12 Reasons I’m Thankful on Turkey Day 2012: A Political Reporter’s Gratitude List
I know what you’re thinking -- not another namby-pamby, reasons-to-be-cheerful, holiday-themed list of reasons to be happy while the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Okay, okay; point taken. But sometimes we progressives forget to sit up and take notice of our own progress; we’re so wired for seeking cures to injustice that, too often, all we see is injustice, and not the strides or baby steps made toward its correction. At least, that’s how it is with me.
But the self-help types tell us that a little gratitude in one’s attitude makes the whole darn world a sweeter place, and, after all, who wouldn’t want that? So, in that spirit, I seek to rise above my native pessimism, to unfurrow my brow but for just a moment, to breathe in some of the fresh air that blew through the political landscape in the final months of 2012 -- and just look around for a bit. Because some pretty amazing things happened, especially on November 6, and the days that led up to it. And at least one awful thing stopped. (Bye-bye, Romney.) And for these things and more, I am very, very thankful.
1. That stinkin’ election is over. Was that some sh*t, or what? It felt like I was covering it for almost four years -- oh, wait; I was. From the minute that Barack Obama took office, the next election 2012 was on, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell identifying his number one goal as making Obama a one-term president -- even as the country spun near to depression, thanks to the Bush crash.
The Tea Party sprang to life like a pop-up shop, selling tricorn hats, nativism and racial animus, all in an effort to vanquish Obama in 2012. Stir in the misogyny and homophobia of the Catholic church and the evangelical right, and the willingness of all the Republican presidential candidates -- including the nominee -- to harness the hate, and we had one ugly election. Oh, and don’t let me forget the demonization of teachers, government workers and unions.
As I trudged from right-wing event to right-wing event, reporting amid a barrage of venom-tipped rhetorical projectiles aimed at every person and idea I ever cared about, I sometimes found despair a valley impossible to avoid: they seemed so strong, and they had so much money. Endless amounts of money, and a Supreme Court that told them they could spend it nearly any damn way they chose in our political system, without ever revealing its provenance. I half-believed their hyperbole, worrying about such things as: What if the polling models are wrong?
I don’t kid myself that the next presidential election will be some exercise in any high-minded expression of democracy, and I’m aware of the monumental pile of work yet to be done, but I am confident that the worst, most hideous campaign I will ever cover -- in which one side sought victory by animating the very worst attributes of human nature -- has passed. (A woman can dream, can’t she?)
2. My fellow citizens who waited in line for up to seven hours to vote -- and saved democracy. In battleground states, Republican officials deployed all manner of dastardly deeds to discourage citizens from voting -- especially citizens in areas where the inclination might be to vote for Democrats. That means, especially citizens who live in areas heavily populated by people who might not be white.
In Ohio, multiple attempts were made to shut down that state’s early voting, which is generally availed by people who are not at liberty to take time from work on a Tuesday in order to vote. The same was done in Florida, where in Pinellas County, voters were even told the wrong cut-off date and time for voting. In northern Virginia, voters were still in line when the polls closed at 7 p.m. on election night. Then there were the new voter ID laws, which sowed confusion, and threatening billboards in Milwaukee and elsewhere that promised jail for anyone who committed “voter fraud” -- which in communities where people are used to seeing their relatives go to jail on flimsy evidence could just have a chilling effect.
But instead, people turned out in droves and stood their ground. We’ll never know how many people on those ridiculously long lines (see this picture from Ohio) gave up, or had to get home to their children, or get to a job, or were just too infirm to stick it out. But those who did gave democracy another day of life -- as did the voting-rights groups that used the courts to challenge the obstacles placed in the way of the ballot.
I had the good fortune to be on the radio as the returns began to come in, on a panel hosted and assembled by Mark Thompson of SiriusXM. The reports of voter suppression had me in a reticent mood, even as early returns looked good for the president and Democratic candidates. But after listening to Barbara Arnwine of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP President Ben Jealous and Keesha Gaskins of the Brennan Center for Justice, who all took part in the discussion, it became apparent just how organized people were; how determined they were not to have such a hard-won franchise taken from them. African Americans and Latinos voted in record numbers, and I am grateful to every single one of them, as I am for all of the Americans who voted -- regardless of who they voted for. But I’m especially grateful to those who voted under duress, and you should be, too.
Now, what are we going to do to see that this doesn’t happen in 2016?
3. A record number of women will be seated in the U.S. Senate. So they may still represent only one-fifth of the world’s most deliberative body even as they comprise a majority of the U.S. population, but today is a day of gratitude, and I’m grateful that, come 2013, 20 women will be senators. The trend is an upward one; the current tally of 17 women senators is also a record. If we can add three more women to the Senate in every election, we could achieve parity a mere two decades from now. (Okay, so my gratitude is laced with a bit of sarcasm. Sue me.)
But the bonus is that among those 20 women, two new additions are among the most progressive senators we’re likely to see, of any sex: Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. And our first Asian-American senator, Mazie Hirano, D-Hawaii, also belongs to this list.
Now how about a few more women of color? How about an African American? (There are currently no African Americans in the U.S. Senate.) Or a Native American? (There are currently no tribe-enrolled Native Americans in the Senate, and only one, Tom Cole, R-Okla., in the House.)
4. The Senate gets its first openly gay member, and the House, its first openly bisexual member. (And they’re both women.) Yay for my team! Queer women have long been the invisible gays of of national politics (and here I use the word “gay” as a catch-all for non-heterosexual), often toiling behind the scenes in the hard work of organizing. But when Tammy Baldwin, currently a member of the House of Representatives, takes her senatorial oath of office, a predict the inauguration a new era of visibility for queer women in politics. And goddess bless Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., the first openly bisexual member of Congress, who was elected to the House. While some in both the gay and straight worlds debate whether we actually exist, Sinema wears her identity boldly. I think that means we’ve arrived.
5. Marriage for everybody -- at least in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington State. Having been married once, I can’t imagine ever going down that road again, but I’m mighty happy for those more inclined toward that sort of of arrangement, that equality, at least at the state level, has been achieved in Triple-M and W, via unprecedented thumbs-up referendum votes in Maryland, Maine and Washington, and the defeat of a same-sex marriage ban in Minnesota -- all put to their respective electorates on the November 6 ballot. (The Supreme Court will let us know next week whether it will take up a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the disbursal of spousal benefits in federal programs such as Social Security to partners same-sex marriages, and allows states in which same-sex marriage is not accepted to deny marriage status to same-sex couples married in another state.)
The November 6 triumph for marriage equality advocates signals a significant shift in public opinion on what is popularly known as gay marriage. It’s almost like queer folk are being seen as regular people.
6. More religious diversity in Congress, and another declarative non-religious member. The new Congress boasts its first Hindu member, Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who is taking the seat now held by the woman who will become the Senate’s first Buddhist member, Rep. Mazie Hirano. (See item #3 for Hirano’s other first.) Kyrsten Sinema, the ground-breaking bisexual newly elected to the House, openly subscribes to no religion, but does not describe herself as an atheist, which makes her emblematic of one of the fastest-growing demographics on the American religious landscape. (There are already two Muslims in the House -- Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Andre Carson, D-Ind., as well as two Buddhists -- Hank Johnson, D-Ga., and Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii.)
Even if you’re an atheist, this should matter to you, because the greater the religious diversity in the Congress, the more holes are punctured in the religious-right myth of the United States as a Christian nation. And that gives us all more space to breathe.
7. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, for putting on display the heartlessness of the anti-abortion movement. It was a risky move by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to choose Todd Akin as her opponent, which she did with a political ad during the Republican primary that cast Akin as “the true conservative” in the race. It could have backfired badly for American women in a race that ranked as a toss-up, until Akin made his infamous “legitimate rape” comments, making his argument for no exceptions for pregnancy by rape or incest in his anti-abortion policy by saying that in the case of “legitimate rape,” “a woman’s body has ways of shutting that thing down.”
Then along came the super-anti-choice Mourdock, in his Senate race against the merely anti-choice Joe Donnelly in Indiana, who said in a debate that a pregnancy caused by rape reflected God’s intention, and was “a gift” from the divine.
However divided the American people are on the question of abortion -- and they are -- they didn’t like what they heard, even in the very conservative states of Indiana and Missouri. It made people think about the motivations of the anti-choice crowd, people who paint women and girls who seek abortion as cold-blooded murderers. On election day, exit polls showed 59 percent of voters saying they believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases, which suggested that the heated rhetoric about women's bodies -- and when rape is real or a gift -- in this election may have motivated more pro-choice people to vote, or convinced people who would not have described themselves as such in the past to do so now.
8. Allen West concedes. There’s good crazy and bad crazy, and Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., is a very bad kind of crazy -- the kind who just makes stuff up when smearing his opponents, like claiming that all the Democrats in Congress belong to the Communist party, for instance. Add to that the role he was only too happy to play on behalf of the Tea Party movement -- purported proof that the movement is totally down with black people -- and you’ve got a pernicious player, one who was spouting that nasty, producerist “makers v. takers” rhetoric before even Mitt Romney rambled on before a hidden camera about the 47 percent. That West happens to be a charismatic, talented speaker made him all the more troublesome. But he’s gone from Congress now, at least for the time being, after finally conceding to his opponent, Democrat Patrick Murphy, two days before Thanksgiving.
The race was tight enough -- and there were glitches in the count in St. Lucie County -- to convince West that a recount might put him over the top, so he held out until a recount under way showed Murphy’s margin growing, not shrinking, from the original talley.
But in the current Republican mindset of finding failure to be impossible, Kurt Hynde of The New American, the house organ of the John Birch Society, suggests the likely cause of West’s defeat to be the casting of votes for Murphy by “ineligible voters,” and chastise West for folding too soon. No irony, of course, in the fact that, had the Birch Society had its way, West could still be turned away from lunch counters in his district for the color of his skin.
9. Hundreds of millions in right-wing superPAC money and donations to “issues groups” bought not very much. As one who spent the years leading up to election 2012 worrying about what the outcome of the Citizens United and related Supreme Court decisions might have on our elections, I’ve got to say, I’m pretty pleasantly surprised. It seems that a majority of the American people were not swayed by the gazillions of negative ads run by David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity astroturf group (which even gave away free gasoline for the opportunity to hand out anti-Obama pamphlets to prospective voters in gas lines), nor were more right-wingers turned out at the polls for all the millions spent by Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition. Note The American Prospect’s Patrick Caldwell and Bob Moser: “The $104 million spent by Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC resulted in zero victories for the Republicans it supported.”
It’s almost as if all those negative ads, whose effectiveness the pundits and consultants routinely vouch for, stopped working. Just like a drug you’ve been on for too long.
10. Reefer madness replaced by reefer realism in Colorado and Washington State. In one way, the voters’ voice in these two Western states may signify only a small step in shutting down the destructive War on Drugs (otherwise known as the commercial incarceration stimulus program), in another way, it’s just huge. Really, really big. Regular people saying, enough already. And with not a ton of capital to work with -- especially when compared with the moralizers bankrolled by the one percent, and the dons of the prison industrial complex. And the people prevailed. How ‘bout that?
11. Ms. magazine had a 40th birthday party. Progressive media outlets, even the best and most groundbreaking of them, don’t find longevity easily. And when your cause is the advancement of traditionally disempowered people, it’s that much more difficult. But Ms. magazine, which brought a revolution to the mailboxes of women across America, is still in business, bring more revolution every day. It was Ms. that made a progressive of me; the image of Gloria Steinem shone like a beacon to me in a world that told me to settle for far less than any self-respecting person should. Then I got lucky, and landed a job at Ms. out of college, setting my life and career on a path I could only barely imagine for myself. It was while on the staff at Ms. that I saw the first woman nominated to a presidential ticket -- a phenomenon that Ms. itself helped make possible.
I can’t count the times I’ve heard feminism declared dead since even before my days at Ms., which was founded before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade. And yet, the Senate is about to seat a record number of women, and Ms. still lives, breaking ground every day. As Gloria Steinem once famously said, “This is what 40 looks like.”
12. The best readers and colleagues a journalist could dream of. It’s great to have smart colleagues who are so passionate about their work that they throw themselves into it, but what’s special about the AlterNet crew is how much we actually like each other. That’s a rare thing. And it’s you, our readers, who make it all possible. You come through for us time after time. It was your generosity that sent me to Tampa to cover the Republican National Convention; it was you who got us to our Fall fundraising goal. It’s from you that I’ve gotten some of my best story tips and sources, and, every day, my inspiration. And for that, I am truly grateful.