Politics, et Cetera
A publication from The Political Forum, LLC
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
They Said It:
Fret not over Republican peccadilloes such as the Tea Party finding the single, solitary person in Nevada who couldn’t poll ten to one against Harry Reid. Better to have a few cockeyed mutts running the dog pound than Michael Vick.
I take it back. Using the metaphor of Michael Vick for the Democratic party leadership implies they are people with a capacity for moral redemption who want to call good plays on the legislative gridiron. They aren’t. They don’t. The reason is simple. They hate our guts. . . .
Whence all this hate? Is it the usual story of love gone wrong? Do Democrats have a mad infatuation with the political system, an unhealthy obsession with an idealized body politic? Do they dream of capturing and ravishing representational democracy? Are they crazed stalkers of our constitutional republic?
No. It’s worse than that. Democrats aren’t just dateless dweebs clambering upon the Statue of Liberty carrying a wilted bouquet and trying to cop a feel. Theirs is a different kind of love story. Power, not politics, is what the Democrats love. Politics is merely a way to power’s heart. When politics is the technique of seduction, good looks are unnecessary, good morals are unneeded, and good sense is a positive liability. Thus Democrats are the perfect Lotharios. And politics comes with that reliable boost for pathetic egos, a weapon: legal monopoly on force. If persuasion fails to win the day, coercion is always an option.
Armed with the panoply of lawmaking, these moonstruck fools for power go about in a jealous rage. They fear power’s charms may be lavished elsewhere, even for a moment.
PJ O’Rourke “They Hate Our Guts,” The Weekly Standard, November 1, 2010.
DEAR ELECTORATE: WE HATE YOU. DEAR GOVERNMENT: RIGHT BACK AT YA!
Well, here we are again, election day. And not a minute too soon, if you ask us. More than anything, we want to get this silly midterm business out of the way so that we can start the 2016 presidential contest, which unofficially begins tonight.
Over the weekend, we watched with bemusement as Kentucky’s Senior Senator and the Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell – who has been in the Senate for three decades now, who spent nearly two decades before that working in politics, and who is married to a former Secretary of Labor – made his final pitch to voters to send him (back) to the nation’s capital to take on those damnable “insiders.”
At the same time, of course, his opponent, the young and fresh-faced Allison Lundergan Grimes made her last gasp by having Hillary Clinton come to Lexington to make that very same pitch: ditch the outsiders! All of which is to say that we can’t tell you how excited we are about getting an early jump on the Hillary vs. Jeb presidential free-for-all. What says “death to the establishment!” better than a former Senator and Secretary of State and wife of a former president duking it out with a former governor, the grandson of a Senator, son of a president, and brother of another? In retrospect, we shoulda just made George Washington king and been done with it.
As it turns out, this is, in many ways, the theme of this election and the theme of American politics more generally. After more than twenty years of social upheaval, war, economic collapse and recovery, partisan waxing and waning, and geopolitical disarray, the American political ethos remains largely unchanged.
On the one hand, this is good. It demonstrates the remarkable insight possessed by the Founding Fathers. The world around us may be in chaos, but the American political system remains steady, steadfast, and largely unaffected. That’s the very definition of a stable government.
On the other hand, the American system had, by the 1990s, become little more than a corporatist racket intended to benefit the rich and powerful, while placating the masses just enough to keep them contended. The fact that this has not changed – indeed, has become more pronounced in the twenty years –is troubling for any number of reasons. Today’s election results will, we imagine, be the last desperate attempt by said masses to regain control of their government and to avoid an otherwise unavoidable fate.
Almost exactly four years ago, we wrote an election day piece that we could, for all intents and purposes, rerun in its entirety today. The title of that piece was “Election 2010: The Revenge of the Violent, Racist, Ignorant Hillbillies,” and it read, in part, as follows:
Given the probability of a “wave election,” in which the Republicans will pick up more seats in the House than either party has picked up in more than half-a-century, the Democratic leaders – said inexperienced leftist ideologue and his allies – spent this past week stumping furiously and desperately, hoping to hit on a theme that just might have an impact on tomorrow’s vote. And, after much reflection, field-testing, and focus-grouping, they finally came up with an argument they seemed sure would carry the day. To wit:
“Hey, you! Voter! You’re stupid. Or Crazy. Now, vote for us!”
Sounds like a winner, eh?
Not that anyone should be surprised by this. After all, this has been the left’s go to argument for at least the last year-and-a-half. Americans are dumb. Tea Partiers are stupid. Voters are ungrateful. And anyone who opposes us or, worse yet, is having buyer’s remorse about giving us all of the levers of power in Washington is just plain cuckoonutso.
This theme is, we think, probably the most important and most overlooked factor in this election. . . .
This election is not about policy. It is not about any specific decision that the president took or did not take. It’s not about any policy proposition that was shepherded through the Congress by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and translated into law. It is not about any of the traditional factors that are generally suspected to motivate voters to punish the majority party.
No, this election is about all of those policies cumulatively, and, more important, about the single common factor that binds them all together. This election is, in short, about the will of the people and the ruling party’s contempt for that will. As the sub-head on the pollster Scott Rasmussen’s final pre-election analysis put it: “Voters don’t want to be governed from the left, right or center. They want Washington to recognize that Americans want to govern themselves.”
The theme of the current campaign is the almost exactly same. The overwhelming sentiment of the voters is almost exactly the same. The contempt of the ruling class for the country class is most definitely the same. And therefore the results are likely to be the same as well.
As you might expect, over the past few weeks, we have read a great deal of analysis on this midterm election and its place in the broader political discussion. Time and again, the message that emerges from the various and sundry sources is the fact that the members of the ruling class really hate the members of the country class. Really, really hate them. As Jonah Goldberg noted last week, the attitude of our fearless leaders – in politics and in the press – is practically Brecht-ian, in that it is reminiscent of the Brecht line about how when “the people lose faith in the government it would be better if the government dissolved the people and elected another.”
Unfortunately for the ruling class, the feeling is mutual.
For our money, the article that best typifies the attitudes surrounding this election was one published last week in the New York Times Magazine, which made the case that the problem with this whole election business is that it has just been too gauche. The title of the piece says it all: “The Bumpkinification of the Midterm Election.” The author, Mark Liebovich, bemoans the fact that neither the electorate nor the candidates challenging the status quo seem to understand that this is serious business and that it’s time to grow up and act accordingly. He put it this way:
Joni Ernst, the Iowa state senator and Iraq War veteran, was standing in a barn in a purple flannel shirt and an unzipped vest. Beside her, various swine burrowed in the hog lot; two small pigs spooned; there was copious squealing. When Ernst, who grew up on a farm castrating hogs, opened her mouth to speak, she drew the inevitable connection between her upbringing and her current role as a Republican candidate for the United States Senate. “When I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork,” Ernst said, smiling. Title cards reinforced her credentials. (“Joni Ernst: Mother. Soldier. Conservative.”) “I’m Joni Ernst, and I approve this message because Washington is full of big spenders. Let’s make ‘em squeal.”
The 30-second spot, titled “Squeal,” was part of a trilogy of ads for the candidate released earlier this year. In another, Ernst, enrobed in a biker jacket, rides a Harley-Davidson to a gun range. (“Joni Ernst: Set Sights on Obamacare”). In a third, titled “Biscuits,” the camera focuses on a man’s hands as they add butter to flour and use molds to cut circles. “When I was working fast food, I learned the key to a great biscuit is lots of fat,” Ernst tells the camera. “Problem is, Washington thinks the same thing about our budget.”
Ernst is not the only candidate to have brought such a Capra-esque advertising strategy to this year’s midterm elections. Something Else Strategies, the media-consulting firm responsible for “Squeal,” also masterminded a widely noted spot for the Republican Mike McFadden, who is challenging Al Franken for his Senate seat in Minnesota. McFadden, a former college-football player who now coaches a youth team, recruited his players to appear in a “Bad News Bears”-style spot in which they mess up handoffs (“Washington is fumbling our future”) and clobber each other (“Obamacare needs to be sacked”) before the coach rouses them to “get out there and hit somebody.” At that point, for no particular reason, one player hits him below the belt, leaving the coach to recite the “I’m Mike McFadden, and I approve this message” bit in a high-pitched squeal — the universal signifier of a guy who has just been hit in his junk.
Critics of the McFadden ad questioned whether such a joke might fall beneath the dignity of a prospective United States senator. . . . But the critics were missing a crucial point. McFadden, a former investment banker with a law degree from Georgetown, was debasing not only his opponent but also, quite explicitly, himself.
The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto responded with a quip about the “dignity” of the Senate, noting that “the bar for dignity is rather high when you’re running against the author of Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot.” We might add that this is the same Senate that, up until recently, revered as its “lion” a man who drove a woman into a tidal channel and left her to drown and who was also kicked out of Harvard for cheating. We might add as well that this is the same Senate that, up until recently, revered as its “conscience” a former Grand Poobah of the Ku Klux Klan. Talk about your august and distinguished bodies!
Indeed, we might add all sorts of factoids about the Senate, its occupants, and their dignity. But then, that’s all just a little bit beside the point.
The point here, particularly with Joni Ernst, is that this so-called bumpkinification of the campaign is not mere coincidence. Nor is it politics as usual. Rather, it is a conscious and carefully orchestrated response by some candidates to the unfettered derision heaped upon the American electorate by the ruling class and especially by the ruling party. The bumpkinification of the campaign is not just, as Liebovich suggested, an attempt to play politics as usual by disparaging the job, even while running for it. It is, rather, an attempt to distinguish the ruling class from prospective representatives of the country class, to differentiate “us” from “them.” It is an attempt to win voters over by making them aware of and then playing on the ruling class’s hatred of them.
It is worth noting here, we think, that the only reason that Joni Ernst is even on the ballot today, much less a marginal favorite to win Iowa’s open Senate seat, is because she represented the most effective and appealing counter to the Democrat in the race, Congressman Bruce Braley. She is, in other words, the biggest “bumpkin-politician” in Iowa, which makes her a very serious threat to the ruling class. Congressman Braley, you may recall, made national news in January when he told a bunch of trial lawyers in Texas that they had to help make sure the Senate stayed Democratic. Otherwise, “a farmer from Iowa, who never went to law school” – that is to say, Iowa’s other Senator, Chuck Grassley – would become the chairman if the Senate Judiciary Committee. And that just would not do. A farmer? Puh-leeze! And so, as an alternative, GOP voters intentionally chose as their nominee a woman who represented precisely those characteristics that Braley seemed to abhor. They chose the opposite of Braley and the opposite of the ruling class – i.e. a Harley-riding, military-serving, pig-castrating non-lawyer. This is not mere bumpkinification, in other words, but deliberate bumpkinification – for fun and for profit.
Throughout the campaign, and especially in its closing days, the ruling class and especially the ruling party have expressed their disdain, over and over again, for “the people.” Why is Mary Landrieu losing in Louisiana? Is it because she comes from a Louisiana political dynasty that has grown increasingly out of touch with most of the state? Is it because her party’s president unnecessarily and reflexively killed the state’s oil industry after the BP oil spill? Is it because she has moved from Louisiana to become a full time resident of Washington, D.C.? Well, to hear her tell it, it’s because her constituents suck; they’re racist and sexist. NBC News reported the following after Landrieu’s interview last week with Chuck Todd:
Louisiana Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu said Thursday that the issue of race is a major reason that President Barack Obama has struggled politically in Southern states.
“I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African Americans,” Landrieu told NBC News in an interview. “It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.”
Noting that the South is “more of a conservative place,” she added that women have also faced challenges in “presenting ourselves.”
This is a pattern that has been repeated by Democrats over and over. . . . and over again throughout the campaign. Even when they tried to seem reconciliatory, the members of the ruling party just couldn’t help themselves. Yesterday, for example, Congressman James Clyburn (SC), congratulated the Republicans for turning the election into a referendum on President Obama and chastised his own party for failing to fight back. We should have “done a better job at messaging exactly what the president has done” Clyburn lamented. Seems innocuous enough, we suppose, until you think about what it means, that is “voters are stupid and can’t possibly know what to think, unless we explain it to them more effectively.” If left to their own devices, voters will be fooled every time. Americans, you see, are just dumb. They don’t get it and need to be walked through the process by their betters. Or as the aforementioned Jonah Goldberg noted, reviving his Brecht bit:
For progressives it’s always five minutes to Brecht-O-Clock. What I mean is this desire to fix the people, not the government always seems to be lurking behind liberalism. It was there when Woodrow Wilson said the first job of an educator is to make your children as unlike you as possible. It was there when Obama explained in 2008 that Hillary Clinton’s Pennsylvania primary supporters weren’t ready to vote for him because they were too busy clinging to their sky god and boom sticks. It’s the central theme of Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? It was whispering in John Podesta’s ear when he said the American political system “sucks.” It is at the heart of the Voxy “explanatory journalism” craze, which holds that if you call proselytizing “explaining” it will help the rubes come to their senses. It runs riot in the mainstream media and their sovereign contempt for these stupid, stupid, Americans and their parochial “unscientific” concerns about an organ-liquefying disease (even as the MSM caters to those concerns for the ratings they deliver). It runs like an underground river through the White House’s national-security policies, as they constantly downplay the dangers Islamic terrorism (“Let’s just call it ‘work place violence’!”) for fear of rousing the fearsome beast of public opinion on the side of the war on terror. It’s why the White House doesn’t want Congress to get involved in a deal with Iran, because Congress might actually listen to the people.
The same meme runs through the media coverage of this election. Voters are stupid. They can’t be trusted. They need to be babied. When they vote for the “wrong” guy, it’s because they can’t understand the difficulties involved in America’s political process. Over the last few weeks, the media has settled on this notion that the election is about “nothing.” It is, as Miles Moguslcu put it in a Huffington Post piece, a “Seinfeld” Election. Mogulscu is unhappy, you see, because Republicans are trying to tie Democrats to Obama. . . . and that’s just not fair. . . . or something. And “dark money,” coming from outside groups, is making dumb voters vote for dumb things. We’re all doomed! Yada, yada, yada – to keep the Seinfeld meme going. . .
A handful of conservatives have responded by insisting that this election is NOT about nothing, but is, in fact, rather substantive. Charles Krauthammer, for example, declared that it is a “referendum on Obama’s hyper-liberalism.” Roger Kimball and Stephen Hayes have countered the liberal effort, insisting that this election is, in truth, about “everything.” Or as Hayes put it:
It’s about the size and scope of government. It’s about the rule of law. It’s about the security of the citizenry. It’s about competence. It’s about integrity. It’s about honor….
It’s about a government that makes promises to those who have defended the country and then fails those veterans, again and again and again. It’s about a president who offers soothing reassurances on his sweeping health care reforms and shrugs his shoulders when consumers learn those assurances were fraudulent. It’s about government websites that cost billions but don’t function and about “smart power” that isn’t very smart. It’s about an administration that cares more about ending wars than winning them, and that claims to have decimated an enemy one day only to find that that enemy is still prosecuting its war against us the next. It’s about shifting red lines and failed resets. It’s about a president who ignores restrictions on his power when they don’t suit him and who unilaterally rewrites laws that inconvenience him. It’s about a powerful federal agency that targets citizens because of their political beliefs and a White House that claims ignorance of what its agents are up to because government is too “vast.” In sum, this is an election about a president who promised to restore faith in government and by every measure has done the opposite.
We’re not entirely sure we’d go as far as Hayes does. Truth be told, we’re not entirely sure that this election is about all of those things to anyone but him. What we will say, though, is that this election is about something. It is about the ruling class and the country class’s last desperate effort to remind their rulers that they have the whole process backward. It’s a government of, by, and, for the people, after all. Or at least it’s supposed to be.
If the Republicans win big tonight, then the people of this country will have staved off metaphorical serfdom, at least for the time being. If they do not, then the fight for liberty may, inevitably, be lost. In either case, this election is only a part of the process. As we noted up top, the country is in much the same position today as it was four years ago, in part because the presidential election of 2012 set the cause of liberty back, and in part because there is so much work to be done to free the people of this country from the vassalage imposed upon them by BOTH parties and their allies. A Republican victory tonight will be only the second step in a long process, a step which could well be reversed in 2016, regardless of which party wins, if the next president is an establishment/insider favorite.
Of course, none of it matters if the status quo is confirmed tonight. Fortunately, we doubt it will be.
Prediction #1: The Republicans will pick up enough Senate seats to take control of that house of Congress. In fact, we expect Republicans to do very well tonight, picking a number of seats that were questionable just a few short weeks ago. They will not sweep the close contests, likely losing North Carolina and perhaps even Kansas, but they will do well.
Prediction #2: The Republicans will pick up a handful of seats in the House, perhaps as many as 10. As we noted in our forecast piece in January, the Republicans are near their natural maximum of House seats in the current geographic/demographic environment. The fact that they will pick up seats anyway is a testament, we think, to the strength of the electorate’s dissatisfaction with the Washington status quo.
Prediction #3: The GOP Congress will be the strongest and most ardently conservative Congress is nearly a century. The next Congress will likely see the widest margin of GOP control since 1929.
Prediction #4: At least one of the Democrats’ main targets for this election, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, will win reelection. And he will thus consolidate his two previous victories (his election in 2010 and his triumph over a recall effort in 2012) and will, more to the point, demonstrate that cutting the privileges of the entrenched bureaucracy need not result in political disaster.
Prediction #5: The Republicans will strengthen their hold on state legislatures, taking a control of an historic number of state legislative bodies. Carl Klarner, a visiting scholar at Harvard, predicts that the GOP will pick up 5 state senates and 9 state houses, which will give them greater control of state legislatures than they have ever had. It should be noted that this is Klarner’s “conservative” estimate. The state-level GOP wave could be even bigger.
Prediction #6: The Democrats’ lone bright spot will be the state of Kansas. We expect incumbent Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to be defeated. We expect incumbent Kansas Senator Pat Roberts to win reelection narrowly, although we aren’t especially confident in this expectation. If both Brownback and Roberts lose, Democrats will have found at least something to celebrate. Even if only Brownback loses, the Left will insist that the result is a repudiation of the Governor’s Laffer-friendly, supply-side tax policy. Either way, expect to hear a great deal about Kansas from the mainstream press. After all, what else will they have to talk about?
Prediction #7, Our “Out-of-Left-Field” Prediction: The great race to 2016, which will begin tonight, will provide more than a few surprises. Most notably, we think, neither party will nominate its current presumed insider-frontrunner. A GOP sweep will signal significant dissatisfaction with the status quo and will, in turn, signal hard times ahead for both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. In the end, neither will run, making the respective nominations anyone’s to grab.