The mid-terms: pessimism to optimism to hanging on for dear life

This week’s inflation numbers were a cold splash of reality to many who had, over the summer, become more optimistic about Democrats’ ability to hold onto Congress. At least, not lose the Senate. After all, the Biden Administration has put together a substantial list of accomplishments in the last 22 months. Gas prices were coming down, and that seemed to augur a cooling of inflation in other sectors. The Dobbs decision provoked an abortion defense in red Kansas, holding a promise that women would be energized in November. And Joe Biden no longer projected “Sleepy Joe.”

Still, on the very day he was celebrating passage of the optimistically-named “Inflation Reduction Act,” the Consumer Price Index Report announced the inflation rate holding stubbornly to 8.3 percent over the same time last year. Worse, the regional inflation rates in populous counties in Arizona, Georgia and Florida were significantly higher! And, while the national average gas costs have indeed gone down from more than $5 to $3-something, they are holding higher in California and battleground states like Nevada and Arizona.

Inflation was one of the few news stories (along with recent successes by Ukrainian forces) to pierce the wall-to-wall coverage of the death of the world’s longest reigning monarch. With the CPI report stoking expectations of another round of significant Fed rate hikes, hearts sank, and so did the stock market. The media ran wild with this dispiriting news. Never mind that, according to Robert Kuttner and others, when you look at the month-to-month trend since June, inflation is actually subsiding!

We know the economy is cyclical, and there’s still uncertainty where it will be in November. Public opinion polls over the summer indicated brighter prospects for the Democrats in the mid-terms. People, analysts averred, were warming both to Joe Biden and the Democrats, and the predictions for losing control of the legislative branch overwhelmingly were less dire. Of late, however, we are urged to remember how “off” the 2020 polls were, with far less support for Biden in states like North Carolina, Wisconsin and Ohio than the surveys indicated. Sampling biases identified have not yet been corrected. The bottom line? Forget about the polls.

What is absolutely certain are the existential issues at stake on November 1: voting rights and the endurance of our democracy and personal freedom – every woman’s right to control her own body.

The survival of democracy may seem abstract, but there’s every indication that, if the Republicans regain control of Congress, they will expand their assaults on voting rights and do their best to pave the way for a post-2024 authoritarian white Christian nationalist agenda.

There is nothing abstract about reproductive health and the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. The issue has become more urgent even in blue states with S.C. Senator Lindsey Graham’s new bill to impose a federal ban on abortions after 15 weeks. As the bumper sticker says, “Roe, Roe, Roe Your Vote.” What we don’t know is whether that urgency will energize and sustain voters over the next 49 days or if it will be trumped by the economy after all.

So there’s plenty of reason for depression. As we also gear up for another possible fall Covid surge and a worse-than-usual flu season, folks are weary, sad or just tuned out, more likely to sit on the sidelines. A sampling of focus groups is particularly dispiriting. Young voters especially were found to be ignorant of the issues and disengaged.

A psychotherapist friend shared the cognitive behavioral therapy perspective. “If we feel depressed, we need to examine what version of the story we are telling ourselves.”  While she concedes that sometimes the darkest interpretation is the truest, we shouldn’t insist on only the bleakest versions.  This, she reminds us, will deplete us and keep us from seeing where we might have more to say about how our lives evolve.

In short, don’t give in to “hope fatigue.” We need to reassert our sense of agency. Now, in this political environment, it means identify the close races in swing states where we might have a positive impact. How? Join postcard writing campaigns, sign up for phone banks, or send strategically smart donations.

It’s helpful to focus on races that are winnable (forget about trying to unseat Marjorie Taylor Greene) and not in overwhelmingly blue states with already cash-rich campaigns. Logical regional candidates to support include Senator Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire and Congressman Jared Golden in Maine’s second district.

We are deluged with appeals to support candidates in Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan and Texas. Most of us don’t have time to parse and winnow the best targets outside some Senate and Congressional races. For this, we can look to organizing groups that evaluate where our efforts can best be directed. (The Democratic Party isn’t one of them because it’s too reflexive and less discerning.)

This is no ordinary midterm election. But to take advantage of “black swan” circumstances will require wise moves on multiple fronts.

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