As far as human emotions go, if the 2004 elections were about fear and the 2008 elections about hope, it seems fair to say that the 2010 midterm elections have been about anger. Anger at the government for what's perceived as a weak economy. Anger at Congress, either for not getting enough done, or for turning the country into a cesspool of socialism, depending on one's political leanings. Anger at immigrants, who are so crafty to get into the United States that they'll even crawl under fences that aren't on the border with another country (at least according to the ads in Louisiana and Nevada). Anger at liberals and their long affair with taxes. Anger at gay people. Earlier this week Mother Jones ran a cover with Sarah Palin in the image of the '50s movie poster, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, to attempt to show how middle class anger is so fever-pitch high that people are talking about voting against their own interests, and what was the response? Anger that they would replicate such a sexist image.
On Monday, I took a look at LGBT candidates running for office. The general frame of that article, and of most of this series of articles for Bitch has been set within the confines of the US election structure—a within-system critique, taking a discursive analysis approach to the text and narratives of these 2010 midterm elections. I have not been asking about forms of government, the viability of democracy, nor envisioning some new electorate-driven strategy for liberating the oppressed. Those conversations happen, of course, but the focus here has been narrow because I have been interested in putting pressure on the many and varied contradictions floating in the messaging in these individual campaigns and in the media coverage of them as a whole. And I do see opportunities for feminist and progressive-minded people in investigating why those contradictions are so prevalent and so unexplored. Today, I'd like to push in a different direction. What would it mean to queer the election?
Yesterday the New York Times ran an article highlighting transgender candidates for office in this election cycle, asking if more trans candidates will translate into greater tolerance for the community. While there are a handful of transfolk running for office, there are also out lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men who are knee-deep in their own campaigns, and then there are the few LGBT members of Congress who are looking to hold on to their jobs. And although the Times may find some choice quotes from people that seeing transgender people in positions of power will generate greater acceptance, there doesn't seem to be any actual cause and effect at play.
I spent two hours standing in line yesterday to hear President Obama and Senator Murray rally the troops for her reelection bid. In the University of Washington's Huskies stadium, there were reminders of the basketball court under our feet, the Democrat's passage of student loan reform, and several rounds of the wave that people do in sports arenas. So imagine my surprise when the AP wire put out a story that today's rally was all about getting women to the polls on November 2. Uh, what?
Politicians often promise the electorate, especially at the outsets of their campaigns, not to "go negative" or take pot shots at their opponents. We hear phrases like "issues oriented," "positive campaigning," and "bridging partisan divides." And behind the scenes, no matter the rhetoric, somebody, somewhere, is digging up dirt on the other side. But why? What is the appeal and effect of negative campaigning?
I had fully intended to take on the "everyone for themselves" quality of predicting election results, spending some time researching through the he said/he said (that's not a typo) of who will win the House and Senate when the smoke clears on November 3. And then German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened her mouth. What flew out was such a smelly stream of political diarrhea that I have to shift gears and write about elections, international context, and ugly racism.
In last night's Nevada Senatorial, Sharron Angle told Harry Reid to "man up." This was in response to Reid's pressure on Angle regarding her stance on Social Security. The exchange:
Reid: Don't frighten people about Social Security. The deal that was made by President Reagan and Tip O'Neil is holding strong. The money is there and taking care of our folks and will for the next 35 years.
Angle: Man up, Harry Reid. You need to understand that we have a problem with Social Security.
The U.S. presidential election in 2008 generated a turnout of voters
not seen since the late 1960s. More than 63 percent of the eligible
electorate cast votes for President, amounting to more than 128 million
votes. If these 2010 midterm elections follow historical precedent,
there will be 10-15 percent fewer voters at the polls than in the
presidental election two years ago. That would still bring out more
than 100 million people. That there is interest in this election—in
which Republicans are looking to take back the Senate and at least make
a dent in the Democrats' hold on the House—is an understatement. There are also gubernatorial elections in 37 states up for grabs next month.
At the Federal and State levels, the electoral map could look very
different on November 3. But let's back up for a moment and ask a
simple-sounding question: Does any of this matter?
There's a three-way race for the US Senate in Florida. An unemployed veteran who lives with his father is up against an almost-certain opponent in South Carolina. A candidate in Delaware gets more press for things she said in 1999 than in this race. Two long-time Republicans are running as independents. Two years after the message of "hope" carried in a sweeping victory for Barack Obama, what on earth is going on with the midterm elections?
Last summer, which now seems so very long ago, we looked at some people and trends in US politics and policy making who have affected our lives, some for good, but mostly not. I really enjoyed the "Where in the world is" posts in the series, even as I shuddered to write some of them. Bob Packwood's "sinewy arms" just scare me. But as we look toward this midterm election season—and perhaps with some of those personalities of yore in our collective rearview mirrors as reminders of where we should not retread—it's time to ask where the politicians of today have in mind for our future.