Nation must be guided by humane purpose

Published 10:19 am Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

We’re a solid six months into the 2016 presidential campaign, and we don’t have a single primary to show for it. Between the candidates and ISIS dueling for headlines, other activities are garnering far less press. What is Speaker of the House Paul Ryan doing besides growing a beard? One has to search a little. Donald Trump and his coif alone have managed to claim a “yuge” share of the spotlight.

The candidates have already spent tons of money, and most of them are busy raising more. As of mid-October, they had accumulated about $260 million in their own campaign chests, of which Hillary Clinton had gathered over $77 million. Meanwhile, outside groups like leadership PACs, super PACs, and 501(c)(4) dark money sources had raised about $217 in support of specific candidates. A whopping $103 million of that trove backed Jeb Bush.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

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If the race were based on contributors’ favorites, Bush and Clinton would be the clear frontrunners. Clinton does have a decisive edge among Democrats. Bush, on the other hand, is polling in single digits on the Republican side, but he won’t be dislodged over a minor shortcoming like unpopularity.

It’s clear why Bush isn’t dropping out, but why are there at least 12 other Republican candidates still in the race? And why are the Democrats holding debates on Saturday nights when few people are likely to tune in?

Do you ever feel like the joke’s on us?

It seems like nine months should be more than enough time to meet the candidates, hear their platforms, vet them and make a choice. All the campaigning beyond that creates meaningless noise. It fuels the 24-hour news cycle and provides lots of advertising revenue to media outlets. It’s expensive, inefficient and doesn’t really serve the people or democracy.

Who is winning so far? It might be ISIS. Many candidates are inadvertently raising its profile in their attempts to show their foreign policy chops. As a result, ISIS is generating much more fear among Americans than it deserves to. Its ranks are mainly a bunch of radicalized young people without other opportunities who got their hands on a lot of weapons (many from the U.S.) and are terrorizing their countrymen.

ISIS’s leaders would like this to turn into a larger “clash of civilizations,” and lead their ranks to apocalyptic glory. Air raids and other attacks on ISIS, which seem muscular and decisive, must also be recognized as ISIS recruiting tools.

I understand why people, especially older Americans, are fearful of ISIS and anxious about the future. For example, a retirement crisis is looming. Nearly one-third of Americans 55 or older have no pension or retirement savings. It’s difficult to live on Social Security alone, and many will have to work beyond what is now considered “retirement age.” People may have also lost considerable assets in the foreclosure crisis, and jobs are not paying what they used to. Recovery may be impossible, and that is frightening.

These are among the common and serious economic problems facing people of all colors, sexes, political persuasions and religious backgrounds. Why aren’t these issues getting much more attention than ISIS? Why are some candidates turning entire groups of people like Muslims into suspicious “others”? Are these people really a bigger threat to our security and happiness than economic inequality is, or are they a convenient scapegoat?

Bobby Kennedy shared a message as fitting now as it was in 1968, during another time of turmoil: “We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions, the false distinctions among men, and learn to find our own advancement in search for the advancement of all. We must admit to ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortune of another’s. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled nor enriched by hatred or by revenge.

“Our lives on this planet are too short, the work to be done is too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in this land of ours. Of course we cannot vanish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

“But we can perhaps remember — if only for a time — that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek — as we do — nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can.”

We as Americans have faced much larger threats than ISIS, and we have weathered far more serious internal divisions and economic hardships. Though unlimited campaign cash and fear define too much of our politics, there is no good reason for us to unravel now.

Bobby Kennedy had it right. In these times — our times — we must be guided by humane purpose.


Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.