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.
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.
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.