As an American living abroad I have a confession to make. I did not vote in the mid-term elections. My absentee ballot was sent to my old address in Barcelona, and to be honest with you, I didn’t even realize the mistake until a week before elections- too short a time for Oklahoma electoral snail mail to make any last minute changes. Oh, and I also passed up watch parties, expat dinners, friendly gatherings and even monitoring results on twitter. I didn’t refresh MSNBC.com or CNN.com constantly. I merely looked at a few pretty info-graphics on various foreign and domestic news sites the day after.
My excuse isn’t distance because this isn’t the first election I’ve spent away from home. In 2008 I did indeed vote and I did indeed stay up until the wee hours of the morning with red-rimmed eyes and my finger on the refresh button as Barack Obama won the Presidency. In fact, I consider myself a proud voter. Since I turned 18 I have never missed an election and still carry my voter identification card around with me. However, this year my attitude was what some in Spain might describe as sin ganas– halfhearted. I was surprised by my disinterest and now, after a week of reflection, reading media reactions, hearing acceptance speeches I’ve realized that my apathy stems from two places.
First, fear- but not the code-red-homeland-security type, but more the bracing-for-a-five- car-pile-up kind. Even though I was more than 3,000 miles away I did not escape the volume of media banter that surrounded this election. All of it painted a very grim picture for American leftists, like myself. The weeks leading up to the election I was seeing more and more about the Tea Party and less and less about other, not crazy, candidates. The old publicity adage of all press is good press definitely worked in their favour as American and foreign media became obsessed with the movement’s radical theology. Their politics of anger, hate and blind ignorance made for much more colourful press. Figures now show that the Tea Party movement was not as powerful, nor popular as media coverage would suggest, but rather significantly inflated. A study by The Washington Post led them to conclude that the Tea Party was really just “a disparate band of vaguely connected gatherings that do surprisingly little to engage in the political process.” They went on to report, “In all, The Post identified more than 1,400 possible groups and was able to verify and reach 647 of them.”
Adding to the apprehension of election results was the fact that the four billion dollar campaign budget (the largest in mid-term history- what economic crisis?) came mostly from Republican supporters. Thankfully I was protected from television and radio smear ads but their influence on American society could be seen in election projections. Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg told NPR’s Michelle Noris that the House Elections were going to be a “bloodbath” for Democrats. The New York Times published “Predicting the Midterm Elections: A Freakonomics Quorum”in which almost all the political experts predicted a “wave election” where many seats once occupied by Democrats would be won by Republicans.
Based on overwhelming predictions of a phenomenal liberal loss to decidedly radical conservatives I just didn’t feel like watching something I already knew was going to happen. It’s kind of like when I used to go to Oklahoma State games with my dad and we would leave at the end of the third quarter to go warm up in the car because we knew they were in for a shellacking.
The second emotion contributing to my Election Day truancy was disillusionment. This election really was a breakthrough for women politicians. Historical governor races between two female candidates were taking place in New Mexico and my home state Oklahoma. The face of female politics didn’t just belong to Hilary anymore. They were organizing and were visibly political from the ground up. It was a clear change of scenery and should have been an exciting time for an American woman. I thought to myself: Finally, women are registering on the political radar, but why oh why do they have to be crazy radicals?! Five of the top ten of Forbes “The Top 25 Most Powerful Women Of The Midterm Elections” were Tea Party members. Mama Grizzley herself, Sarah Palin ranked number one. For me the label “feminist” is a good thing and something I proudly call myself. However, I was irritated by the fact that the conservative radical candidates were championing themselves as feminists. I understand that, ideologically, feminists differ across the board. However, there are founding beliefs that are shared among all women and men who tote this label. The Tea Party’s stance on abortion, women’s rights, healthcare and education contradict almost all modern feminist theory. Throughout their campaign they focused more on the economy and winning back America from the Obama regime more than anything directly female focused. For them to be the face of women in politics and an inspiration for women activists around the country saddens me and makes me long for the days of old, white men when at least the vision of women in politics was unrealized and thus untarnished.
Election winners haven’t even been sworn in yet and there is already buzz about 2012. Time will tell if by then I will have shaken this lethargy enough to track down my absentee ballot. But, I have a feeling it will have something to do with whether the new candidates are selling me optimism instead of anger and an emphasis on women’s issues rather than just a woman emphasizing an issue.