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What 'War on Women'?
By Mark Hyman
Since the 2012 presidential election, I have traveled to dozens of cities throughout the country. At each stop I’ve moderated a television town hall in front of a live audience on a topic of interest to each local community. I often ask the same questions about the concerns of my audiences. It’s unscientific. It’s imprecise. It’s anecdotal. Yet, I think it gives some insight into what is on the mind of the public in the cities I have visited.
Not one time has anyone from among the nearly 8,000 people I have come across mentioned a “war on women” as an issue troubling them.
The topics for “Your Voice Your Future,” the live TV town halls I moderate, are varied. At each stop, the live audience questions a panel on issues such as casino gambling, same-sex marriage, guns, healthcare, education, care of veterans, and the list goes on.
The issue may be driven by a ballot measure, figure into a close election, or address a recent, and sometimes tragic, event. There is something quaint about a town hall. The format is older than the Republic. The public assembles to grill public officials. Unlike the products produced by some of the cable news channels, the “Your Voice Your Future” town halls don’t screen guests or approve questions in advance. These audiences and their questions are completely unscripted. They truly represent what’s on the mind of the audience members.
In the hour or so I walk through the audience before we go live, I ask what issues trouble them most. Without question, jobs and the economy lead every other issue by a wide margin. It is the pocketbook issues that resonate. People are looking for ways to improve their families’ well-being. Some want a better job. Others merely want a job. Any job.
I have heard countless stories of people looking for full-time work with benefits: healthcare insurance, a retirement program and paid vacation. There are a lot of people looking for full-time work. According to the September jobs report issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 9.3 million Americans are currently unemployed.
The unemployment situation is actually more dire than that figure. About 92.6 million Americans — or nearly ten times as many as those officially classified as unemployed — are considered “not in the labor force.” This is a BLS category that presupposes many of the long-term unemployed no longer wish to get a job. I have met quite a few who fall into the “not in the labor force category.” They all tell me they want a
Still, the September jobs report claims the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.9 percent, which is about two points lower than it was just prior to the 2012 presidential election. Now that the official unemployment rate has dipped below six percent, much of the news media figures the unemployment situation is resolved and has moved on to promoting the “war on women” and similar political narratives.
According to the Cook Political Report, subject matter addressed in television political ads more often than jobs and the economy include energy, environment, immigration, Medicare and Obamacare. Political consultants and strategists say one thing. The public continues to say another.
This is representative of something else I have heard while crisscrossing America, an opinion I have heard from audiences countless times: Government at every level — federal, state and local — has stopped listening to the people. I heard this frustration voiced in cities as big as Seattle and communities as small as Johnstown, Pennsylvania. It’s been voiced on each coast from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. It is the same frustration in deep blue Maryland as it is in reliably red Alabama.
This opinion is not just a matter of Washington, D.C. politicians marching to their own drummer. Pick your state capital or city council chamber, and ask the voters what they think. Very few are pleased with what they see. I have gotten the sense that 2014 could be the year in which “none of the above” would actually get the majority vote in many elections.
The only division I have witnessed is when the names of elected officials or political parties are introduced into the discussion. The public that is nearly unanimous in the opinion that government is no longer listening to the people often takes sides and defends the behavior of “their” politician or political party. Politics still play a heavy role.
I do not expect the 2014 midterm elections to be any watershed moment. The election results may be close regarding which party controls the U.S. Senate. It could come down to an expected December runoff election for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana. Regardless of which party controls which chamber in Congress, I anticipate there will generally be more of the same: quarreling in Washington while families find ways to make do with less.
I suspect the biggest outcome from the first Tuesday in November will be teeing up the bigger battle ahead in 2016. The question is whether a majority of voters two years from now will have reached the point that they believe voting for status quo politicians is no longer acceptable. Next month’s election may give us an inkling.
* This column was originally published in the mid-term election issue of American CurrenSee on October 25, 2014.
“I am not a consensus politician. I am a conviction politician." -- Margaret Thatcher
This often muddied plot of ground is the designated "Free Speech Zone" for students attending the University of Hawaii at Hilo. It is the subject of a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state university's speech restrictions.