The Election, with Ben and Elaine

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon 
Going to the candidates debate 
Laugh about it, shout about it 
When you’ve got to choose 
Every way you look at it, you lose 
                    – Simon and Garfunkel
The music of Simon and Garfunkel was running through my head last month. WQED aired a documentary that was originally broadcast on CBS in 1969, prior to the release of the iconic folk duo’s last album Bridge Over Troubled Water.
The film, Songs of America, was included on a DVD that accompanied this album’s 40th anniversary release. Our wonderful public library system provided access to a copy in short order, and it did not disappoint. I grew up listening to this music – wore out my mother’s vinyl LPs.
The quote at the top, from Mrs. Robinson, was something that I thought about when putting together my earlier post about the choices we faced last Tuesday. 
It wasn’t until the aftermath of the election, and the collective giddiness that many of us felt over what seemed to be a national rebuke of the Republican Party, that I thought about the movie that this song was written for.
If you already know The Graduate, then you know how the story ends. The young couple, in love despite some serious family drama, reject convention and the establishment to break out on their own. The initial elation over this brash and somewhat hilarious turn of events gives way to facial expressions that perhaps reveal other emotions – concern, uncertainty, even fear.
On a more topical level, the last scene of The Candidate (1972) shows similar emotional contrasts. 
That’s what the election last week felt like to me – a sense of near disbelief and quiet satisfaction, followed by a renewed sense of concern for many issues and situations that have yet to be addressed. 
We remain a nation largely divided, but the record turnout in some jurisdictions threw that much more water on the fire of conservative extremism, even in the face of attempts to make it more difficult to cast a ballot in many states. The comparatively narrow popular vote may not constitute a mandate for President Obama, but the turnout certainly sent a message. 
What will also be interesting is how that message is received around the world. The recent stepping up of violence between Israel and Hamas, the rise of terrorist attacks in Libya, and the impending change in leadership at State (and CIA in the wake of scandal) are just a few of the factors that will make foreign policy interesting in the coming year.
The gains and holds by Democrats in the Senate (Tom Smith’s challenge of Bob Casey really wasn’t), along with a few hard-fought victories in the House, seemed to send an additional message. 
This is true even if a Republican conservative defeated an incumbent Democrat to represent the bulk of the Sewickley area and Beaver County in Congress. J.D. Prose was right – Keith Rothfus and Mark Critz split the vote nearly 50/50 in Beaver County, and that probably contributed more to Rothfus’ victory than other factors.
Mr. Critz, in an election day interview on KDKA Radio, called Rothfus an ideologue – for everyone’s sake, let’s hope he’s wrong.
If the intent of the electorate was a little nebulous at the federal level, it certainly wasn’t in the races for state offices. With the exception of Mark Mustio, local House and Senate representatives were all elected from the Democratic side. This includes incumbent legislator Rob Matzie and now Senator-elect Matt Smith.
Democrats Kathleen Kane and Eugene DePasquale handily won their respective elections for Attorney General and Auditor General. In the days since, the brunt of most speculation focused on those areas of emphasis that may have helped these two win – Ms. Kane’s promise to probe the handling of the Jerry Sandusky investigation (along with other issues), as well as Mr. DePasquale’s commitment to review enforcement and regulatory issues surrounding Marcellus Shale exploration, and the agencies responsible.
This is of particular interest, given the recent controversy surrounding the completeness of water testing in the area of Marcellus drilling activity by the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The war of words is escalating between DEP secretary Michael Krancer and legislators such as Jesse White (D-Cecil). On a related note, Rep. White’s recent historical analysis and commentary on the behavior of a local Marcellus drilling company is great reading.
With the wholesale defeat of Republicans running for statewide office, many are reading these results as a significant message to Governor Corbett. The Governor’s public face appears to be unfazed by these developments, but I’m sure that the sharks are beginning to smell blood, and are preparing to circle for a run at Mr. Corbett in 2014. 
I was quite surprised at the turn of events in other states where the government permits the people to have a more direct say on how they are governed, through initiatives and constitutional amendments. 
Much attention was paid to the amendments legalizing marijuana for personal, recreational use in Colorado and Washington. Knowing the debate in Colorado since medical use of cannabis was legalized there in 2000, the effectiveness of the will of the people will largely be driven by how the federal government chooses to respond, or not. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s glib comments about “holding off on the Cheetos and Goldfish for now” have received a lot of attention. 
As with so many other legal vices in this country, it feels to me as if those who are tripped up by any local or federal intervention in states where these laws are passed will have done so by calling undue attention to themselves. 
The other significant results were initiatives or questions in 4 states concerning the legalization of same-sex marriage, all of which went in favor of it. A Bloomberg columnist speculated on the likely challenges that may work their way up to the Supreme Court in the coming years. That likelihood represents one of the major pluses of President Obama’s re-election.
One referendum that was noticeably absent from ballots across the country was the recurrent attempts at passing a personhood amendment. I remember when this amendment was on the ballot in Colorado – twice. It was soundly trounced both times. 
The inability of supporters of this type of initiative to get sufficient signatures to qualify for any state ballot in 2012 contrasts greatly with some of the anti-abortion rhetoric from candidates that made the news during the campaign. This included some controversial TV ads from long-time abortion protester and presidential candidate Randall Terry that aired locally. The comments concerning pregnancies resulting from rape by GOP senate candidates Todd Akin (Missouri) and Richard Mourdock (Indiana) were widely criticized on a bi-partisan level, and likely contributed to both candidates being defeated last Tuesday. 
Regardless of how one personally feels about abortion, it seems as if the vast majority of the electorate has grown tired of attempts to put it forth as a political issue, or feels as I do that the issue hinges on a decision gate that should not involve the government. 
Roe v. Wade was decided almost 40 years ago. Perhaps the voters are saying that it’s time to move on.
The results of these initiatives around the country seem to represent a general rejection of this and other bullet points on the Republican social agenda, if not their fiscal plans as well.
Negative ads and attitudes aside – and we all know there were plenty of those on both sides – perhaps the message being sent from the voters to our political leaders is that solutions will likely not be forthcoming exclusively from one spectrum or the other.
In short: Work together..or else.
This will hopefully continue to be emphasized by what seems to be a newly energized and involved group of voters. Young adults helped President Obama to win re-election, and will likely continue to be a force for change and accountability.
This isn’t to say that the remainder of the demographic didn’t play a role. Let’s imagine that Benjamin Braddock and Elaine Robinson stayed together, made a go of it in work (plastics?) and family, and are now preparing to retire.
They’re holding their own in the family homestead, but are eyeing either a retirement community or an SUV pulling an Airstream trailer to spend their golden years in. It seems that with the kids gone, that property tax bill from the school district makes less and less sense every day.
They believe in fiscal responsibility, but eye with suspicion the Republican agenda to make changes to Social Security and Medicare. They ask, “Why should the budget problems be tamed on our backs? What did we do all that yelling for when our friends were fighting in Vietnam, and now we seem to be firmly mired in no-win conflicts in who-knows-where-istan?” 
They’ve been (mostly) loyal Republicans since the so-called Reagan Revolution – Ben pulled the lever for Romney, but Elaine had serious issues with the financial and social messages, especially as they relate to rape and abortion. She voted for the President.
As an active couple who grew up around the technological revolution, they have a computer, smartphones, and social media accounts to keep in touch with the grandkids. My, how they’re growing up so fast these days….
Perhaps as much as technology moves our world faster and has served as a divisive and distracting influence, it also serves to allow information sharing and collaboration across not only physical boundaries, but generational as well.
The very nature of communication in this way lends itself to a greater sense of openness, curiosity, and understanding – something that those who resort to noise, hatred, and intolerance instead of facts and reasoned discourse will have to get used to more and more.
Wishing our leaders the best – for us and them – in the challenging years ahead.
Here’s to keeping hope alive.
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