CO15LD

Another Look at Voters and What They Just Voted For

The U.S. Capitol is pictured at dawn in Washington D.C. on Oct. 15, 2013. (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

And that’s where the confusion kicks in. The American mainstream strongly backs the same policy agenda Democrats want, but that same mainstream just elected a Congress that will make it impossible for Americans to get what they say they support.

Steve Benen

It might seem to need some unpacking, but in truth the point holds.

There is, for instance, the temptation to point out the Senate shift, and remind that this was the “mainstream” in places like Iowa, where voters clearly prefer uneducated, tinfoil trash and threats of sedition from elected officials. Or Kansas, where voters are cheering on the destruction of the state government. Or Colorado, where 2010 saw Sen. Michael Bennet win a narrow victory, but only because it was a statewide election, and just enough voters were offended at the idea of sending a prosecutor who aids and abets rape to the U.S. Senate; it should be noted that in the state’s Fourth Congressional District, Colorado voters had no qualms about sending the abettor to the House of Representatives. Of course, voters in the states’ Fifteenth Legislative District also sent a paranoid, homophobic exorcist to the legislature, and in the overlapping Fifth Congressional District, returned Rep. Doug “Tar Baby” Lamborn to the House in celebration of ignorance and hatred. Looking at the Senate swing, it’s easy enough to fall back to the comfort that, for the most part, Democrats lost where they were expected to lose.

But a broader picture of voters can also be found in the midterm election; Republicans made enormous gains in state government across the nation. Certes, in a state like Washington, where ballot measures were the only statewide votes, things went about as expected; we don’t match the national trend, but that in part is because we had nothing to do with the question of Senate control.

But it seems this will be the defining legacy of the 2014 midterms. Voters said they want something, and then voted against it. At this point, we cannot begin to explain the result without accounting for irrationality in the psychopathology of everyday life. A dialectic of neurosis might explain the preference of party labels over real results, but is it a twisted identity politic or something deeper, like a craven need for perpetual Manichaean dualism? Close, low-scoring contests are the height of professional sportsα, but disastrous for political outcomes.

It’s easy enough to express what just happened in the sense that Republicans just won big in an election. The harder answer is to figure just what that actually means in terms of voters. As to governance, the answer is clear: The ability of governments in the United States to function appropriately will be further degraded as Republicans move forward feeling empowered to prove their thesis that government just doens’t work.

It is, furthermore, easy enough to say we want nice outcomes. It is harder to accomplish those nice outcomes, though, and nearly impossible for voters to admit that, no, they don’t really want that stuff. And that, too, might well emerge from a dialectic of neurosis, that people only say they want good outcomes because they fret about what the neighbors would think if they came right out and admitted what they’re really after.

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α The basic principle: Offense wins games; defense wins championships. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer … you name it, the principle holds. And let’s face it, outside the SEC, most American football fans are pretty much sick of sixty-point blowouts.

Benen, Steve. “NBC poll: Public attitudes clear as mud”. msnbc. 20 November 2014.

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A Look Ahead to History

The U.S. Capitol is pictured at Dawn in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 15, 2013.  (Photo by Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA)

So this is how it goes: Historically speaking, a rising group first finds the Devil in its specific opponents; as it expands, the group next finds the Devil in where its converts and new members are coming from; established, the group begins searching for and attempting to purge the Devil in its own ranks.

One of the great human narratives in which this occurs is the Bible: a rising Jewish sect invested the personification of evil in the Romans and the Jewish abettors who oppressed them. As it gained converts from the various paganistic religions of the day, the Devil became a personification of their former gods and goddesses. When Christianity achieved political power, it began finding the Devil within itself.α

The archetype emerges in other contexts; consider the Tea Party:

As most Republicans were taking a victory lap the morning after the elections, a group of conservatives huddled anxiously in a conference room not far from Capitol Hill and agreed that now is the time for confrontation, not compromise and conciliation.

Despite Republicans’ ascension to Senate control and an expanded House majority, many conservatives from the party’s activist wing fear that congressional leaders are already being too timid with President Obama.

They do not want to hear that government shutdowns are off the table or that repealing the Affordable Care Act is impossible — two things Republican leaders have said in recent days.

“If the new Republican leadership in the Senate is only talking about what they can’t do, that’s going to be very demoralizing,” said Thomas J. Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative advocacy group that convenes a regular gathering called Groundswell. Any sense of triumph at its meeting last week was fleeting.

“I think the members of the leadership need to decide what they’re willing to shut down the government over,” Mr. Fitton said.

(Peters)

The Tea Party appears to be in a transition between the second and third phases. They rose to prominence complaining about Democrats (2010); turned to challenge Republicans, gaining converts in doing so (2012); in the wake of the 2014 midterm, they would appear poised to attempt to purge the Congressional GOP of moderation. The only real question is whether they have the political power to do so. If they succeed, they might be setting up a 2016 “blue wave” to hand the White House and Senate to Democrats while demolishing the numbers advantage in the House. Then again, the House numbers are a little more secure; Republicans can continue sending exorcists to legislatures as long as they want, it seems.

And while that might suffice for, say, Colorado Springs, the rest of the country is starting to weary of the proposition that we must always, always, always slow progress, and even take a few regressive steps, in order to be fair to delusional bigots.

Remember the states and districts in play this year. The next two years of discord and gridlock that can only be broken by “compromising” with extremists who are only satisfied with a 100:0 compromise ratio—“We tell you what to do, you do it; see? compromise, we all have a role to play.”—are entirely on states like Iowa, Kansas, and Colorado.

And remember, it’s not like voters couldn’t see this coming; They were told.

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α cf, Pagels, Elaine. The Origin of Satan. 1995. New York: Vantage, 1996.

Peters, Jeremy W. “With Fear of Being Sidelined, Tea Party Sees the Republican Rise as New Threat”. The New York Times. 8 November 2014.