November 2nd is just around the corner, as if anyone could possibly miss it. With little less than a week to go to the apparently historic 2010 midterms, I am – like lots of Americans - completely caught up in the drama playing out in the States. Or, in some cases, the melodrama. Every day I read the latest articles posted on numerous web outlets, and even occasionally engage in some political give and take with Facebook friends in the US. I can’t seem to get enough of it.
I’ve never been so obsessed with a political race, except maybe the election two years ago that seemed to signal a real shift in US politics. Now it appears we’re on the verge of shifting back, which to me, as a partisan Democrat, is not a happy prospect.
Why the obsession with this particular race? The obvious answer is the race itself, which has the potential to be a truly monumental train wreck, thanks in large part to a surprising, and distressing, insurgent political movement that threatens to derail a promising Democratic agenda. I’m talking here, of course, about the Tea Party.
But my fixation also has to do with my circumstances at the moment. I’ve always been fairly interested in following US politics as much as possible, even sheltered here in faraway Finland. In the simpler world of the 90s, that meant reading slightly dated articles in Newsweek and listening to English-language programming on the radio. (I still recall giving my kids a bath while listening to NPR news about Newt Gingrich’s attempts to shut down the government.)
Now in the hyper-connected world of today, I have more opportunities to distract myself with political news than I can reasonably shake a stick at. Of course, what I’m still missing -– as “tuned in” as I might be today -- is the experience of actually being in the States and encountering the whole gamut of bumper stickers, placards, local news, and even face-to-face conversation. That said, I’m still able to follow politics in a way now that I never dreamt of 10-15 years ago.
And now I have more time. In the stereotype of a retired person, I have plenty of time on my hands to think about events outside my immediate day-to-day life. That can be a curse, of course, as well as a blessing -- if it is a blessing at all. Though I’m not retired (at least not yet, not intentionally), being momentarily out of work does allow me to indulge in the kind of political navel-gazing that before I would have had to squeeze in between making a living and raising a family. Until now, such free moments were always few and far between.
Having idle hands is something that I suspect I share with many of the Tea Partiers who are making this particular election so fascinating, and frankly so dismaying to me. The largest demographic of all those angry, angry folks currently dominating the political discourse in the States seems to be one of older, comfortably middle-class, white Americans. In short, people a lot like me. Many are probably also people who -- through retirement or unemployment -- have more than their share of opportunities to vent their frustrations.
It’s the Tea Partier’s many frustrations and grievances, real or imagined, that make up the life force of the movement. Personally, I don’t understand the reason for all that fear, anger and frustration, and I worry what it will lead to. It’s also what makes the hoopla about the midterm irresistible to watch, even from 4000 miles away. Next week we find out what it all means.