Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Some pre-thoughts on today's election

Over the last couple of days all of the political junkies, including me, have been trying to build out scenarios about what would happen on November 7.

Instapundit, did one on October 14, which listed many reasons why the GOP would lose on election day. Included in his list were things like the Terry Schiavo affair, the Harriet Miers debacle, the Dubai ports disaster, immigration, the Hastert defense of William Jefferson (the congressman with the frozen assets in his freezer) and the Foley affair. Each of those was supposed to have reduced GOP interest in the election. I think most of those issues, with the exception of Foley, were off the table by the time that today came around.

On the other hand each have an element of truth. I would adjust Reynold's list a bit and suggest that if the GOP loses in the House tonight they should blame each of the following;
1) The Bridge to Nowhere - This congress almost more than any other I can remember has a "pay to play" nature to it. The earmark to spend millions of dollars for a bridge that would serve very few people was indicative of that. But the increasing number of earmarks in legislation is something which I believe turns voters off. I think there is a growing perception that bringing home the bacon is often less about helping constituents than helping re-election.
2) The Imperious Congress - Here one has the appearance of impropriety - but there are a lot of little things. Foley was ousted quickly, as he should have been. His crimes were really much less shocking than either Gerry Studds of Jefferson. But that does not matter. The press was looking for scandal and while the democrats are not blamed for Jefferson (and indeed the GOP got part of the blame because of Hastert's lame defense of House privilege) as they were not for Studds - it does not matter. In the media environment of today the appearance of impropriety for the GOP is enough.
3)The Kabuki Congress - Piled on top of the perception of pay to play was the exercise this summer of a Congress that cared more about symbols than substance. The fight to federalize the Schaivo issue seemed to be one of those issues but so were the fights on flag burning, immigration (although that deserves its own treatment), abortion, and a host of other debates this summer. A lot of what this Congress did was play to the gallery.
4) The Fence - This is a complex issue but Congress seemed to want to deal with it in symbols. Immigration has produced benefits and costs for the country. An intelligent immigration policy would examine those and try to weigh out a good set of policies which would increase the level of benefits while reducing the costs. I think the President's original proposals tried to do that but for a lot of reasons the debate got down to symbols and thus we created the fence.
5) Tragedy TV (and Newspapers) - In the last several years the media has become increasingly irresponsible. Some have suggested that came about because of the 24/7 news cycle but I think it is that plus the inherent bias of most members of the scribbler class. The NYT had a lead editorial which explained why they did not endorse a single republican this time. One would think that would come as a surprise, but it does not. The coverage of major issues, including immigration and the Harriet Miers nomination, and even Foley was done as a series of charactures rather than with substance. The Congress, reflecting the press' propensity, reacted symbolically. A lot of the debate is recognized for what it is - blather - and the American people have increasingly looked at the quality of public discussion and voted no. They are turning off the media in huge numbers and they will increasingly turn off the political class so long as they continue to trivialize important issues.
6) Oliver Cromwell A friend gave me a quote last night which I liked a lot. In 1653 Cromwell commented to the long parliament "You have stayed too long for any good you are doing. Let us be done with you. In the name of God, go" There was a general sense of fatigue in this Congress on both sides. When you are in the majority in a sixth year, you would expect to have some voter discontent. When you have examples of petty and major moral "vercliptions" that add to the fatigue. In the district next to mine, John Doolittle (whose name implies the quality of his work in Congress over many years) said with a straight face that it was OK for him to influence peddle with Jack Abramhoff and OK for his wife to take 15% off the top of his campaign donations. The voters probably won't reject him today - but they should.
7)And finally there is Narrowcasting - I was struck by how narrowly some of the "broad" cast media look to narrow cast their views. Maher is a fine example of someone who speaks to a relative large but narrow segment of the population - but there are so many other examples also. A good deal of the media speaks to itself either from the right or the left. They listen to themselves and then pronounce the same to their decreasingly wide audiences. That reduces the possibility that public discourse will focus on the important issues of the day. The Atlanta Journal article quoted in one of yesterday's posts is a good example of that kind of nonsense. The columnist argued economic wisdom that is unsupported by the facts. One of the most troubling parts of the public discussion is the limited knowledge that the media displays about economic issues. We are in a pretty strong economy - using the normal indicators (employment, stock market, even budget deficit) but one would never know it by the coverage.

And yet what may save at least part of the GOP majority is the perception that the alternative is really the evil of two lessers. John Kerry's pathetic attempt at humor or a barb last week brought new energy into a lot of races. Robert Samuelson commented last week that he believed "the republicans deserve to lose, but the democrats do not deserve to win."

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