We are currently just under three months from the mid-term elections. The unemployment level (which I am painfully aware of) hovers around 9.5 percent. States across the nation are dealing with budget crises and a lack of adequate funding for such necessities as emergency rooms, teachers, police officers, youth centers, elderly services, mental health services, etc. In short: there is a plethora of very serious issues to discuss and debate in this election season.
Instead of the debates we need, however, we once again find ourselves in a time where folks are getting, as President Obama once put it, "wee wee'd up." Rather than focusing on plans for economic survival and revival, rather than discussing whether the Democrats should be allowed another two years to turn this ship around, rather than debating over whether it was Republican policies that have led us to this low point in the first place, we are arguing about an Islamic mosque in New York.
Or, as I see it, we are arguing about this year's gay marriage.
It seems to me that whenever the Republican forces are short on ideas for policy, there is always some hot-button cultural issue that they can create a buzz around and exploit for electoral gain. Yes, there are plenty of decent, non-xenophobic New Yorkers who still have pause at the thought of a mosque being built near Ground Zero; I do not agree with their sentiment, bu I was not living in New York in 2001, and I mercifully did not lose anyone. I will recognize that those who were there, who did lose loved ones, may have a very different, more visceral response to this issue.
Yet, when politicians like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and Mike Huckabee - all potential candidates for the GOP presidential ticket in 2012 - start stoking the fires by proclaiming that building a mosque near Ground Zero is tantamount to the victorious terrorists planting their flag at the heart of their American carnage, it seems that we're losing the plot. Even though we're nearly a decade removed from the 9/11 attacks, the memories are still fresh, and anything that brings those memories back to the surface is certainly going to dominate the conversation.
Which is exactly what the Republicans want. Beyond platitudes of restoring the economy or wanting to repeal the health care legislation of earlier this year, the GOP has not given any specific prescriptions of how they would govern more effectively than the Democrats. The GOP has not conceded that their legislation during the Bush Administration may have contributed to the economic meltdown we've been dealing with, and they certainly are not suggesting that they would do anything different to prevent that sort of calamity from repeating itself.
Of course, that doesn't really matter. What matters is that the GOP whips up enough of its base, and enough independent voters, into thinking that the Democrats are weak on national defense, and that President Obama will roll over and let terrorist sympathizers march in and own a piece of lower Manhattan. This is what will drive voters to the polls. And by working the hot-button, emotional issue, the Republican party once again distracts from the substantive issues, and the nation is once again deprived of the debates we could truly benefit from having.