According to Public Policy Polling (PPP), the latest poll in Colorado’s hotly contested Senate race shows Republican nominee Ken Buck leading Michael Bennet, the incumbent Democrat, by a mere one percentage point. With all my heart I wish I were a registered Coloradan voter and could cast my hat in the ring for Bennet. Though by no means a perfect candidate, he supports the issues I care most about (women’s reproductive rights, GLBT rights, environmental impact, and education reform [as former superintendent of Denver public schools, he is particularly well-suited to addressing the ever-growing gap between “rich” and “poor” public schools]). Here’s the rub: this election season’s deciding factor, across the country, will not be any one social issue, it will be fiscal policy.
Colorado is a strange state, unpredictable and often described as a bellwether in terms of predicting the overall political mood of the country. When upstart Ken Buck displaced RNC-backed Jane Norton in the Republican primary, Democrats everywhere rejoiced, thinking he would be a more malleable opponent than Norton. Time suggested, “The Democrats in the Kentucky, Nevada and Colorado races now have the opportunity to so demonize the Republican nominees, based on their extreme issue positions and unartful statements, that they are rendered unelectable.” Unfortunately, the opposite has been true. Buck has seized the reins of the Tea Party madness sweeping Colorado (which held a separate Libertarian primary for the first time ever this year), and no one seems to give a damn about his stances on social issues.
To get an idea of what Buck believes, here’s a sampling of quotes from primary and general elections:
On Social Security: “I don’t know whether it’s constitutional or not”¦ it’s certainly a horrible policy.”
On abortion: “I am pro-life”¦I don’t believe in the exceptions of rape or incest.”
On climate change: “Sen. Inhofe [OK] was the first person to stand up and say this global warming is the greatest hoax that has been perpetrated. The evidence just keeps supporting his view”¦”
On GLBT issues: “I think that birth has an influence over [being gay], like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that, basically, you have a choice.”
Addressing a crowd in Fort Collins that was displeased with his remarks about GLBT people, Buck said, “Let’s just stay focused on economic issues for the next 13 days.” That is exactly how he is, more than likely, going to win this election: by directing the conversation to fiscal policy and hoping everyone ignores his steady stream of gaffes.
It is a given that our country is mired in a deep economic crisis. Both parties now bear the responsibility of continually re-assessing our nation’s expenditures and revenue sources, and finding creative ways to revive our economy. (Hint: simply cutting personal federal income tax or eliminating entire departments of the government is harmful and un-creative). However, this doesn’t nullify the simultaneous need to continue pursuing progressive agendas. It’s a real shame that independent voters, among whom Buck leads 50 to 46, are apparently shrugging off his extremely conservative views on the most important social issues of our time.
In fairness, Buck has back–pedaled and qualified each of the above statements (well, all but the global warming one). But it appears that it wouldn’t matter if he had just let his original opinions stand. The conservative, right-wing element loves him all the more for his regressive stances, true liberals would never vote for him anyway, and the all-important moderates are distracted by the looming unemployment rate. Buck has managed to play all points of the political spectrum perfectly.
While the thought of America’s decline in the global economy frightens me, the fact that so many constituents seem more than willing to sacrifice hard-won rights at the altar of a possible short-term economic recovery is far more frightening. Our government is more than the captain of the economy; it also dictates whom we can marry, what women can do with their wombs, whether low-income children will get a good education, and whether or not we swing the pendulum from fuel-dependency to clean, renewable energy. And the reality is that, in addition to determining how we live our day-to-day lives right now, political decisions regarding these hot-button social issues will have a profound effect on America’s future economy, one way or another. Is the promise of an immediate tax break or the rarely elaborated “reduced government spending” really worth sacrificing particular, important freedoms?
At this point, I can’t do much more than cross my fingers and hope that sanity prevails and Bennet catches a much-needed break today. I wish him all the best.