Living in Society

What We Value Persists Beyond Elections

Winterbor kale picked on Oct. 2, 2022.

The Nov. 8 midterm election will be here before we know it. What then?

What we value persists beyond elections. Voters I know pick their politicians based solely on their position on abortion. Right next to that in importance is same-sex marriage. Other issues are deemed less important or not worthy of consideration. If a politician is anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage, half the electorate finds that to be sufficient qualification to earn a vote and serve in elected office.

In rural Iowa there is more to living in society than any single issue. Unlike members of the Congress, we aren’t in a constant state of campaigning. There are cultural nuances in the places we chose to live. We view those with whom we interact as people first and that makes rural life tolerable for most.

Several years ago, I volunteered with a group that served the needs of older members of society. Almost everyone from the community volunteered in some way. It was almost expected. Unless one knew the politics of another person among volunteers, the topic almost never came up in conversation. It was avoided. Our politics were something held private and kept from social discourse. Such restraint was a form of glue that held the organization together. That organization and others like it accomplished and continue to accomplish good work.

As we head into the midterms, candidates are focusing a message on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that overturned Roe v. Wade this year. The issue resonates because while we once had legal precedent that was settled law, with President Trump’s three appointees to the high court, we discovered it wasn’t as settled as we thought. Whether that is a winning issue for politicians, I don’t know. However, the ground shifted below us, requiring us to re-invent all the terms of Roe, something that may or may not be possible. It is, however, a political mess with real life consequences.

A focus on Dobbs, the case that overturned Roe, does injustice to everything else we value. Where is the role in our politics for addressing environmental issues? What about economic issues like the concentration of wealth among a small percent of the population and the damage that does? What about corruption in our politics without proper limits on campaign contributions? What about our inability to enable residents of our state to access needed health care? If we talk mostly about Dobbs during the remaining days of the election cycle, these issues and more get relegated to the back burner.

I guess we’ll just have to pick them up again after the election because they won’t resolve by themselves.

On Saturday former president Jimmy Carter celebrated his 98th birthday with a parade in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. I had no dog in the 1976 campaign that elected him president. I was serving in the U.S. Army in Germany and felt that with Nixon gone, the electorate should have free reign to either keep Gerald Ford or pick someone else. I feel Carter was unjustly criticized during his administration.

However, I broke with Carter after his July 15, 1979 speech, known as the “malaise speech,” in which he said, “The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.” I couldn’t abide by that and caucused for Ted Kennedy at the 1980 Iowa caucuses.

In his concession speech at the Democratic National Convention, Kennedy said, speaking of Ronald Reagan,

The great adventures which our opponents offer is a voyage into the past. Progress is our heritage, not theirs. What is right for us as Democrats is also the right way for Democrats to win. The commitment I seek is not to outworn views but to old values that will never wear out. Programs may sometimes become obsolete, but the ideal of fairness always endures. Circumstances may change, but the work of compassion must continue. It is surely correct that we cannot solve problems by throwing money at them, but it is also correct that we dare not throw out our national problems onto a scrap heap of inattention and indifference. The poor may be out of political fashion, but they are not without human needs. The middle class may be angry, but they have not lost the dream that all Americans can advance together.

Ted Kennedy, Aug. 12, 1980

Protecting women from the intervention of politicians in their health care is important. It is also an issue precipitated by Democratic failure to adequately support Hillary Clinton during the 2016 general election. This failure enabled Trump’s three Supreme Court picks.

What are the values that bring communities together? A right to self-determination is one of them yet there are more. As we head into the midterm elections, we would do well to recall what Kennedy said at the end of his speech, “For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

I hope Kennedy was right.

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