Part One of "Why This Year Matters" was a semi-humorous look at the mood shared by many of this year's electorate. It is indeed "scary out there". Despite the attempt at humor, please do not misunderstand; I am completely serious. This year matters, perhaps even more than most.
A large portion of progressives, disaffected and feeling abandoned by their president and legislators, are jumping ship and will vote republican in two weeks - if they vote at all. Significant numbers of gay and transgender voters too, may fail to show up at the polls this November. Feeling justifiably angry by lack of progress on signature issues, not voting at all seems, to many of us, a reasonable course of action.
It's not. Refusing to vote is a really, really, bad idea.
Some reasons why, after the jump.
While it may feel good to act out of anger, the merits of doing so are questionable at best. Personal discovery has taught me the hard way that when frustration overwhelms reality, no matter how much reality sucks, eventually, I regret it. Frustration and anger, when scaled up to a cultural phenomenon, puts us in danger of succumbing to irrational groupthink, or more colloquially - herd instinct. If we aren't careful, we could stampede ourselves right off a political and social cliff.
No matter how frustrated I've become with democrats and, believe me I have, the alternative is much, much worse.
After months of listening to talking heads prattling on about republicans being interested only in fiscal conservatism, these last few weeks have seen a crystallization of the truth; the "new right" hates progressives and, in particular, they hate us.
Sweeping political reform rarely occurs within America's dysfunctional political system, there is simply too much money handed around and no good mechanism by which the electorate can force a systemic referendum. Resorting to "throwing the bums out" in today's hyperpolarized political and cultural climate carries with it huge risks. Turning over power to revanchists bent on rolling back progressive legislation gives effective control of social policy to ultra-conservatives. Once in power, will these extreme right fear mongers really be able to "take our country back"?
Not entirely; many of the promises embodied by their rhetoric aren't readily doable, nor are they expedient. I don't believe the seventeenth amendment will be repealed. I do not think healthcare reform will be completely gutted. Most likely Social Security and Medicare will survive.
Could they push through an amendment to the U.S. constitution prohibiting same sex marriage? Probably.
Strangle social welfare funding to states? Yes.
Radically restrict reproductive rights for women? Maybe.
Criminalize abortion? They will try.
De-fund HIV/AIDS programs? Yep.
At the very least, there will be no repeal of DADT in the foreseeable future; absolutely no chance of an ENDA; DOMA further institutionalized; more chipping away at what little financial and environmental regulation there is after the Bush years.
The list is endless and years of slow, yet inexorable progress for gays, women, transgender people, the disabled, and the disadvantaged could be scrapped, or evaporate altogether.
The scenario above is not some kind of psychotic wakeful dream. It is a real possibility. Moreover, what is a certainty is that the socio/political narrative in this country will continue to become increasingly homophobic and transphobic as the country is pulled further to the right.
There is much more to consider, including what we can expect at the state and local level if we forfeit our right to vote.
I'll explore these topics and suggest some solutions to the long-term problems with our politics in "Why This Year Matters", Part Three.