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rebuildamerica2020

Dear Mr. Biden,
You now have what you’ve wanted. You are the de facto nominee for the Democratic party. I could say a lot about how I see that, but none of what I might say will change the facts. Our voting choices are you or Mr. Trump, or some protest vote, or not voting at all. Right now, I’m inclined to not vote at all, to be honest. I dislike the tactics the Dems used to install you as the nominee. I disliked you blustering and belittling people who disagreed with you in the debates. That might score points with the moderators, but it didn’t score points with me. But still, there you are. You’ve said nice things about Mr. Sanders, and about his movement. I hope you meant them.

Right now, I doubt it. I think you’re saying what you think I want to hear. I doubt those words will last past the election. Given the alternative, I hope you win, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope. I hope you prove me wrong. If you don’t, I probably just won’t vote. What would be the point? We need someone strong enough to combat the virulence of the GOP. I don’t think you’re that man. “Reaching across the aisle” is meaningless when the aisle has been shifted to the lawn on the right side of the Capitol.

I feel my vote has been stolen. If you want it, you’re going to have to prove that you will actively, passionately, and vigorously pursue the policies that are life and death to millions of us–one-payer healthcare, free college, and student loan amendment or forgiveness, paid sick leave, climate change, preserving the environment, financial regulation, racial, gender, common-sense gun regulations, and age equality, and legal reform to ensure that the laws work equally for all of us.

Right now–yes, during your “campaign,” which is now officially over for the primary–I want to see and hear you proposing and working to enact the reforms that Mr. Sanders has been advocating to stave off ruin for millions. Here’s a crazy thought–how about you work with him on those things? How about you use your brand new bully pulpit to fight for us, the people you’re asking to vote for you? Donald Trump said something last week about governors–he said that Federal support goes both ways–the governors who want Federal support have to be nice to him. He was dead wrong, of course, as he so often is. The governors did not get their positions because of his vote. They owed nothing to him.

But that was him. This is us, now, Mr. Biden–you and the people you are asking to elect you president. We do have the right to elect someone who will fight for our best good. We do have the right to expect that, if elected, you will be our advocate in the White House. So I’m asking. What are you going to do to earn my vote? And then, if you get it, what are you going to do to assure us all that you’re worthy of the trust we’ve placed in you? Who will you fight for?

Will you fight for the billionaires who fund much of your campaign? Will you pursue some demented form of “trickle-down” economics that only enriches those at the top? Will you continue to bail out banks, oil companies, and corporations that have already been the benefit of government largesse not once or twice, but over and over? Or will you look beyond the walls that money and political position have built around you to the millions of us who lie beyond those walls? Will we be real and worth fighting for once the election’s over? Will what’s happening to us out here in the small towns, the farms, and the just-barely-afloat small businesses keep you awake at night? Will you use our lives as your North Star, the guiding force of your actions? Or will you use us as political props until it’s no longer necessary to have our grubby, poor, undecorative selves on the platform with you?

Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.” You might be nicer than Mr. Trump (that’s a pretty low bar, but I suspect true). But that’s not enough. The millions of us out in flyover land have been living with the evils perpetrated on us by the greedy, and by the “good men” in government who have done nothing. The time is past for that. We need warriors to fight for us, not nice guys who don’t want to rock the boat.

You want my vote, Mr. Biden? Prove it. Earn it by putting yourself on the line not just for me, but for all the millions of us out here who are losing our health insurance with our jobs, who are facing rent and mortgage payments we have no money to meet, who have children we struggle to feed, who have no bargaining power because the unions have been busted. We don’t need nice Uncle Joe. We need crabby Uncle Joe, who is pissed as all hell and is coming to kick ass and take names. We need a warrior. Are you that man? If I give you my vote, what will you do to show me you’ve been worthy of my trust?

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There’s a lot of talk these days about the big choices this election holds for all of us. It’s true–the stakes in this election could hardly be higher. Like everyone else, I’ve watched as spin became lies, was exposed as such, and somehow still remained a part of our political conversation. The cumulative effect has been, I suspect, a sort of national case of disassociation–we have been asked to believe twelve impossible things before breakfast, and, rather than calling bulls*t, we have tried. Oh, we have tried.

I can’t speak for you, but for myself, I have to say that the result hasn’t been pretty. There’s the perennial, “Hey, wait…” reaction when I hear one of the tired old canards trotted out and whipped round the track for the bazillionth time. There’s the anger that we never seem to move beyond this. There’s the frustration at the thought that millions of Americans are apparently being taken in by a group who has openly disavowed any ties to reality. And most of all, there’s the sneaking fear that I’m going crazy.

This political campaign defies logic. A candidate who has flipped and flopped and flailed around and openly taken to political whoring in pursuit of the Oval Office should have been laughed out of the race by now. But he hasn’t. And I think the reason is really very simple. I think the reason why Mitt Romney is still in the race is because while those of us in the dwindling middle class all want pretty much the same things–we want social and financial stability, a secure old age, college education for ourselves and our children, and the hope that when we leave we’ll have enough to leave a little behind–on a deeper level we really only want one thing–we want to be safe.

The question is, how do we achieve that? I am reminded of my medieval English lit class. Medieval English literature reflects the two prevalent cultures in Britain at the time: Anglo-Saxon culture, which had its roots in North Central Europe, where winters were savage, life was harsh, and wolves were fierce; and Celtic culture, which had its roots in the softer, milder climates of southern Europe. Anglo-Saxon literature’s most famous poem is Beowulf. Celtic poetry is less well-known, but much of it is short, lyric poems about the beauties of nature, myth, and tradition.

Beowulf happens in a dark, gloomy, savage, cold, and dangerous world where monsters prowl. Safety is to be found by shutting out everyone and every thing except for one’s sworn brothers and fellow knights.. The horror of the poem comes when Grendel, the monster from the mire, actually invades the hall, Heorot.

The world of the Celtic poems is very different. Many seem to have been written by hermit monks, who lived largely solitary in small huts out in nature. The poems speak of the joy of sunny days, the beauty of birds singing in bushes, the pleasure to be found in watching one’s house cat hunt for a mouse. They tell snippets of legends, fragments of stories. These poems speak of a world in which safety is found not by walling out the world, but by making one’s self a part of it, becoming a piece of the whole, forming bonds of love, friendship, and support with the animals, plants, and people that make up the world.

Which brings me to this campaign. Mr. Romney’s worldview is in many respects akin to the Anglo-Saxon view. He has spent most of his life in a world preserved by exclusion. He has built his safety behind walls of wealth, religion, and society. He sees financial success as something one achieves on one’s own, or with the help of one’s parents. One builds a wall, and then builds one’s success behind it, locked away from the rest of the world. One succeeds or fails on one’s own (or with the help of the folks). Professionally he has operated in a world famed for secrecy–call it “confidentiality,” if you will. One of the ongoing stories of this campaign has been his refusal to disclose details of his professional dealings–or even the customary number of tax returns. (He demanded the returns of his VP pick, but never mind.) When he speaks of international relations he speaks less of alliances than of a “strong military.” He doesn’t offer many details, but then again, I suspect they aren’t really important to him. What is important is the wall. Some members of the GOP are actually pushing for the erection of a literal wall along our southern border. Stripping all this down to fundamentals, what we are left with is that for Mr. Romney, safety lies in Heorot–America huddled around a warm fire behind tall, thick walls, hoping and praying that Grendel never gets in.

President Obama, on the other hand, sees safety less in walls than in alliances. His life has been lived as a global citizen in some respects–he spent his childhood, in part, in Indonesia, and in multi-cultural Hawaii. He was a member of a non-traditional family. When he left school he became a community organizer, helping poor and middle-class people form alliances. When he speaks of international policy he speaks of building global alliances, of acting in concert with other nations for our mutual good. When he speaks of domestic policy he speaks of our commonality, of the growing separation between rich and poor that’s killing us socially and economically, of the need for all of us to have a certain level of safety, if any of us are to be truly safe.

I don’t see this as an election about right-and-left politics. Mr. Romney has, if anything, shown himself to be a man who governs in response to the deepest pockets and loudest voices. He has played the idealogue this campaign, but I suspect he cares less about ideology than he does about the bottom line. He’s a money guy, and he wants to be sure that all the guys in his “in” group are taken care of. This isn’t politics. It’s closer to nepotism. By the same token, President Obama has been more centrist than progressive in his policy. How much of that centrism is due to GOP obstructionism we will probably never know, but the fact remains that when we set aside the talk and look at what has been done the result has been centrist, mildly progressive policy domestically–and quite hawkish action militarily, at least in some respects.

Here’s the thing about medieval English poetry–the stormy, savage world of Beowulf and the warm, sunny, placid world of the Celtic lyric verses were both talking about the same part of the world–the British Isles. The difference in the world each poet sees reflects not what lies around him, but what he sees in himself. That’s this election. Both men claim to be offering us what we want most–safety, but if we can extrapolate from their past lives and their prevailing spoken remarks (I’m purposely excluding campaign stuff, because I really don’t see how we can evaluate Mr. Romney in a meaningful way if we include it–his spoken remarks have been inconsistent, nonsensical, and mutually exclusive in many cases) we can see that the men believe that safety is best achieved in opposite ways.

Mr. Romney believes that we are safest behind strong walls, excluding everyone we have decided is not like us, caring only for those who are inside the walls with us. He sees our national life as an exercise in wall-building–making the walls bigger and stronger, and taller, and if doing that means that we take supplies from those who are not within our walls, well, that’s just the way it is. Likewise, when time, money, and resources must be spent everything goes to building the wall. The idea of investing for the coming winter, of seeing to it that those who serve the “in” group have enough to eat and warm clothes to wear, comes a distant second. What matters is the “in” group, and the wall.

President Obama believes that we are more than our walls–that while a good wall is necessary, true safety can only be achieved by recognizing that we are part of a larger community–by forming alliances, by learning to appreciate the diversity and beauty that lies around us, but understanding that we are safest when our social safety net is wide-flung, strong, and inclusive. He believes we are safest when we have good, strong walls–and can navigate the world both inside and out. After all, Beowulf only manages to deal with Grendel and his mother when he leaves Heorot. Even for Beowulf, walls ultimately failed him. And I fear that Mr. Romney’s walls will fail us, too. Grendel has learned how to find his way inside our walls. And he has some pretty scary bombs out there in the mire.

The last four years have been hard ones. I tried–and failed–to get my house re-financed. I was threatened with foreclosure. My credit card interest rates drove my balances so high that ultimately I was left with no choice but bankruptcy. I’ve been sick–I was recently diagnosed with a life-threatening (but fortunately very treatable) condition. I still don’t have health insurance. There have been times when I couldn’t buy my kid shoes. These years have been hard. And I watched as many of the measures that were supposed to help were watered down and subverted by men more concerned with making sure that all the gold stayed in Heorot.

But here’s the thing. These years have also taught me that I am surrounded by a townful of caring, loving people. They are my safety net, and I am part of theirs. We are not rich. But we understand how to care for each other. And we understand that we are better together. At some point, we have all faced the question of how we will be safe, and we have all recognized that safety lies less in bank balances than it does in relationships. We have all made peace with the idea that we are our brothers’, sisters’, and world’s keepers. And that’s why I’m voting for President Obama again–not because I agree with everything he’s done, but because I believe that we share a vision–we believe that we can best keep each of us safe by keeping all of us safe, inside our walls, and out.

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I voted yesterday. The Magic Dog and I sat down and considered the ballot carefully, but it really wasn’t necessary; we already pretty much knew how we were going to vote on the various races happening in our neck of the woods.

Voting’s supposed to be private, like sex and pooping. For years I didn’t do it at all. I reasoned that there was little real difference between candidates; I believed–and I still believe–that it is impossible to win national office without making some pretty unsavory compromises. So I opted out.

The last election changed that for me. Maybe I was swayed by rhetoric. Maybe I had just matured. Maybe, like many, I was seduced by the idea that broken things might be fixable. At any rate, I registered as an independent, because I believe good ideas and people are possible in either party, I did my homework, and I voted.

I voted for the Democratic ticket, but I voted less for the party than for the ideas it represented. I voted for the idea that middle classes are important, that giving money to rich people and expecting them to give it away is too much to expect. I voted for the idea that we needed to get out of the business of war. I voted for the idea of affordable healthcare–even for people like me–for the idea that what I pay for my house should to some degree reflect its value, and for the idea that our financial  and healthcare institutions need to factor in the good of their customers as well as bonuses.

I still believe in all of those things. And two years later, I still don’t have healthcare. I just got word–via a foreclosure letter–that my application for mortgage modification has been denied (I’ve been in the system for nearly two years now), and my credit card interest rates are through the roof. To say I am disappointed in the pace of change is putting it mildly, and being told by the President that I need to suck it up and stop whining, that we all knew this was going to be hard, isn’t a lot of comfort. Nor is it really helpful; I can’t offer that to my bank in lieu of a mortgage payment. I know. I tried. I’m starting to wonder if President Obama as disconnected from what’s happening in the lives of people like me as all the presidents I didn’t bother voting for. I hope not, because I still believe in the ideas he expresses.

Doubts and alll, I voted again–and this time I went farther than I did last time; I voted for the straight Democratic ticket. Here’s why.

1. The Party of “No.” If I had to name the one thing that has caused me more fear and anger than anything else in the last two years, it would be the Republican party’s single-minded determination to bring down the current administration. The policy has resulted in ineffective legislation in many cases, crippled policies and discarded ideas in others, and a climate in which it is virtually impossible to accomplish anything. And now, at the end of two long years in which we have been floundering while the banks, aided and abetted by their pals in office get obscenely rich, we have the Mitch McConnell’s of the world stating that the thing they’re really worried about is making sure President Obama is a one-term President.

I don’t know how you want to spend your time for the next two years, but personally, I’d like to see the folks in Washington doing something besides indulging in something that, at best, is a personality clash, and at worst, is the kind of xenophobia that brought us hoods, nooses, and crosses burning on lawns. If the GOP is so out of touch with the nation that they consider such dangerous, puerile behavior tolerable, they shouldn’t be running an iron-wheeled wheel barrow, let alone the nation.

It’s more than just racism, though–increasingly the GOP candidates are espousing positions that deny basic rights to women, ethnic minorities, and the LGBT community. The standard for qualifying for equality has become very very high in the GOP tent. I don’t want that standard applied in my life.

2. Jonathan Swift once said, “A nice man is a man of nasty ideas.” This election, I voted for the only people who seemed to have any ideas at all. Over and over, when asked for their agendas, the Republicans have offered up The Plan: Undo This Administration. This is not an idea. This is not constructive. This is not even possible. This is delusional thinking. For me, the vote came down to a simple question: Do I want to move forward, or backward? Voting for the Democratic candidates is no guarantee that things will get better; voting for the Republican Tea Party candidates–is a guarantee that they will get worse.

3. Crazy is as crazy talks. This is probably the biggest reason I found for voting, if not for the Democratic candidates, certainly voting against the Republican candidates. Any sort of examination of the Republican party at this point in time reveals one overwhelming fact: The lunatics have escaped, and they are now running the asylum. Opinions expressed are bizarre, outlandish, and held only by a tiny, but incredibly noisy minority so far to the right they’ve almost fallen off the cliff. And yet, for reasons of political expediency, much of the Republican party has, if not embraced the ideas, done their very best to appear as if they do. That means that we still have the ridiculous “birther” nonsense floating around, as well as the equally idiotic idea that gumption, a perky smile, and the ability to say fifty impossible things before breakfast make up for education, reason, and experience. If you just believe in the Lord, he’ll take care of the deficits. It means that we have bizarre tales spun about legislation, and guns being carried to presidential appearances–and the gun-toter claiming he is simply exercising his constitutional rights.

I voted against the Republican party because I believe in reasoned debate, not in shouting down opposition. I believe in the rule of law, rather than “second-amendment remedies” if the other guy wins. I believe that it is important to have accurate, clear information available about the laws under consideration, and that it is not helpful to invent boogeymen like “death panels.” I believe that once a person has proven a point beyond reasonable doubt, and has gone to the trouble of posting a validated birth certificate on the internet, that it’s time to stop saying that there are “lingering questions” about his citizenship. I may not agree with his policies, but I can no longer claim that he is unfit because of his birth. And like him or not, he is still the President, and given the world in which we live people who show up with guns at his public appearances are seeking to intimidate or worse, and should ejected from the event and certainly questioned about their choice of accessory.

I voted for the Democratic candidates because the Republican candidates seem to have a universal inability to grasp the realities of our situation. We are in the midst of a financial crisis. It is becoming all too apparent that all too many of our elected leaders have been bought and sold by the mortgage, financial, and energy conglomerates. We do not have the luxury of behaving like children throwing tantrums at having to take turns. I voted the Democratic ticket not because I liked all of candidates, but because this time around, the the few adults in the room who aren’t scary, scary people seem to be in the Democratic party. I voted because like it or not, we are in a tug-of-war, and our economy, homes, civil government, and maybe our souls are on the line, and I wanted more people pulling us forward than holding us back.

If you agree, vote with me. If you disagree, vote against me. Just don’t say it doesn’t matter, because it does. It matters terribly.

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