Three Senate candidates spent an hour debating policy issues before a small but engrossed audience a week before the midterm elections. Incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu faced Republican Dr. Bill Cassidy and Tea Party candidate Rob Maness. This took place in the very journalism building I frequent daily -- LSU's Holliday Forum was transformed for political pundits. I watched from afar (via livestream) and could watch no more after ten minutes. I knew my state was largely close-minded, but I began to wonder if my vote could counter a vast sea of unchallenged and self-centered beliefs.
As a Political Communications major and a political junkie, I've adjusted my expectations for debates. Debates become opportunities to fill in last-minute talking points and some jabs at fellow candidates. Debates do not help you decide who to vote for -- they reaffirm your belief in the candidate you've already chosen.
So, who was I going to vote for?
I thought I knew before the debate, but hearing the candidates discuss different issues made me question whether I should vote at all. Voting is not easy, especially if you inspect the semantics of policy issues. An hour is not enough to discuss feasible and appealing options for health care reform, let alone the gamut of issues that face our state.
Senator Landrieu is a seasoned senator facing the serious challenge of being a Democrat who supported Obamacare in a solid red state. Bill Cassidy is Republican and doesn't like Obamacare... and for how much he faulted Obamacare during the debate, I gathered that this is his main talking point and criticism against Landrieu. I'm going to go ahead and describe Maness with the following: he wants to deport all undocumented immigrants while suggesting companies "drill, baby, drill" through our coast and slurp oil like Daniel Day Lewis.
Louisiana's race has been one of the "races to watch" this election season, and who is elected says a great deal about the desires of our state. Louisiana is certainly a conservative state, but that doesn't necessarily mean a Democratic candidate can't be elected. Landrieu has moderate policies under the Democrat moniker (though some would disagree, I urge you to consider the entire American political spectrum before screaming socialist), and I would argue that Cassidy is relatively moderate as well.
Both candidates are doing what they think will win over their base and turn out voters. Fair enough. I can imagine either getting elected.
Our state is poor but conservative, meaning how to address the state's economy and social state is somewhat governed by the fact that a lot of people need social aid. Frustratingly enough, Louisianans often don't consider the economic history and development of the state when creating today's policies, including Reconstruction, the fall of an agrarian economy, a lacking educational structure and the fact that black Louisianans were never wholly incorporated into the economy.
Yet there is this popular fallacy in South Louisiana that when you start paying taxes yourself, you'll vote Republican in your financial interest. This idea implies that when you have a substantial income, you become a selfish individual and want to keep most of this money for yourself. (Though selfish tends to have a negative connotation, I merely mean that you are valuing your self-interest over others, perhaps for protectionist reasons.)
Then should I give it all away to undeserving individuals? That is the opposing extreme in the binary dichotomy of the Republican/Democrat system. And no, Libertarian does not necessarily stray too far from this as an economically neoliberal yet socially liberal party.
I'm sorry, how exactly is anyone expected to vote in this system?
All three Senators have questionable immigration policies, a commitment to letting our coastline wash into the Gulf in order to "create jobs", and support the state's unconstitutional ban on gay marriage.
Perhaps I'm "too liberal for Louisiana" as a Twitter follower suggested. I'd agree that I don't fit into the narrowly conservative political spectrum of Louisiana's electorate, but I don't think I'm too liberal for this state. In fact, I really care about Louisiana and its people -- which is why I'm concerned about their access to adequate health care, education and income. Do I think that Louisiana's economy will be saved by oil and gas jobs and keeping out "illegals"? I think that would create a short-term unsustainable system that would destroy habitats and homes for a quick buck. I think allowing a deer to cross a border fence without papers and not a human being is ludicrous, especially considering that white Americans conveniently settled the Southwest without any papers. I also think this state's ideas on gay marriage and sexuality in general are unabashedly narrow-minded and faultily supported by misread religious text. I understand that a majority of Louisianans are white heterosexual Christians, and these policies reinforce their beliefs, but I'm not. And I live here too. I can say firsthand that these policies will hurt Louisianans, as will rejecting a federal Medicaid expansion and continually privatizing public schools.
Now don't get me wrong: I am understanding of the reality that Landrieu is running in a staunchly conservative state, socially if not fiscally as well. And it's tough. Although I didn't agree with everything she said, I think she handled the difficult debate questions as best she could. If nothing else, Landrieu is at least more sympathetic with her voting record than with statements in the final push to get Louisianans to the polls. It's politics; I'll be the first to admit it.
I don't know what to make of the fact that my home state is probably going to a runoff because a Tea Party candidate stole votes from someone whose platform is essentially "Hi, I'm a Republican, and I don't like Obamacare."
Does it matter? College politics seem reserved to a few poli sci geeks and the "Greeks for Romney" group who vote along the party lines of their parents.
But I do think votes matter. Political expression matters. And though there were still limited views at the debate, it is a reflection of the Louisiana electorate's narrow political spectrum. Honestly, I don't care who you vote for as long as you can defend your choice -- and you don't just blindly follow your parents. I know that there is more to Louisiana than an unflinching disdain for Obamacare, and that is what I hope to see turn out November 4 and beyond.