October 18, 2014

I read Yeah, the GOP Is Evil and Will Win — But the Midterms are Meaningless by Salon writer Andrew O’Hehir early on Saturday, then I read it again. It’s dense and not very clear, but I think I get his point.

Mr. O’Hehir begins by referencing an earlier piece, where he argued that, despite an era of “extreme and perhaps unprecedented executive power,” President Obama cannot get anything done. He tells us the Congressional Democrats have as their mission being “less pathological” than their counterparts, and that the Republicans’ appeal “rests largely on racial panic, xenophobia and anti-government paranoia,” and that their “only visible agenda is obstructionism.”

Congress is flat-ass broken! And I—no surprise here—do believe there’s more fault on one side than the other! (Here’s a sampling of Republicans who might agree with me, maybe:  former Senator Bob Dole; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; Congressman Paul Ryan; Senator Rand Paul; and former Bush Brain Karl Rove. Reflecting, they might only agree with me on a point or two.)

So here’s Mr. O’Hehir’s primary thesis:

It should be obvious to everyone who isn’t a profoundly deluded partisan loyalist that nothing that could possibly happen in the 2014 midterm elections will change any of that. Indeed, it is obvious to most people, which is why most people won’t bother to vote on Nov. 4. It’s Political Punditry 101 to view widespread public apathy as both cause and symptom of a diseased political culture, and that’s at least partly true. But declining to participate in an empty ritual that changes nothing is an entirely rational response, arguably more clear-eyed and realistic than investing it with meaning it does not possess.

I don’t accept the premise that people don’t vote because voting will change nothing. Many people—tens of millions of people—are so busy worrying about jobs, bills, kids, health, etc., that there is no psychic space for voting.

Mr. O’Hehir’s faulty premise aside, I guess I am “a profoundly deluded partisan loyalist!” As my daughter might say, “I’m down with that.” But I also think I’m more than that, and so are the millions of people who do vote. Much “that could possibly happen in the 2014 midterm elections” does matter. Take the Senate, or as Henny Youngman might have added, “please.” Control matters, and it matters very much. If the past 69 months tell us anything, we know there will be no judicial confirmations if Republicans are in charge. We’ll have an even more challenged executive leadership situation, as the Republicans refuse to confirm anyone for executive offices. We’ll likely have government shutdowns. Et cetera.

Take state houses. Take Kansas, for example, although no one likely wants it after its Governor Sam Brownback-led experiment with tax cuts. It matters greatly to Kansans whether Governor Brownback gets a chance to double-down on failure. Or Wisconsin, where giving Governor Scott Walker another chance is a bad idea. Or Arizona, where we can elect a very talented, smart, creative man, Fred DuVal, or a guy whose wealth comes from selling Cold Stone Creamery franchises. Now, I have nothing against ice cream—although I prefer almost any other dessert—but Doug Ducey bragging on his success and claiming he did it without government help tests me greatly. Many, many Cold Stone Creamery franchisees went into business with Small Business Administration loans and CSC franchisees have the fourth worst SBA default rate among franchisees. (Here’s Franchise Brands with Higher-Than-Average Default Rates from the liberal Wall Street Journal.)

“Just to be clear,” writes Mr. O’Hehir, “I’m not urging anyone not to vote this year, especially not in states or districts where the race is close.” I’m so glad he cleared that up, and the fact that he did gave me some comfort that I hadn’t completely misapprehended what I thought he was saying until then, to wit:  why bother!

I think, in the end, that Mr. O’Hehir laments the fact that we have a wealthy class that really pulls the levers of power, leaving us with our vote and not much else. Mostly, I don’t disagree, but voting takes such a small amount of effort, and there really is more than dime’s worth of difference between the parties and their candidates, most of the time. Obviously, I’ve got my set of preferences. Others have different ones, but even as “a profoundly deluded partisan loyalist,” I want you to vote too, really! Really!!! The vote may not be much, but it’s all we have!

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