Charles Fox, Jr.

Hope, Change, and Can You Repeat the Question?

Attention span is the amount of concentrated time on a task a person can dedicate without becoming distracted. Most educators and psychologists agree that the ability to focus attention on a task is crucial for the advancement of one's goals. In the year 2000, the average attention span of an adult (age 18 and older) was 12 seconds. In 2013, it diminished to 8 seconds. Who knows where it might be as we move into the latter years of the "twenty tens." This change, no doubt exacerbated by the overabundance of technology and gadgets at our disposal, is no more evident than in our political landscape. One cycle, we are overwhelmingly electing Democrats in a wave of blue, the next we are serving up a referendum on the controlling party and sending a Republican Majority to Congress, The White House, State Legislatures, and Governors Offices across the country. We have short attention spans when it comes to who we choose (or don't choose via not voting) to lead us. This pattern has always been cyclical in nature and should come as no shock to folks who have studied politics, even passingly during the past half century or so.

The midterm elections of 2014 turned out to be yet another example of just how fickle the American electorate can be. We have a sitting President, who by all objective and non-partisan measures has done a fine job stewarding the country through the worst economic recession in half a century. Of course, we still aren't where we need to be, there is no denying that and no pro-Obama spin that can erode that fact. We have a President, though far from flawless, that signed into the law the most comprehensive piece of legislation regarding our health care system since Medicare (among many other accomplishments) that was deemed persona non-grata by his own party. Across the country, Democratic candidates for Governor, the Senate, and the House all ran from President Obama as if he were OJ Simpson circa 1994.

That political strategy, however damaging, still doesn't compare to what really was the undoing of the Democratic Party and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The Democrats ran on a platform of nothing. If you aren't going to embrace the record of the sitting, twice overwhelmingly elected President, you'd better be able to articulate exactly what your agenda is, how your public policy differs with the President, and how you plan to spend your political capital if elected. In the absence of this, how can one reasonably expect voters to show up at the polls to support you when you have offered them nothing that appeals to their concerns? Apathy (by politicians and the body politic) is what handed control of the Legislative Branch to the Republican Party. Democrats have no one to blame except for themselves.

What happened to the diverse coalition of folks across the country that united to send a young, charismatic, brilliant Senator from Illinois to the White House? They stayed home. Disillusioned by a President that has had his message of "hope and change" thwarted. Undone by policy failures, GOP obstructionism, global/domestic crises (some self-inflicted), and a coalition that forgot about hope and change the day after election day 2008 only to pick it up again (with much lesser enthusiasm) the day before election day 2012, only to forget about it again once we ensured that there would be no President Mitt Romney. We all remember the feelings that engulfed us the day that Barack Obama was elected in 2008. It was a victory for the people, by the people. Barack Obama represented the hopes and dreams of all the folks that had largely been excluded from participation in our democracy. We had arrived (or so we thought).

However, we forgot that hope and change was never going to be possible in a divisive, hyper-partisan, broken town like Washington D.C. We needed to be persistent. Democrats needed to follow through. We all failed. We failed to remember the general principle that progressive political change requires participation and pressure. That hasn't and won't ever end on Election Day. The Democratic Party failed to sustain that energy, folks stayed home, and now we find ourselves with an even more divided government, a President who is essentially a lame-duck midway through his second term, and millions of the same folks who were on the hope and change bandwagon saying that they are "ready for Hillary." If only we could focus on real change for longer than it takes for a cheaply made Obama 08 t-shirt to fade, perhaps we would actually see some. If only we had leaders who listen to our concerns (rather than pander to us), hear us, and don't take our votes (or non-votes) for granted. We vote in Presidential elections because it's sexy and grabs our attention. We ignore the local races that affect the resources our children have at their school, the way our property tax dollars are spent, who gets to serve as police chief in communities where Young Black men are walking targets, so on and so forth. We stay home for that and these folks know it. Hence, why they continue to ignore us and once-elected take care of those who look and think just like them.

Regrettably, the age of Obama is coming to an end with a cloud of "what might have been." What might have been had we supported the man beyond just a campaign season. What might have been had he spent his political capital more effectively? What could have been if we, as an electorate could focus on actual public policy rather than the shiny political red herring that grabs our attention yet degrades our capacity to influence policy through a sustained effort to lull us to sleep? We'll never know. The good thing is that 2016 is a mere two years away and we get to try again to build a comprehensive grassroots movement for progressive change. In the interim, let's hold our elected officials' feet to the fire, make sure they are accountable, and always remember that they (Democrat, Republican, etc.) work for us. Godspeed, comrades.

© Copyright 2014, Charles Fox, Jr.
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