I have no idea how I feel about this election. Honestly, if I didn’t live in a swing state and there weren’t some other ballot measures that I was personally interested in at the local level, I might not have voted. I’ve never been one of those guys who believes, “you should vote for the best worst option.” If I don’t like either option, I’ll exercise my right to opt out just as quickly as I’ll exercise my right to choose between crap and worse crap. Personal philosophies aside, I just never quite found myself caught up in this election. By the time the third debate rolled around – which I didn’t watch – I had checked out. I knew who I was going to vote for by this point and being bombarded by commercials that did nothing to report the agenda of the actual candidate but instead focused more on tearing down the record of the other candidate honestly wore me out. By the time November 6th rolled around I was happier to celebrate the end of the election cycle more than I was moved to celebrate or chastise the victory of either candidate. However, I did manage to learn a few things about politics, the country, and myself this election cycle.
Regrettably, I Pay More Attention to Elections Now
I was talking to a coworker about this recently – and yes, I know talking about politics at work is akin to admitting you worship the devil between your other pastimes of kicking kittens and bullying small children, but it is what it is. As I get older, I may more attention to elections because I generally have more vested in the outcomes of elections. For example, if I was in college this election cycle I might have an interest in Pell Grants and taxes. As a 30-year-old man, I’m interested in Pell Grants, taxes, wars, healthcare, the economy, the state of America currently and the plan for America in the future and the list goes on and on. I imagine, as I get older, this list will only continue to expand not shrink.
This is regrettable because the only thing more pointless than trying to figure out a national politician’s honest stance on major issues is trying to figure out his opponent’s stance on major issues. At the end of a strenuous and more often than not ridiculous election cycle, I knew about as much about Mitt Romney’s plan for the next four years as I did Obama’s, which is to say not very much at all considering I have no idea what either one of them would/was going to do. Mitt Romney’s only downfall is he didn’t have the benefit of being president for the last four years and he flip flopped on issues more often than a fish out of water. This isn’t to say Obama presented any more of a clear cut plan but sadly, he didn’t have to. In almost two years of running for president in Mitt Romney’s case and looking to stay the incumbent in Obama’s case, about the only thing I know about either candidate’s plan is that the other guy thinks the other guy’s plan is horrible and will devastate America. Well, I learned that and Mitt Romney isn’t very good at arithmetic.
The Media is Dumb or Maybe I’m Dumb for Expecting More
I’m not old enough to confirm this but it is my understanding there was a time where you could turn on the news to receive fact based reporting on issues that mattered to the American people. I’m not saying this isn’t the case anymore. The media still delivers facts but it’s so convoluted, slanted, and generally misleading to whatever agenda they want to push that you have to watch (or heaven forbid, read) no less than three different sources to get the facts you used to – as I understand but cannot confirm – be able to get from one source. I’ve become so paranoid at this point that sometimes I will purposely read media from international sources (even though many “international sources” are owned by the same company as local sources) to make sure the “news” I’m reading is accurate and free of spin. It’s interesting that even things you would think would be concrete, such as numbers or race (anyone still remember Trayvon Martin?) can be misleadingly reported. I don’t completely blame the news outlets. I recognize they now operate in a 24-hour competitive cycle. In this environment, breaking incorrect news early is more important than breaking accurate news late. Nevertheless, excuse me if I’m jaded when “breaking news” consist of reporting the sun will rise in the east tomorrow simply so they can garner a few more clicks to their page view coffers each month. Of course, I don’t know what’s more troubling: that the media feels they have to report something trivial rather than only meaningful things or that quite a few people will in fact be rather shocked each and every morning to read a report that the sun rose in the east, yet again.
Either Polls Are Pointless or People Are Idiots
I was working with a statistician on a project once and he said two things about statistics that will haunt me for the rest of my life: 1) Numbers don’t lie, unless you ask them to; and 2) Most people use statistics as an alcoholic uses a light post – for support rather than illumination.
There is no such thing as a misleading poll. There is definitely such thing as a misleading methodology. It’s amazing to me that so-called reputable organizations can boldly release misleading polls and continuously not be taken to task for it. Then again, as I often retort with shrugged shoulders of apathy when a group of athletes is caught taking steroids; if everyone is cheating is anyone really cheating? Therefore, if all the news organizations are doing it are any of them really wrong? Stats are as easy to digest as they are easy to manipulate. I definitely understand why so many organizations want to use them, even if doing so is blatantly misleading. After all, fact checking is so 2008.
Specific to this election cycle, let’s face it, Obama lost the first debate. I’m talking about style wise, considering I couldn’t do much more than help but admire the straight faced lies Romney was able to tell about his own record. In fact, for at least 89-minutes of the 90-minutes he was on TV, I almost believed him, then I remembered I’m not an idiot. Regardless, we all know many politicians lie, such is the nature of elections: say what it takes to get into power, then do what it takes to stay in power. It wasn’t the bold faced lies that caught me off-guard. The widely swinging post-debate polls are what blew me away. Before the debate, Romney was down in many polls by almost double digits. Obama’s mediocre performance didn’t do him any favors, but even with that said, Romney spoke for approximately 44-minutes (his camp later admitting that he lied…ok, admitted later that he had to “clarify” many of his own points) and this swung the polls of likely voters to within single digits.
I’ll admit – accuracy of content notwithstanding – Romney gave one of the best debate performances in the last 10 years and perhaps even 20 years. However, Romney had been running for political office for no less than six years. Obama had been president for four years. Regardless of how you feel about either candidate, it blows my mind that the future of the United States almost boiled down to a 44-minute speech. One speech. I don’t even have a punch line for that observation. I just want to let that marinate with you.
Obama won and I’d love to celebrate and gloat as many of us did in 2008, but sadly I can’t bring myself to this time around. I don’t want to call myself jaded; I’d call myself practical. My expectations are tempered this time around, since I have learned from experience that the road ahead will be difficult to maneuver. I’m not blindly optimistic as I was guilty of almost four years ago. I see a country in the midst of some of the worst political stagnation I’ve ever witnessed, with over $15 trillion dollars in debt (not counting insufficient funded entitlements which pushes us closer to $30 trillion), unforeseen dangers of war and foreign unrest, students with trillion dollars in debt facing perhaps the next housing bubble crisis minus the asset, stagnated wages, no real immigration policy and a looming political showdown regarding the myth of the “fiscal cliff” that will undoubtedly only see more political hand wrangling, finger pointing and posturing before a real solution is reached on this and any number of other critical issues that don’t have the time on their side that many elected officials posses.
Despite these realities of life in America today, I remain hopeful for the future of this country and the direction we’re heading. While that isn’t saying a lot, it’s saying enough. This time I’m not looking for a president to lead us on a platform of idealistic promises of hope and change. Maybe, as the winner of this election’s slogan alludes to this time around, I’m just looking for someone to lead us #Forward with real solutions and real actions. No more, no less. We’ve got four more years. Let’s see if Barack Obama is the man for the job.
How do you feel this election year in 2012 versus how you felt in 2008? Where, if at all, did Obama fall short of your expectations; where did he exceed them? What are your hopes, visions, or expectations for the next four years?