Thursday, July 28, 2011

500 blog posts: the challenges we still face

It's been a remarkable journey writing for this blog. Since 2009, I have posted 500 blog posts under the title of "Political Heat." It's been a pleasure doing so, and I look forward to writing another 500 -- or more.

I wanted to take the time on this occasion to say a few words about where we stand as a country, as a state, and as a people in general. We're living in some pretty exciting times, though they are very polarizing and upsetting as well. Whether you're a Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, independent, or anything else for that matter, one thing is for certain: people are upset with the way things are in our society.

Jobs remain a primary focus for many -- nearly 1 in 10 are without employment and are actively seeking it. In Wisconsin, we're fortunate that less are unemployed...yet it still is a significant problem, especially for parts of the state hit hardest by the economic downturn of 2008.

Economic disparity is also a significant issue. Within the last decade, after promises of "trickle down" from conservatives following the Bush tax cuts that mainly benefited the wealthy, the rest of the population is seeing hardly any benefits from those cuts. The top .01 percent of income earners took home 6 percent of all income earned in 2007, double what they took home in 2000; the top 10 percent took half the nation's income according to the same study. (Remember folks: that was in 2007, BEFORE the economic crash.)

The rest of the country, however, has shouldered the burden of this economic mess. While the top 1 percent has seen their incomes (adjusted for inflation) quadruple since 1980, the median income for Americans has actually shrank.

Our nation's deficits have taken center-stage as of late, and have really been more a primary focus for Republicans than jobs have been -- even though that party had campaigned incessantly on it to win their seats back in 2010. Still, the nation's debt is a topic that must be addressed, one that requires us to ask ourselves hard and important questions regarding our values. Do we lessen the debt by asking more of our downtrodden, of the poorest and less-to-do Americans? Do we ask the rich to make a sacrifice of their own, to pay more in taxes? Do we do a combination of the two? The current crisis in Washington centers around this debate. For what it's worth, the American public has already weighed in on the topic, determining that they want the rich and corporate elite to do their part in helping the nation at-large.

Social issues remain a challenge as well. As the country shifts towards one of acceptance, the fight for same-sex marriage will heat up in the coming years. States like New York, which recently legalized the practice, will face stark opposition from conservative forces within their boundaries. States like Wisconsin will face a tougher challenge: with a constitutional amendment preventing any form of recognition, and a State Supreme Court unwilling to recognize that that amendment was passed in an improper way, it will take nothing short of another constitutional amendment to rectify the matter -- a process that can take years (and two legislative terms at minimum) to carry out.

Racial issues continue to plague our nation. Specifically in Wisconsin, a voter ID bill passed that, immediately upon Gov. Walker's signature, disenfranchised thousands of Latinos and African Americans who lack a photo identification card (it also disenfranchised thousands of elderly, too). With the closure of several DMV's across the state -- not to mention the fact that a quarter of DMV's are only open one day out of the month -- access to obtaining an ID may hinder the voting process.

But as we look forward to these issues and others, we must always remember: we are equals, we are entitled to our opinions, and we are allowed to be passionate over them -- but we must never assume that our opinion alone is the sole one to take, and that any other is unworthy of debate. Some conservatives irk me to no end -- but they have a right to display their beliefs, to organize and to vote for whatever candidates they wish to field. The same holds true of the opposite: MOST conservatives would probably find my opinions to be the wrong ones to implement, but MOST of them would probably also support my right to hold them. It's the extremists on both sides, who have made debate (and more importantly compromise) impossible to carry out, that we have to concern ourselves with.

What matters most is the recognition that we are all equals in the debate, that we hold equal sway in the exchange of ideas. When we start to demonize each other, when we start to think of conservatives or liberals as "them" or "other," we start to lose focus on the foundations of our country. We weren't designed to be a single-party nation (we weren't designed to have parties at all); we were designed to incorporate, allow, and foster a multitude of ideas for the betterment of our country.

I say a lot of things about conservatives on this blog. But I've never said that conservatism needs to be banished. And I never will. In this spirit, I hope you'll read the next 500 blog posts I make with this thought in mind: we may argue, we may fight, we may even become visibly upset with one another -- but we are all one people, no matter what differences we may hold. As long as we respect each other, respect democratic rights that protect these rights for us, our nation will flourish for generations to come.

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