrote a little blog about what I called “manufacturing babies,” the idea of using surrogate mothers for having a child, purchasing maybe the egg or sperm, or sometimes both.  I cited a NY Times article about some of the ethical quandries of this practice.

Then last week, the NY Times featured the issue in its “Room for Debate” Blog, getting together a few people to talk about the issue.  Read that posting here.

It was interesting to me that all the authors were essentially debating whether there need to be standards on who could have a surrogate child.  After all, there are many things that have to happen for parents to be able to adopt a child, so why should surrogacy be different?

Alas, that is an issue I care not to discuss today (read the blog above to hear some thoughts), but it did get me thinking how there may be many requirements for adoptning, and one day surrogacy, but outside of those processes, anyone with the biological ability can make babies “the old-fashioned way.”  Why is that?

It’s true we have child welfare laws that will take a baby away from those parents deemed unfit, but that may not stop any of the issues that have resulted prior to such an event.  Why is this different?

I am certainly not trying to suggest things like forced sterilization or abortions, but it’s interesting to me how we, as a society, like regulations of some things but not others.  As the NY Times blog noted, adoptions historically were done more with family relations being used (anyone seen Little Orphan Annie?), but that has since given way to other processes.  Also, the blog noted that it is a constitutional right for anyone who should so choose to have a child.  If we agree with that, how do adoption and surrogacy and other forms of obtaining a child fit into that right?

I’m a question poser, to be sure, someone who likes to get the convresation going in a new direction.  How does all this strike you?

(On a side note, the NY Times also linked to an article regaring a judge’s ruling that a surrogate mother is the legal mother of two twins she birthed, even though she is not genetically related to them