n 2008 Barack Obama swept into the White House with a distinctive message of hope and change. Bringing with him the sense that America has finally started on a new direction, that the country was beginning on a path that would restore the country to greatness, we would finally reduce the national debt, and finally hold its head up high in the international arena. Four years later another election looms and this time through a series of ugly advertisements, bad debates, and a nation that is more in the dark than ever before that luster seems to have worn off considerably.
This year I decided to take a cross country trip, driving my GMC from Seattle in Washington State all the way to Baltimore in Maryland. Over the course of this journey I am discovering what a wonderfully diverse and full country we live in and more importantly how different the challenges are that people face in different parts of the country. Even from state to state, or within states, there are no two sets of challenges that are exactly the same. Washington itself is a prime example with the urbanized west side of the state being completely different from the more laid back and rural eastern portion of the state. It served as a powerful reminded why the founders of this country deeply understood the need for states to run their own affairs, with as little meddling as possible from the Federal Government. Sadly we are far away from those days.
In the course of this journey I had the opportunity to speak with many different people about the election. Not surprisingly most people are more concerned with their everyday life than they are about the shenanigans that are going on in Washington. While most of the people I spoke with had watched the debates, it was perfectly obvious that to a large swathe of the nation’s population their own jobs were far more important than the pontificating on stage. Each person had their own opinions and while I spoke to an equal number of supporters for Barack Obama as I did for Mitt Romney, there is a definite sense of betrayal in the air.
Kathryn Wood, who prefers to be called Katy, is a typical all American girl who was born and raised in Des Moines, Washington. She went to school there, dreaming of becoming an educator and eventually obtaining her degree to teach from Central University. Married now to a government officer, she is a stay at home mother to a beautiful one year old girl. She is definitely a Romney voter, and I asked her what issues were important to her, what made her a Romney voter, and why it was that Obama no longer sparked the same enthusiasm among younger voters like herself. This was what she had to say.
"I am voting for Romney because I hope his business savvy can help us get out of some debt and because I feel Obama hasn’t done a lot of what he said he would. I’m not saying that Romney will do all he is saying but we won’t know until he tries."
The more I asked her about it the more I realized that people like Katy feel a real sense of betrayal by Obama, and are looking to Mitt Romney to use the experiences he learned as a businessman to help reshape the American economic dynamic. When pressed, most people who lean towards Romney cite Obama’s challenges with keeping his promises on the economy, and Romney’s corporate experience as a reason why they should vote for the Governor.
Another issue that is important to someone like Katy is the “helping of the middle class”. Economically the middle class has been squeezed for a long time, but the prevailing feeling among people I spoke with is that the last four years have been unparalleled in their lack of caring for the middle class. Katy, for example, has taken to growing vegetables in her back garden because it is simply too expensive to constantly buy them on Ryan (her husband’s) state salary alone. This was another bone of contention for Katy, Ryan's government salary.
When I asked Katy why the budget was important to her personally –
“Because since we are so in debt, they keep taking money from where it needs to go for other things. What exactly they are spending it on, I couldn’t tell you but maybe they are paying higher salaries to the officials (and politicians). Even Ryan, can’t get paid a decent salary being that he is on the lower end. The Feds pay part of his salary”
The economy is personal in households like Ryan and Katy’s, it is not some calculation in the trillions of dollars that means virtually nothing. Like Bill Clinton likes to say, “its arithmetic”. Arithmetic that dictates purchasing milk or vegetables, not necessarily borrowing money from China.
I was specifically interested in her views on education, since as a trained teacher she could not find work consistently and was a stay at home mom. The question was why education in important to you as an educator and as a mom?
“Because I’ve been in the classrooms where they are too full of kids for a teacher to truly give them all what they need. Supplies are scarce and those with special needs do not have enough personnel to help them. Teachers truly are underpaid for all they do. Think about it, teachers spend summers off doing lesson plans for next year not just lying on the beach. Taking care of my own child has taught me how challenging it can be to educate and care for small children. I realize that Obama says good things about education, but actions speak louder than words and this is very important to me”
Education is a key component to our future, and from the mouth of an educator I heard that we are facing teacher shortages four years after Obama came to office. Supplies are still short and all the talk has translated to very little action in Eastern Washington, as it has in almost every part of the country.
But what about all this talk of taxes and who should pay more, who should pay less?
“It’s hard when you don’t make a ton of money and then are taxed on everything. So I guess whoever says they can help us out by not making it more difficult is the direction I want to go”.
Wait a minute, isn’t Obama promising to cut taxes on the middle class and raise them on the wealthy? Again Katy, now joined by her husband Ryan, reflected on the last four years and the fact that their situation has gotten worse not better since Obama took office. Ryan, who had just come off an all night shift with the agency, added that he agreed with everything Katy was saying on taxes but felt there was an additional issue that made him support Romney over Obama.
“It’s his defense and foreign policy. He (President Obama) is taking everything back yet giving money away to countries that are harboring terrorists. Obama’s handling of the attack on our embassy is another reason to vote for Romney”.
Syria too, it seems, is not far from the average voters mind and for people like Ryan, who plans to make a career in law enforcement, it was an appalling show of Americas fall from greatness.
As we enter the final straight in the run up to the election, people are spending more time thinking about what it means to vote and who they should be voting for. Engagement in politics is at an all time low because the citizens, from the many I spoke with, believe that politicians are self serving and will do whatever is in their own best interest once elected. For normal middle class folks, like Ryan and Katy, this election is more about one man who did not keep his promises and another who is making different promises. For now though, their concerns is more about getting their one year old to sleep through the night, than it is with the machinations of Washington DC.