I spent two hours standing in line yesterday to hear President Obama and Senator Murray rally the troops for her reelection bid. In the University of Washington's Huskies stadium, there were reminders of the basketball court under our feet, the Democrat's passage of student loan reform, and several rounds of the wave that people do in sports arenas. So imagine my surprise when the AP wire put out a story that today's rally was all about getting women to the polls on November 2. Uh, what?
Politicians often promise the electorate, especially at the outsets of their campaigns, not to "go negative" or take pot shots at their opponents. We hear phrases like "issues oriented," "positive campaigning," and "bridging partisan divides." And behind the scenes, no matter the rhetoric, somebody, somewhere, is digging up dirt on the other side. But why? What is the appeal and effect of negative campaigning?
I had fully intended to take on the "everyone for themselves" quality of predicting election results, spending some time researching through the he said/he said (that's not a typo) of who will win the House and Senate when the smoke clears on November 3. And then German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened her mouth. What flew out was such a smelly stream of political diarrhea that I have to shift gears and write about elections, international context, and ugly racism.
In last night's Nevada Senatorial, Sharron Angle told Harry Reid to "man up." This was in response to Reid's pressure on Angle regarding her stance on Social Security. The exchange:
Reid: Don't frighten people about Social Security. The deal that was made by President Reagan and Tip O'Neil is holding strong. The money is there and taking care of our folks and will for the next 35 years.
Angle: Man up, Harry Reid. You need to understand that we have a problem with Social Security.
I double-checked a map of the United States this evening just to make sure that Nevada is not on a border with Mexico, because an ad from Sharron Angle's campaign against Harry Reid implies that undocumented workers sneak into Nevada on a regular basis. Only the ad doesn't call them "undocumented workers," it just refers to "illegals," and I hate when people use adjectives as nouns. The commercial goes on to make a load of misleading or false assertions about Reid's voting record when
it comes to immigration, as comprehensively described by Fact Check.org's website. When it comes to making claims about someone's votes in the House or Senate, there are easy ways to respond and defend one's campaign. Unfortunately, the "Friends of Harry Reid" did not take this approach.
The U.S. presidential election in 2008 generated a turnout of voters
not seen since the late 1960s. More than 63 percent of the eligible
electorate cast votes for President, amounting to more than 128 million
votes. If these 2010 midterm elections follow historical precedent,
there will be 10-15 percent fewer voters at the polls than in the
presidental election two years ago. That would still bring out more
than 100 million people. That there is interest in this election—in
which Republicans are looking to take back the Senate and at least make
a dent in the Democrats' hold on the House—is an understatement. There are also gubernatorial elections in 37 states up for grabs next month.
At the Federal and State levels, the electoral map could look very
different on November 3. But let's back up for a moment and ask a
simple-sounding question: Does any of this matter?
There's a three-way race for the US Senate in Florida. An unemployed veteran who lives with his father is up against an almost-certain opponent in South Carolina. A candidate in Delaware gets more press for things she said in 1999 than in this race. Two long-time Republicans are running as independents. Two years after the message of "hope" carried in a sweeping victory for Barack Obama, what on earth is going on with the midterm elections?
Frank Lautenberg made it clear this summer that he has a big love for Lady Gaga. The octogenarian isn't even up for reelection this fall, but just to pad his war chest a little, he hosted a fundraiser at a Gaga concert. For a mere $2,400—the maximum individual donation amount allowed by law—one could join him and his wife in their box at the Verizon Center in DC. He wasn't playing about his affection; for his 86th birthday in January, he went to a Gaga show at Radio City Music Hall. No Rockettes for this Democratic senator from New Jersey.
Last summer, which now seems so very long ago, we looked at some people and trends in US politics and policy making who have affected our lives, some for good, but mostly not. I really enjoyed the "Where in the world is" posts in the series, even as I shuddered to write some of them. Bob Packwood's "sinewy arms" just scare me. But as we look toward this midterm election season—and perhaps with some of those personalities of yore in our collective rearview mirrors as reminders of where we should not retread—it's time to ask where the politicians of today have in mind for our future.