The ballot box has been emptied for the 2012 election in the United States. I have followed the presidential candidates and issues raised along this year’s campaign trail. The question of who shall lead and why, was at hand. Major party candidates offered limited choice and non-partisan platforms to draw upon voter interest, but did either party really serve the needs of Native American voters? Was 2012 an election that was embraced in Indian country or were registered Native American voters once again disaffected?
My statement on the 2012 election is that the absence of a major third party candidate on the ballots of all 50 states left the American voting public deprived of both non-formatted issues and answers. This lack of a high profile third party candidate led to the re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012.
For those Republican voters, the defeat of Mitt Romney came not because he was an inferior candidate (he was not) but because Governor Romney could not entice enough American voters to get off the couch and cast a vote for his agenda.
The successful candidacy of President Obama was not an immediate win for all of his voters either. Sure, Democrats will champion, for instance, the second presidential debate, as yet another election milestone on the way to victory. Yes, another embattled Democratic Party incumbent President fought his way back to a second term, despite questions of personal leadership. Were his voters really all Democrat supporters or were many actually casting ballots as independent voters splitting the difference between candidates?
Nowhere along the winding 2012 campaign did the specific needs of Native Americans become addressed, either wholly or partially, and I cannot separate myself from that glaring omission.
It is not enough for me to hear about President Obama employing high-level presidential administrators who were enrolled tribal members or the White House hosting elected tribal leadership for photo ops; the sum effect has no currency with the lower economic classes found on all federal Indian reservations. It puts no food in their pot, so to speak. Federal indifference to their plight is common and persistent. Budgeted line-item programs are spare and relatively few, per capita. Asking these people to trust four more years of the same treatment is emotionally wrenching.
Mitt Romney, though, would not have made so much of difference either within Indian country, as the Chief Executive, based in part upon his answers to the Indian Country Today Media Network interview conducted by Rob Capriccioso. Governor Romney stated that, in reference to what tribal sovereignty meant to him, “My administration will treat this government-to-government relationship with the respect it deserves.” Sadly, tribal government does not reflect, or represent for that matter, all Native American constituents, and yet, it is the only avenue that federal policy “recognizes” for appropriation.
Privately, tribal leaders will acknowledge that elected tribal government is not fully embraced as an equal within the United States federal government. It is a somber moment when the tribal leader, hat in hand, finds his or her wings clipped upon an official visit to Washington, D.C.
The absence of inclusive, relevant dialogue creates a vacuum in the presidential race.
The inability of a major third party candidate to participate in the three presidential debates may have affected the final outcome in the 2012 election. The 20th century saw independent candidates playing significant roles in U.S. elections. Candidates as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt to Ross Perot were able to bring challenging perspectives to their third-party candidacies, and saw voters support their non-establishment platforms respectably.
A favorite personal memory was the candidacy of Anishinaabe leader Winona LaDuke as the vice presidential running mate of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, in both 1996 and 2000. Her presence lent gravitas to the 1970’s consumer rights icon, helping get him across as more than a nostalgic champion. She remains a hero to me as an educator and role-model.
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ron Paul may have been the missing piece from the final discussion in the 2012 election. Although former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party was the most notable 2012 third-party candidate by appearing on 48 state ballots, Congressman Paul had ignited interest by younger voters throughout both his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Ron Paul would have offered some interesting debate responses. His unorthodox political style may have captured that intangible voter “interest” that will one day be required to elect a third party candidate. A non-formatted presidential candidate will have to be involved to shake up the status quo that American Indians now face.
The United States is a republic, not a democracy. Native American participation in it has not been fully facilitated yet, for many reasons. Political indifference is a well-traveled two-way street.
Charles Kader (Turtle Clan) was born in Erie, Pennsylvania to a World War II veteran. He attended Clarion University in Pennsylvania, earning degrees in Communication and Library Science, as well as Mercyhurst College where he earned a graduate degree in the Administration of Justice. He has worked across Indian country, from the Blackfeet Community College in Browning, Montana (where he married his wife) to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, and now resides in Kanienkeh.