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Midterm elections — Evolution or revolution?

When Charles Dickens penned “A Tale of Two Cities,” it was events near London and Paris that were the breaking news of the day.

Fast forward 155 years, and similar dual city conflicts are roaring through the media. There is significant concern that if we allow ourselves to become distracted by all this negative news, our focus for what needs to be accomplished in the midterm elections might not stay on track. Turn to any channel and witness Hong Kong against Beijing, Brooklyn against Manhattan, Raqqa against Baghdad, or Kiev against Moscow!

{mosads}As Dickens wrote in two cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Hong Kong against Beijing: The People’s Republic of China recently celebrated its 65th anniversary in Tiananmen Square, while the embattled Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying feels intense heat from local Hong Kong residents, who believe that he is not acting in their best interests, and that Beijing is exercising undue influence over the former British colony.

“[I]t was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.”

Brooklyn against Manhattan: When New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio ran for office, he felt the wealth of Manhattan should be shared by all the boroughs. This was an excellent vote stimulator for de Blasio. He was on top of his game until Jan. 21, 2014 when New York City was hit with a massive snowstorm, and the new mayor seemingly decided to share the snowplowing wealth with the outer boroughs. He neglected to plow parts of midtown Manhattan, and while the mantra of inequality sounded great, the Upper East Side elite were now in full revolt.

“[I]t was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Raqqa against Baghdad: The Syrian city of Raqqa is the capital of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) revolution, where there is a militant force fighting to create a “caliphate,” or Islamic state. The view is strict compliance with a rigid interpretation of Sharia law. One has to repent or face the ultimate punishment. They have used public beheadings to attract attention to their cause, and this has horrified the world.

“[W]e were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

In “A Tale of Two Cities,” beheadings were routine. The guillotine was used at will, and the public became so numb to the trauma, that Dickens likened it to a disease where people became infected and had gone mad.

While healthcare, immigration and minimum wage are subjects that people want to talk about in this election cycle, it seems like the Ebola virus, ISIS beheadings, domestic violence, questions about inequality and the fear of impending death are straight out of Dickens’s novel.

Everyday news tends to frighten us, but as we enter the last stretch before the midterm elections, we simply can’t afford to get distracted by the headlines. It’s critical that we differentiate as to what really belongs to us, and what can be accomplished by the individuals we elect. A congressman can’t cure Ebola, but could work for consensus with other members of Congress to assure our safety and our limitation from exposure.

Reality dictates that unless you’re an experienced gondola driver, a boat with one oar tends to go around in circles. By the same token of belief, unless our government is capable of pulling two oars at the same time, in the same direction, our future remains at risk. The most important question for you to ask a person running for an elected office is whether he or she is capable of working towards compromise with other members of Congress, or will he or she continue the splintering that only helps us to descend into an abyss of total discord and dysfunction.

Cumulatively, the key U.S. topics of the day (and where your vote and candidate can actually make a difference) are:

Healthcare: Own up to the fact that the system is in need of repair.
Immigration: Unfulfilled promises with resolution needed.
Minimum wage: Does it go from $7.25 to $10.10 or somewhere in between?
Inequality: Understand and deal with the disparity among individuals as defined by their wealth, their gender or their race.
Economy and trade: All U.S. trade bills are currently held captive by our do-nothing Congress. It’s time to release, renew or act on these important legislative items.

Was Dickens a visionary? Who would have thought that his observations were as current as they are?

Real Clear Politics now has Congress at an 81.3 percent disapproval rating and our democratic process needs to be very thoughtful at this point; simply because we prefer evolution to revolution. We Americans have a tendency to believe that events will resolve the way they always do. However, who would have thought that Hong Kong would stand up to Beijing, or that the Occupy Wall Street crowd would go after the 1 percent elite?

In “A Tale of Two Cities,” Madame Defarge was looking more toward revolution than evolution. Defarge knew that those living in the country wanted change, as government wasn’t working for the people. She expressed it very well in a dialogue with her husband:

“How long does it take to create an earthquake?”
“A long time, I suppose,” said [Mr.] Defarge.
“But when it is ready, it takes place, and grinds to pieces everything before it. In the meantime, it is always preparing, although it is not seen or heard.”

Helfenbein is chairman of the board of the American Apparel and Footwear Association. He is a strong advocate for a robust U.S. trade agenda and lectures frequently on the subjects of supply chain and international trade.

Tags A Tale of Two Cities Baghdad Beijng Bill de Blasio Brooklyn Charles Dickens Hong Kong ISIS Islamic State in Iraq and Syria Manhattan Raqqa
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