Saturday, August 27, 2011

Americans Elect 2012

Americans Elect 2012 is an online movement to empower citizens to affect the 2012 presidential election. As I write this, 1.7 million people have signed up on the site. There will be more content on the site, which is new, as we move closer to the election in November 2012 including nominations for and a straw vote on candidates, and a discussion section.

At the moment, the site includes a long questionnaire on political issues of the moment. You can take as much of it as you like, and you can save the partial response and return to the questionnaire later. The interesting part for me is that you can see the frequency of alternative responses so far as soon as you complete your answer.

Clearly, the participants in this survey, self selected as they are, represent a variety of political views. Still, the responses indicate a large number of Americans are worried about the decline of America's economy,  and want a government which is more effective in regulating industry, in assuring health care for all, in improving our educational system, and in rationalizing the situation with respect to immigration.

Statistics are clear that a tiny minority of Americans are very rich and getting richer, while the poor are seeing their chances of rising out of poverty decreasing, and many who have been in the middle class are getting poorer.

The recent circus in which the Republicans and Democrats haggled over ways to reduce the debt in the next decade by reducing the deficit, which almost resulted in a default on our current national debt and led directly to a downgrade in the credit rating of the nation, has outraged a lot of Americans, It is just one example among many of dysfunctional failure to compromise in the public interest among our politicians.

I believe that the political problem is in part due to the gerrymandering of congressional districts, and in part due to the changes in our media which have seen more strident and partisan current events programming and have allowed people to spend more time listening to and communicating with people who share their own political philosophy. I think it is also due in part to the proliferation of lobbying, and the ability of the very rich and economically powerful to influence legislation by their support of lobbyists and of political campaigns.

I suspect that the economic and political problems have a circular partial causality, but whether they are or are not, a lot of Americans are mad about the concatenation of problems. I think that some of that anger on the part of one group of Americans (older, middle class, white, southerners especially) has resulted in the Tea Party Movement.

In my last history history book club meeting, discussing 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs--The Election that Changed the Country, I noted the parallel between that time in which "malefactors of great wealth" were at the opposite pole of wealth and power from the majority of American workers and today, at least in terms of the alienation of the majority of voters from the traditional political parties. I live in a very liberal community and my fellow book club members (having all read a lot of history?) are a pretty liberal group. They questioned whether there was a political parallel to the Progressive movement that so influenced the election of 1912 (which saw Teddy Roosevelt come in second heading the Progressive or Bull Moose Party, Eugene Debs heading the Socialist Party obtain some six percent of the vote).

I suspect that on the liberal side, the gathering of voters around the Center for American Progress is another outcome of the wide spread anger of Americans about the trends in our economy and our politics, and is directly analogous to the rise of the progressive movement in 1912.

I suspect that Americans Elect is still another outcome of the anger of so many Americans about the way things are going. I hope that it will mobilize Americans in support of doing things differently and better. I hope that it will not only raise the visibility of issues important to us, but show that there is a lot of support for policies that make more sense than those we are currently following. I hope that it will show support for candidates who might not otherwise emerge from the debates among party hacks and the "true believer" wings of the Democratic and Republican parties.

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