A hard rain’s a-gonna fall

by Keith Barber

On Election Eve, after watching the San Francisco Giants clinch their first World Series title in 56 years, I turned over to C-SPAN. Politico Executive Editor Jim Vendehei was hosting a forum at a George Washington University with a panel that included a couple of political pollsters and George Washington political science professor. I listened closely as the panel discussed their predictions for Tuesday.

After a few minutes, I realized that I hadn’t given nearly as much attention to national elections as I had two years ago. Of course, 2008 was an historic moment as a majority of Americans elected the first African American to the presidency.

I’m really no different than anyone else, except for the fact that I’m a journalist and should probably have a better handle on national politics. The real story is, I’ve been more focused on local and statewide races, as well as the US Senate contest between Richard Burr and Elaine Marshall. Truth be told, when I’ve read about contentious Congressional races that have devolved into mudslinging contests in recent weeks, it’s turned my stomach and forced me to flip the newspaper in the recycling bin. I only get 15 channels on my TV so I’m not subjected to the partisan politics that dominates cable news channels. And every day, I count my blessings for that tender mercy.

So hearing speculation and conventional wisdom about the 2010 midterm elections seemed all new to me. I heard a lot of reasons why Republicans were going to take control of the US House.

“People prefer divided government.” “People trust government less today than they did two years ago.”

“Democrats would’ve been better off if they had forged a more aggressive legislative agenda.”

“The public is unhappy and they want change.” There’s that magical word — change. Obama swept into office two short years ago on the promise of change, but for a number of complex reasons our collective lot has not improved. The unemployment rate is still way too high, and decent jobs are scarce. A few days after Obama’s victory in 2008, I spent some time with Anthony Clinton, a local freelance photographer who was struggling to stay afloat. After being laid off by a High Point photography studio three years prior, Clinton started his own business. But photography gigs were hard to find, and they still are. Clinton’s specialty is furniture catalog photography, but that kind of photography has gone the way of the North Carolina furniture industry — it’s mostly being produced offshore. At the time, Clinton was considering driving a school bus part-time to survive. For me, Clinton was representative of so many Americans who had lost their jobs through no fault of their own, which prompted me to ask, “Where is Anthony Clinton’s American Dream?” As children, we were taught that if you stayed in school, got your college degree, kept your head down and worked hard, you’d would be able to buy a home, start a family and build a good life. For the first time in our history, the current generation will do worse than their parents. In these perilous economic times, there is no certainty. In 2008, Obama said we had turned a corner, but it appears we were led down a dark alley.

Granted, the problems that the president has faced were not all of his or his party’s making, but his administration’s solutions have been weak and ineffective. Obama said he was going to deliver a public option in his healthcare reform package. But in the end, he backed down. Obama said he would deliver meaningful financial reform to help our nation avoid another meltdown like the one that nearly sent us spiraling into another Great Depression. But when it came time to truly police over-thecounter derivatives, the Obama administration opposed commonsense legislation proposed by a fellow Democrat — Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas — to force the nation’s biggest banks to spin off their swaps desks and bring the $615 trillion derivatives market under tough federal regulation.

Some experts claim that the collapse of the subprime loan market was the match that lit the tinderbox during the meltdown of 2008. I disagree. It was unregulated over-the-counter derivatives. And because Obama failed to craft a policy that would effectively protect the American people from another global financial meltdown, all of us must live in a state of economic uncertainty. President Obama doesn’t have to worry. His financial future is secure. But an overwhelming majority of people who elected him president don’t enjoy that luxury. In addition, the war in Afghanistan has escalated during Obama’s presidency, and the recent revelations contained in documents released by WikiLeaks reveal huge failures on behalf of our military and a war quickly spiraling out of control.

Understandably, many voters have become disenchanted. Many of us are downright angry — from the tea party to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to everyone in between. Liberals feel the president hasn’t been bold enough in his legislative agenda, while the tea party seems to oppose everything Obama does.

But voting for the other party simply as a repudiation of the party in power is not the way forward. On the most important issues of the day, the Republican Party has not offered fresh ideas or creative solutions. Most Republican candidates I have heard speak in person or in the media have spend most of their time criticizing the Obama administration and Democratic Congressional leaders.

Well, the days of adversarial politics are over.

People are sick and tired of electing leaders who don’t lead. We’re sick of watching one political attack ad after another. There’s no mystery why Karl Rove, Art Pope and big corporations have spent millions on attack ads aimed at incumbent Democrats. They realize that the nastier the political tone gets, the lower the turnout on Election Day, giving the advantage to voters powerfully motivated by ideology rather than the idea of working together in harmony to find common solutions.

As we wake up on the morning of Nov. 3, my hope is that the election results reveal that these attack ads, funded by groups like Americans for Prosperity, failed miserably. That will send a message that we, the people, demand better than the politics of greed and destruction. We, the people, demand that corporations no longer be allowed to run our government. That’s the way it’s been since Ronald Reagan took the oath of office 30 years ago and it clearly hasn’t worked out too well. This Great Recession has been 30 years in the making.

The day we abdicated control of our destinies to CEOs of big business was the day we stopped being citizens of this democracy. The United States of America is not an oligarchy; it is a democracy. And if our leaders don’t listen to us, we must make them listen and let them know where the real power resides. That means having the courage to speak up and speak out when we see economic and social injustice. It means joining together to fight for our future because we are all connected. If there is one failing school in our community, all our schools are failing. If one child is not given a fair chance at an education, all of us will pay the price somewhere down the line. Unless we actually participate in a constructive dialogue with one other and convince our elected leaders to follow our example, we are doomed to live in ignorance, fear and anxiety about a future is growing dimmer by the moment. In the words of Bob Dylan, “A hard rain’s a-gonna fall” on all elected officials regardless of party if this ship isn’t righted soon.

Over the past two years, I have seen Anthony Clinton working a number of arts events as a photographer. Anthony still believes this economy is going to turn around. He is hopeful. The concept of tomorrow as a new beginning is not an empty campaign slogan for him.

He believes real change will ultimately come, and so do I.