Why 2016 Matters
By Nick Paleologos
Is the American media obsessed with polls or what? Everywhere you turn, craven politicians on cable tv are endlessly pontificating about “what Americans believe” and “what the country wants.” Newsflash: America—as a nation—tells us what it wants every four years during presidential elections. This is the only time in our democratic system when the collective will of the country is officially expressed—bestowing upon the winner a mandate to move the country in the direction advocated.
Mid-term elections, on the other hand, exist primarily to determine how expeditiously the president’s voter-approved agenda can be implemented. And most of the time, Americans use mid-terms to slow things down. Nevertheless, setting a course for the country has always been the exclusive prerogative of presidents—and by extension, the people who elected them. That means you and me.
Along those lines, America made a historic decision in 2008. We sent a black guy to the White House for the first time in history. He promised to stop shipping American kids overseas to fight other peoples’ wars; he pledged to create jobs at home and to rebuild our economy. He also vowed to extend affordable healthcare to millions of uninsured Americans. And we elected him by a margin of nearly 10 million votes.
In his first term, he did pretty much all of those things.
“Four” may not be the perfect number of years between national plebiscites. But it’s the best we’ve got. And it certainly gives us enough time to experience the short-term consequences of our choices. In 2012, the choice facing America was clear. Change direction? Or stay the course? The president’s opponent said the country was on the wrong track. He promised a hard turn to the right: spend more money on wars abroad; cut taxes on the wealthy even further; and get rid of the Affordable Care Act.
He lost. In fact, he lost by more than 5 million votes.
What does that tell you? It tells me that the forces of equity and tolerance are on the rise again in our country--and not a moment too soon. Thirty-five years of slavish adherence to a national agenda that routinely sacrificed fundamental fairness to an unfettered free market has left America’s middle class bereft, bankrupt and bewildered. The one place where we’ve been able to register our frustration—indeed our fury--has been in presidential elections. Like the one we’re having next year.
We don’t yet know who the final two candidates for president will be. But we do know that they will have to navigate a riptide of cultural crosscurrents while their Twitter feeds are bursting with hashtags that will include: income inequality; black lives matter; Citizens United; immigration reform; free (and fair) trade; climate change; and rebuilding America for a new millennium—among many others.
At the end of the day, 2016 will be about the following questions:
1) Is America ready for a woman to be president?
2) Should our wealthiest citizens and corporations at least pay the same effective tax rates as everybody else?
3) Should we build upon and improve the Affordable Care Act?
4) Should debt-free college education be a basic right for every qualified kid in this country?
5) Is it time to require a background check before anybody can buy a gun in America?
I'm guessing that only one of the final two candidates will answer yes to all five. And by so doing, provide America with a third consecutive opportunity to send a clear and unambiguous message to congress, the chatter class, and beyond. What we “want” is a safe country for our kids--where freedom and fairness are not mutually exclusive; and where healthcare and higher education are rights--not privileges.
Is that too much to ask?