What’s Been Happening in America?

By Lilli Friedman

The Election

The 2010 midterm elections were undeniably disappointing for Democrats, as the party lost control of the House of Representatives to the Republicans, causing Barack Obama yet another hit to his presidency. Although it would be easy for conservatives to say these results prove that the American people are ready for “change,” it is important to consider why Democrats lost so many seats. The American populace is immensely frustrated with politics in Washington, and with good reason. The two sides of the aisle in Congress refuse to cooperate, and it may seem as if nothing has been done over the past two years. But this is far from the truth.

While Republicans are very good at shouting about their grievances with Democrats, it might be helpful to remember the reason economic recovery seems to be taking so long: it is due in large part to the mistakes made over the course of George Bush’s eight-year presidency. Americans disappointed in the economy’s slow recovery who voted Republican last week are in for even more despair. These voters will soon see that Republicans in control will continue to cause it to be a slow process towards rebuilding our economy, and irresponsible tax cuts (including extending those already in place) will make things much worse.

It is also inaccurate to say that President Obama and the Democrats have done nothing over the past two years. USA Today’s quarterly survey of fifty economists agreed that unemployment would have hit an even higher mark without Obama’s stimulus program, and not bailing out the auto industry and the banks would have resulted in a second Great Depression. The stimulus program was certainly not perfect, but as the economy was on the floor of the emergency room, the president and Congress worked quickly stem the issue.

Although the economy was the main issue that many voters’ considered as they placed their votes, it should not be forgotten that Obama’s health care reform bill was one of the most significant pieces of legislation in decades. A misconception that voters held in 2008 was that Obama would be able to come into office and every issue that our country had would be immediately resolved. That hasn’t been the case, but the president has made significant strides in Washington, and to turn over Congress to the other side simply because things aren’t moving at a fast enough pace will only prove to slow down the legislation process due to bipartisan disagreements.

Decision Points

George W. Bush’s memoir, Decision Points, is being released tomorrow, but has already stimulated controversy. The comment stirring up the most buzz is that Bush reveals the lowest point of his presidency (in his mind), and it isn’t what most people would expect. To Bush, his lowest point was when Kanye West said that he “didn’t care about black people,” during a post-Hurricane Katrina telethon. When considering the laundry list of mistakes Bush is considered to have made during his presidency, including lying about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a drastic mishandling of the nation’s budget which drove us into the recession, and the handling of Hurricane Katrina itself, it is surprising that this stayed with him most.

Bush also openly admits in his memoir to approving the use of waterboarding, a form of torture, on suspected terrorists. He also confesses that he considered dropping Vice President Dick Cheney from the ballot in 2004. Although Bush’s honesty is appreciated, this memoir will likely not change the way Americans, or history, view the former president. Decision Points simply seems to confirm what many Americans already knew: he misled and deceived Americans over the course of his two terms, and admitting that after the fact is too little too late.

Marches on Washington

Leading up to the midterm elections there were two highly publicized marches on the Washington Mall: Glenn Beck’s Rally to Restore Honor, and the more recent Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Although these rallies might not have done much to change the outcome of the elections, they did show the deep frustration felt from very different groups of Americans. On the right, there is a tremendous amount of anger, egged on by pundits such as Glenn Beck, about what they feel is a lack of action in Washington. This has caused anger by moderate Americans who feel that they no longer have a voice in the conversation if they don’t believe in extremes. And the right feels that the left is failing to see what the Democrats have done recently for the country.

Bipartisanship is to blame for many of these grievances. Jon Stewart said in the closing speech at his rally, “The country’s 24-hour, political pundit, perpetual, panic conflict-inator did not cause our problems. But its existence makes solving them that much harder.” In other words, networks such as Fox News that feature undeniably arch-conservative news coverage and promote the activities of organizations like the Tea Party, are not helping our country, but harming it with propaganda that prevents any type of useful political discourse. To be fair, those on the left are also guilty of this, as NPR recently fired liberal commentator Juan Williams after he made a comment on The O’Reilly Factor about feeling nervous when a Muslim boards an aircraft, and MSNBC recently fired (and then rehired) Keith Olbermann for doing just what hosts on Fox did: donate to candidates he believed in.

Another issue that many have as of late is with the media. As Jon Stewart continued to say in his speech: “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.” If we allow the extremists on either side of the spectrum to determine the direction of our nation, the majority, those that don’t fall into either extreme, will no longer have a voice. The idea that everyone that doesn’t agree with you is a “Nazi” or alternatively, a “socialist,” is ridiculous, and if the media and Americans are unable to see the compromise, and allow those in the middle to have their say, our nation will be two extremes that are unable to move forward. For once, both sides might be able to agree that we all want the same thing: a strong country and the truth, and the sooner the extremists realize that they are the ones preventing that from happening, the faster we can work together and create a better, healthier nation.

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