Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post wrote a post called "Tough Love for Obama." It's a quick read.
I spent a fascinating evening last week listening via video hookup to focus groups, 30 women in all, in three battleground states: Pennsylvania, Missouri and Colorado. These were, literally, Wal-Mart shoppers -- the retail giant sponsored the discussions -- screened to exclude committed partisans of the left or right and split evenly between 2008 supporters of Obama and John McCain.
They were asked about all levels of government. With regard to the president, Marcus writes:
"I feel sorry for him," said one woman at the first focus group, in suburban Philadelphia.
"I do, too," interjected another.
"It's a tough job to take on," said a third. "I really don't think who I voted for would have made a difference. The economy was in an unstable condition when he came in."
In St. Louis, a McCain voter put it this way: "Poor Obama comes in and people expected him just to fix it all. People expected too much."
Realistic in that we all know our country has deep, longstanding problems and a weak economy that seems to have lost its bearing. At the same time, women interviewed had strong, negative opinions about Congress, ranging from feeling like the partisan bickering was all too reminiscent of squabbly kids who couldn't work out their problems, to being afraid that the pace of change was too much, too fast. What came across most clearly was an exasperation with members of Congress:
"They don't go to the grocery store. They don't know how to balance their own budgets." Reactions to Sarah Palin were equally strong. "Joke," one woman said. Another rolled her eyes.
This makes me a little sad, because if nothing else, this year for the first time, side by side with the usual stabby feelings for the poseurs and do-nothings there (heh), I've actually felt a strong connection to my representatives in Congress, and to publicly elected officials who aren't even from my state. I've actually felt that someone out there is listening to me, trying to put more money in my pocket, trying to make sure it's not just me going up against a giant, faceless, greedy insurance company that really doesn't care about my health, or wondering if that bank overdraft fee was really justified or my credit card interest rate didn't suddenly unfairly balloon to an exorbitant 29% just because I might've filed away the complicated terms and agreement sheet somewhere. My kid is far too young for college, but I'm glad there's no longer a bankster middleman in between a college student and her student loan. (Wish I'd had that, but my kid will.)
See, of the women who shop at Wal-Mart who are moms, I feel you. Someone has to get the kids fed, get their homework done, make sure they get to their pediatrician and dentist appointments (if you're so lucky as to have these benefits). Someone has to make sure they have enough clean sweat socks for soccer practice. It's you and I who plan the birthday parties and make sure the holidays are special. Who remembers if one kid likes raspberry jam without the seeds, or the crunchy peanut butter, else the sandwich doesn't get eaten? It's you, and me. We are singing the lullabies every night, and in February, wondering what to do with our kids during the summer when school's out. Or crossing our fingers during spring college acceptance season. We are the ones racing at unsafe speeds in our cars to pick up the kids from daycare, or you get charged an unholy sum per minute for being late.
Oh yes. I feel you. There are just not enough hours in the day.
I never felt so cocooned from the world as when I worked in an office in a 9-5 job that was 45 minutes away (in good traffic) from my house each way. Of my 14-16 waking hours, 10-12 belonged to someone else and there were times I barely saw my kid for two hours out of the day.
So I understand if there's no time to register anything but the broadest strokes of current events gleaned from the tv or a headline. I've been in that cocoon, with hardly time to breathe.
But I do want to show you why I believe there are good people in Congress, and how they are actually making changes that are improvements in not just my life, but for a broad swath of Americans.
Some favorite moments from the past year:
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) outlining why health insurance reform benefits women:
Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) giving another senator a quick reason why maternity care should be part of health insurance reform:
Senator Al Franken (D-MN) introducing an amendment which successfully protects the rights of women who work for military contractors overseas, ensuring they can sue their employers if subjected to sexual harassment, rape, assault/battery on the job:
President Obama (D) and the many lawmakers, men and women, who enabled him to make his first piece of legislation to sign in the Oval office the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act:
Lily Ledbetter herself, who definitely GETS IT, explaining why the Paycheck Fairness Act is still needed:
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) who spoke in support of the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (which passed) and urged passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which has yet to pass:
So you see, on two things that are hugely important to my family--our physical health as well as financial health--I see the work that's being done in Congress in the House and Senate. It's helping me and millions of others. If, knock on wood, I were to come down with a debilitating chronic disease, it would be against the law for my health insurer to drop me. Children with pre-existing conditions cannot be dropped or excluded from coverage.
I could list dozens more Congresspeople who have worked so hard to pass 290 laws in this past legislative session that the Senate, a select group of 100 ruled by a small group of 40 naysayers, has been unable to move forward. Should 40 people, all of whom have deluxe health and pension benefits thanks to American taxpayers, be able to stifle progress for the rest of the country? I don't think so.
Why hasn't the recent Defense Authorization bill been able to pass? It isn't just the flashy social issue items attached that the group of 34 said no to. It was all kinds of other things, most of them directly benefiting current members of the military as well as recently returned veterans.
There is bickering. But I hope you also see who is trying to solve problems and who is not.
Wherever we shop, we moms may be overscheduled and overworked, and women without kids likewise absorbed in career and other commitments, but we haven't lost our minds and we certainly aren't stupid. Now's our chance to hire people who'll really advocate for us, and fire those who won't; decide who's been busy making laws that help women and their families, and who's been busy just showboating. I think it's clear we can see good results from Congress, and with strong input from women who GET IT. We just need more.
Cynematic wrote this post while also planning Walk to School Day at her kid's school and his birthday party two months away. You know what I'm saying. She blogs at P i l l o w b o o k.