Susan Milligan has been visiting six Election 2012 battleground states to talk with 50-plus voters for a report that will be published in the September issue of the AARP Bulletin. She posted this from Missouri.
There's a lot of dissension around the table at the OASIS center in St. Louis, a place where people 50 and older volunteer to tutor children and help them learn the importance of healthy living. Some of the OASIS volunteers like President Obama; others like Mitt Romney. Some like the new health care law; others hate it. They argue, sometimes even interrupting each other.
But as they do it they throw arms around others in the group, making it clear that the debates aren't personal and that no policy disagreement could interfere with the genuine respect and affection they have for one another. So why, they wonder, can't the politicians in Washington behave in the same way?
"The dysfunction . . . the lack of communication,'' Joe Goldberg, 79, says when asked for his biggest complaint about Washington. "You can't even address economic issues, because no one's listening.''
The OASIS volunteers worry about the state of the economy, which they see as a major issue in the 2012 elections.
"I think the problem with Congress is that 90 percent of them are focusing on how to get re-elected, not on what's good for the country,'' says Bob Kremer, a 57-year-old retiree. Lawmakers have gotten too parochial in their outlooks, and members of both parties are getting "squeezed" by their leaders instead of voting independently, he says. Evelyn Gillespie, a 64-year-old retired physical education teacher, blames the lobbyists in Washington, saying they control too much of the agenda.
"If I had known before what I know now about government," Gillespie tells me, "I would have been involved in it long before now." This election year, it's clear, Gillespie and lots of the other volunteers at St. Louis OASIS are paying plenty of attention. -Susan Milligan