Ryan J. Suto's Blog

27 October 2010

Why Democrats will likely lose seats this Midterm, and that’s OK

So, many commentators have been rambling about how the Democrats will suffer genocide in DC this year at the hands of voters. Well, they’re probably right that the Democrats will lose seats. The question is, does that mean anything? Well, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t. With few exceptions, the president’s party loses seats in at least the House and often the Senate after his first midterm election.

That’s just how the American electorate operates. The one thing they hate more than Congress doing nothing is Congress doing too much. Americans are uncomfortable with any party having too much power.

Below is a chart showing how many seats the president’s party has lost during his first midterm elections.

W. Bush

You will notice that the ‘Republican Revolution’ in 1994 wasn’t all that impressive when viewed historically, and wasn’t as big as 1946 for the Republicans. Importantly, since then, Democrats have chipped away at the lead created that year, and took control of both Houses in 2006.

You’ll also notice that 2002 seems to be an important exception, and it certainly is. The only time a post-WWII president has gained seats in the House during his first midterm election conveniently took place just over a year after September 11, 2001. Coincidence? No. The nation was stirred into patriotism and stood behind the president, his party, and the military operations in Afghanistan occurring at the time.

What’s my point? Well, so what if the Democrats lose a few seats here and there. Knowing the collective and historic nature of the American electorate, one couldn’t expect anything else. Especially since the Democrats had big gains in both 2006 and 2008. It’s simply time for the pendulum to swing the other way. From a governance point of view, it may matter how many seats the Republicans pick up, but otherwise this year will simply be another reminder of how fickle the American voter can be.

Nonetheless, no matter who or what you support, go to the polls and vote.

1. Harry Truman took office after the death of Franklin Roosevelt. Since he took office in April of 1945 he had plenty of time before the next midterm elections of 1946. So the 1946 elections are counted here as his presidency’s first midterms elections.

2. Although Johnson took office in 1963 after the assassination of Kennedy, it was after Kennedy’s midterm elections. He was elected in his own right in 1964. As such, 1966 is counted here as his presidency’s first midterm elections.

3. Gerald Ford also took office on short notice. However, he took office in August of 1974, in time for a midterm election. As such, the 1974 elections are counted here as his presidency’s first midterms elections.

12 October 2010

5 Ways to Transition to the Cooling of the New Secular “Movement”

This isn’t a post on ‘Science v. Religion’ or ‘How Atheists should take over the World’ or anything like that. I merely offer 5 thoughts as to how those who wish to advance secular interests in America should do so in a sustainable way.

The rise in atheism in the public consciousness, called New Atheism, has begun to fade a bit, and has certainly had backlashes from all sides. The largely implicit goal of New Atheism is to combat, counter, and criticize religion wherever and whenever a reasonable argument exists. Indeed, I have felt an almost ‘witch hunt’ mentality in certain circles toward those who commit harm in the name of belief.  

However, in the zeal and bandwagon mentality of the ‘movement’, a sense of inclusiveness was lost.  During the Civil Rights era, the creation of white allies was important for the Southern Blacks to spread their message of freedom and equality. Secularists must do the same. By stopping the vilification of all who believe in a god or gods and by acting in accordance to secular values—which are often shared by both religious and nonreligious alike—seculars can work toward broadening the audience of their message.
To do this, I provide five guidelines below. Whether in person, on the internet, or in a book, one should be very careful how one presents one's self if identified as a non-theist.

1.      Don’t be aggressive, reactionary, or extremist

            Let’s face it, whether you call yourself an agnostic, an atheist, a secular, a humanist, a freethinker, a bright, etc. many Americans have stereotypes about non-theists. The best way to combat such stereotypes isn’t to lecture about how ‘A doesn’t necessarily imply B’, or how ‘morality and religion have nothing to do with each other’, or anything else that’ll take more than a few breaths or Twitter updates. No, the best way is simply to not exemplify such stereotypes.

Don’t present radically different ideals or solutions and don’t perpetuate what others may think of you.

2.      Don’t attack faith or belief directly

            In the U.S. today, a vast majority of Americans consider faith in something ‘greater than oneself’ to be an important part of a good person. Such strong beliefs can’t be knocked-off directly. I’m sorry to report it, but people simply aren’t wired to give up years of values for a good rational argument.

Regardless of how dangerous you think they are, try to avoid criticizing faith or belief directly.

3.      Don’t try to convince others of your ‘rightness’

            Even if you could reduce your argument to mathematical clarity and certainty, some people won’t agree with you simply because they don’t want to. Again, dissonance theory shows that people simply aren’t wired to DEAR (drop everything and reason).

Trying to prove yourself right—or worse, someone else wrong—will simply alienate much of your audience.

4.      Highlight agreement and use human illustrations

            Remember, secularism is simply the removal of religious influence from non-religious life. Many religious people agree fully with these ideals. When defending your views, use concepts like fairness and freedom, and give examples of children who simply want to be treated the same way as everyone else, or some other illustration which rests on common humanity.

Most people want what’s best for America and for our children; remind them that you share such values.

5.      Become a part of the process

Debating in public forums can be great. Rallying supporters can give a boost to any group or idea. But, at the end of the day, the only people to directly decide the amount of religious influence in our laws and policy are lawyers and judges, politicians and their staff, and lobbyists. For secular positions to advance, seculars must seek employment in these fields and become the decision-makers they have long petitioned. Currently, I believe there is only one member of the House of Representatives that would identify as at least a non-theist, Pete Stark. This part of the change will be slow, but it will be most important.

Become involved in government and the decision-makers of our society directly.