Election 2014

The Petty, Empty Spectacle of the 2014 Election

The 2014 midterm election is campaign to portray the other side as worse.

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Whitehouse.gov

With just two weeks until election day, the most striking thing about the 2014 midterm may be how petty and substance-free it is. No major policy issue has defined this election; no major legislation is immediately at stake. It is possible to find candidates talking about a variety of policy issues—Obamacare, the minimum wage, immigration, the Export-Import bank, and more—but the implications are described almost entirely in political terms. For the most part, the focus for both parties is not on what they would do, but what they wouldn't, not who they are, but who they aren't. It's an election about nothing, except, perhaps, who one hates the most.

The big problem for Democrats is that President Obama is unpopular, and voters dislike his handling of major policy areas. An ABC News/Washington Post poll earlier this month found his job approval at just 39 percent, with 57 percent saying they disapprove. On average, the public approves of Obama's handling of foreign policy and the economy even less than they approve of the job he's doing overall.

Indeed, Obama is so toxic that when he declared earlier this month that his "policies are on the ballot—every single one of them," it was widely considered a gaffe, an admission expected to hurt his party. That Republicans instantly rushed to highlight Obama's line was to be expected; that few if any Democrats attempted to defend the president was telling: Democrats in close races this year want nothing so much as to avoid any association with the president and his policies.

The most absurd example of a Democrat seeking distance from the president came when Alison Grimes, a Democratic Senate candidate running a tight race against the GOP's Senate Minority Leader in Kentucky, refused to even say whether she voted for the president in 2008 and 2012. Sen. Mark Udall's awkward attempts to qualify his independence from the president have only been slightly less ridiculous.

But there are other, less viral-video friendly indications as well, like the president's relative absence from the campaign trail, and the fact that only 36 percent of Democrats running this cycle have indicated clear support for Obamacare, the president's highest-profile policy achievement.

The president's sagging popularity means that Democrats can't easily campaign on his policies or his proposals. And it has given Republicans a blunt object with which to attack opponents. At this point, dissatisfaction with the president appears to be strong enough that this has given Republicans an edge.

Yet Republicans have a problem of their own. Despite their attacks Obama and his policies, they have almost nothing specific to say about what they would do instead—and much of what they are saying is either incoherent or opportunistic.

For years, the party has failed to rally around an alternative to Obamacare, even while repeating the mantra "repeal and replace." This election, the first following Obamacare's major coverage expansion, many Republican candidates have tip-toed carefully around the possible consequences of repealing Obamacare, including its Medicaid expansion, suggesting a continuing unwillingness to grapple with the reality of repeal.

Meanwhile, as concerns about Ebola have gripped the media and the public, Republicans have called for a hodgepodge of dubious policy responses, from imposing a travel ban to installing an Ebola czar to oversee the response. These ad hoc calls for more federal action are mostly symbolic efforts meant to show resolve in ways that conveniently magnify perceptions of the president's weakness, and they are predicated on the troublesome, unconservative assumption that the president and national politics should be central in the response to any problem.

Broader efforts to define the GOP's policy agenda are similarly underwhelming. The Republican National Committee's (RNC) 11-point "Principles for American Renewal" was intended as a launching pad for a GOP governing vision, and a set of ideas that everyone in the party could agree on. "People know what we're against," RNC Chair Reince Preibus said earlier this month, "I want to talk about the things we're for."

Mostly, though, what the 11 points illustrate is how vague the party's commitment is to anything in particular. It's almost entirely rhetorical fluff: On the economy, the party apparently supports "growing America's economy so that working Americans see better wages and more opportunity." On immigration, it favors "an immigration system that secures our borders, upholds the law and boosts our economy." There are items deal with "values" and "the Constitution," both of which amount to little more than assertions that values and the Constitution are, in fact, Good Things. Indeed, the sense one gets this election is that the Republican party has decided only that it is for Good Things, and that if Obama is for something, that makes it a Bad Thing, and this distinction is all that really matters.

The result is an election in which Democrats cannot run on what they have done, and Republicans cannot run on what they will do. So petty squabbles and Twitter-friendly soundbites dominate the news as each side attempts to drive turnout by campaigning the notion that the other party is worse—for women or for struggling workers, for the economy or for America's place in the world. It's not an election about which side to vote for. It's an election about which side to vote against.

The bipartisan emptiness of this midterm election, and the intense focus by both parties on turning out core voters rather than on broadening party appeal, suggests the deep exhaustion of both parties and their respective agendas. (One reason why Ebola has received so much attention is that it helps fill the void.) At this point, both Democrats and Republicans are running on policy fumes.

Members of the public see less and less to like from almost any politician, even the ones they voted for themselves. Obama's marks are low, but even still, they're stratospheric compared to Congress. In August, fewer than 20 percent said most members of Congress should be reelected. That same month, for the first time ever, a Washington Post poll found that a majority disapproved of their own representative. Recent polls have hinted that turnout could be unusually low, even for a midterm.

In other words, the public is exhausted too. There's no enthusiasm for any of the available options, no sense that either side has a vision worth pursuing or ideas worth trying. It's an election that's not about anything except which side is the worst—and tellingly, what voters really seem to want is to not have to decide.

NEXT: Brickbat: REMAIN CALM!

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  1. It’s the hemorrhagic fever, stupid.

  2. As of right now, there is no one in government that I hate more than Harry Reid, so this is working for me.

    1. Not even Chucky “Man Tits” Schumer?

      1. He’s not up for vote this year.

        1. Neither is Reid. What’s your point?

  3. I await the ebola at the polls stories with glee.

  4. The political class needs to go.

  5. They are petty, empty people. What other kind of spectacle could they make?

    1. Exactly right, Drake.

      In fact their pettiness and emptiness is at least as a good a reason for limited and accountable government as their proclivity to confiscate wealth and power for themselves.

  6. Yet Republicans have a problem of their own. Despite their attacks Obama and his policies, they have almost nothing specific to say about what they would do instead?and much of what they are saying is either incoherent or opportunistic.

    This is the Kentucky race in a nutshell. McConnell is old and senile, but I legitimately fear that Lundercunt ate paint chips as a child. It boils down to touting party lines and mud slinging (candidates and voters). The ballot might as well read “would you prefer a red dildo or a blue dildo?*”

    * lube not included

    In related news, media cronies temporarily reveal their blatant “friends in high places” agenda against the Patterson (KY Lib. candidate):

    http://www.digitaljournal.com/…..cle/385420

    1. Just not ‘your’ dildo…amirite??

  7. One good thing is that several prominent stories have run about various LP candidates poised to play significant roles in key tight races. I’d like to hope this might be good publicity for the party as an option, though the stories are tending to focus on the ‘horse race’ aspects of the elections instead of what those LP candidates are offering that is pulling voters (socially liberal, economically conservative). Of course while most people dislike both parties many hate one more than the other and the Big Two will as usual use that sentiment to urge people to Stop the Other Party by Not Throwing Away Your Vote on 3rd parties.

  8. You know, elections entail more than just federal offices. Just sayin’.

  9. “In August, fewer than 20 percent said most members of Congress should be reelected.”

    Right, so they’re going to turn out incumbents by 80% votes.

      1. I’m not. We failed to get mass resignations/seppuku from the incumbants. Clearly they know no shame if they’re running again.

  10. This one is not a empty spectacle from what I saw on American Thinker.
    One guy put lots of ballots, I guess mainly from dead people.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEQpHfnJz-c

    1. And nothing else happened?

      1. Looks like some dead people lost their votes, lol.

  11. The GOP is successfully albeit slowly closing down every abortion clinic in the country. Give credit where credit is due.

    1. It’s a bad thing, but it’s really only going on in some Southern states.

      1. True. But the template is made. Just require clinic docs have full scale admission privileges. Regulate them out of business.

        1. The irony is simply delicious.

          1. I like irony as much as the next person, but not so much when rights are being abrogated

            1. I was referring to the irony of shreeek suddenly discovering a business or medical regulation he doesn’t like. Although, eminences and penumbras notwithstanding, I don’t think abortion is any more a “right” than any other medical procedure – no other of which is guaranteed as such.

              1. Especially regs that are meant to protect women from unscrupulous and incompetent doctors. What’s the harm in that?

                1. Ha, when someone puts such regs forward we can talk. These are thinly veiled attempts to target abortion.

                  1. I don’t disagree but they are just playing the game by the rules the other side has been playing by. Guerrilla politics.

                    1. It’s the same blueprint gun controllers are playing trying to run shooting ranges and gun sellers out of town, yes.

                    2. Exactly right, Bo.

                  2. Most medical regs are thinly veiled, or not-at-all-veiled in some cases (like Certificate of Need laws, for example), attempts to achieve some other end. Which is true of most regulations in general, regardless of industry. It may be surprising to learn that admitting privileges requirements aren’t a brand new variety of regulatory capture.

              2. I think Griswold would cover other procedures like IVF and surgical contraception. Other procedures like circumsicion might be covered under the First. But I get your point (while disagreeing with it)

                1. I don’t think access to IVF or circumcision (or literally any other medical procedure) has ever been subject to the undue burden standard by the courts as has abortion. And I’d oppose subjecting those, or any other medical procedure, to that standard, because I don’t believe in positive rights. I don’t think any medical provider should be required *by law* to have admitting privileges either (although I’m sure liability insurance policies would be conditioned upon it for many types of physicians).

                  I’m intrigued, though not at all surprised, that you found something in there with which to disagree.

    2. I just don’t care about abortion as an issue any more, but it’s just about the only difference between the Reds and the Blues where I am. Pathetic, really, when is there is so much more to talk about.

      1. To me it’s pretty high up there. On one side, it’s wholesale murder. On the other side, if we are not talking about persons with rights what could be a worse affront to liberty than forcing someone to carry a child to term?

        1. …what could be a worse affront to liberty than forcing someone to carry a child to term?

          Presuming your “if” rather than the opposing one, folks are routinely sent to jail for much longer terms than 9 months (when they’re able to escape summary execution) for trivial drug or firearm offenses, for example. It’s relatively easy to rack up 9 months or more of jail time for surveillance-based traffic citations.

          Of course the counter-argument by the pro-life folks would be that 9 months is a pretty trivial tradeoff for saving a life. But as you say, that’s down to your view of what a fetus is or isn’t.

        2. “We are not talking about persons with rights what could be a worse affront to liberty than forcing someone to carry a child to term?”

          Someone like Rand Paul thinks we are talking about someone with rights–why misrepresent their position?

          What I don’t understand is how people can’t understand that in order to be nominated by the Republicans, there are a coupe of positions you have to take. One of them is that you have to be pro-life, and the other one is that you have to be anti-gun control. You cannot win the Republican nomination without holding those positions.

          Why would someone, like Rand Paul, who wants to be the president be pro-choice (or pro-gun control)? He’s not a religious figure. He’s not a philosopher. He’s a politician. …running for office. If you want to sell something in a market, you have to give the people what they want.

          The Republican nomination market demands those two things, or it won’t buy whatever else you’re selling.`

          1. That’s not true. This year I have the Republican nomination, the 2nd time (maybe 3rd, I forgot), for NY state office, and I’ve been for legal abortions all along, including late term & even infanticide. This year it’s for assembly, AD 80.

            1. I’ve been for legal abortions all along, including late term & even infanticide.

              No shit? At least you are consistent. If “terminating” a living human being during it’s fetal stage is OK, there is no reason that “terminating” the same human being during it’s infant, or adolescent stage wouldn’t be also OK.

        3. what could be a worse affront to liberty than forcing someone to carry a child to term?

          If you believe that liberty does not excuse you from bearing the consequences of your actions and decisions, then it is not necessarily an affront at all, for the vast majority of pregnancies.

          You chose to have sex, which has the very foreseeable risk of pregnancy. If mitigating that risk requires that you violate the rights of others (which, I know, is the big argument), then bearing the consequences of the risk is not an affront to your liberty at all.

          1. b-but freedom from consequences!

  12. Me, I await the inevitable, lamenting “Americans are ungovernable” stories.
    It’s not really true, but gives me a libertarian chubby anyway.

  13. Many so-called libertarians have the stench of SoCon on them. This fact is ignored by many here. The LP Purity Test is still a bitch.

    1. I’m all for philosophical consistency but not at the cost of pontifically cutting off my nose to spite my face. I’ll no sooner kick out a generally libertarian candidate with some Socon positions like Paul as I would a generally libertarian pundit who supports, say, public accommodation laws (like I think Welch might).

      1. For dogmatics like Weigel and Tony, subtle nuances, compromise and political bargaining are anathema. It is the progtard way or nothing.

        1. Tony is pragmatic, he’s defended voting for Obama when he opposed SSM.

          1. Tony doesn’t seem remotely willing or able to accept a point of view outside of his progressive worldview as valid. He may be willing to accept it politically, and therefore as an obstacle to work around, but not valid as a legitimate viewpoint. That’s what makes him dogmatic.

            In terms of voting for Obama – well what choice did he have?

          2. Tony isn’t being pragmatic.

            Tony is simply deluded.

            Tony is a Moonie.

            Tony will support the Reverend Moon, even after the good reverend takes all the money Tony spent all day to get panhandling at the airport.

            If Obama personally came to Tony’s house, stole all the money out his wallet, drank all the beer in his fridge, and took a dump in Tony’s kitchen sink? Tony would still vote for him anyway.

            That isn’t being pragmatic. That’s being psychotic.

  14. Team Blue charged hill GC. That’s pretty much nails my feet to the party line come November.

    Although I’m absolutely certain when the big gun control push happens, it will be written in republican statist ink. Fortunately for us they will pull a lot of crap before that point. They’re statist are too stupid to grab the guns first. Team Blue does exhibit at least some pragmatism in this department.

  15. Can’t I hate them both equally?

  16. It is not difficult to understand why the midterms are empty of real issues. The Democrats have a record of failure and thus can only run on scare tactics about how the other side is worse. The Republicans, even if they take the Congress, have no power to implement an agenda without the cooperation of the President, which is something no thinks will happen. So, what is the point of the Republicans running on a positive agenda that everyone knows they won’t be able to enact? The Republicans best justification for this election is “vote for use to send a message to the Democrats about how awful they have been and to help limit the damage they will do”. The best justification for the Democrats is “but the Republicans are worse”. So that is what we are getting.

    1. “So, what is the point of the Republicans running on a positive agenda that everyone knows they won’t be able to enact?”

      It seems to me that the *only* time Republicans vote for any useful bills is when they know the bills will be killed by a Democratic Senate or Democratic President.

      1. The Republicans definitely need a rebranding effort, and they should start with a new spokesmodel.

        Once they get a new candidate for president, that might help (depending on whom they choose), but in the meantime, some of them might consider running against John Boehner the way Democrats run against Pelsoi. John Boehner is a really big problem.

        1. The last time we had 8 years of a no shit Progressive president was Wilson. At the end of that 8 years Coolidge beat the Democratic nominee with over 60% of the vote. It was the largest landslide in history if I am not mistaken.

          Coolidge’s campaign slogan was “a return to normalcy”. The Republicans could learn a lot from that going into 2016. As much as anything people are tired of the aggressiveness of the Obama years. They would like government to be less contentious, less ambitious and out of their faces for a while.

          That can be a very good thing for Republicans and for any small government advocate, as Coolidge’s example proves. The message, however, can’t be cloaked in the language of radical change. People are tired of that and will vote for a boring Democrat they know if for no other reason than to just stop things from changing so fast.

          The message needs to be one of “we are going to get the government off your back, make it competent and get things to calm down for a while” instead of the right wing Yin to the Obama “hope and change” Yang.

          The next two years are going to be for the Democrats a similar soul destroying experience to what the Republicans experienced during Watergate. Despite that, Gerald Ford damn near won re-election in 1976, for the simple reason he shut the hell up and didn’t do a lot and let things calm down a bit.

          1. Why should the Republican’s aoofer any policy and give the Democrats something to pick apart?

            isn’t there some old polotical adage that goes, ” when your opponent is trying to hang himself give him some rope”.

            1. Exactly one out. If you didn’t know any better you would think Suderman is just pissed off the Republicans won’t stand up and take some of the heat off of the Democrats.

          2. John, I just started reading Pestritto’s book on Wilson. The origins of the progressive movement are no shit even more frightening than I thought.

            1. Wilson was terrifying. They totally gloss over the horrible shit he did once the war started. He turned the country into a police state. The bastard really did deserve that stroke. It was God saying he still loved America.

    2. What about Republicans running for state or municipal office in jurisdictions that aren’t solidly controlled by either party?

  17. My roomate’s aunt makes $71 /hour on the laptop . She has been out of a job for six months but last month her income was $12021 just working on the laptop for a few hours.
    You can try this out. ????? http://www.jobsfish.com

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