Thursday, October 21, 2010

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Election Cycle.

If there is one thing that we can all be certain about, it is this: the 2010 mid-term elections will not be a referendum on ideology, no matter what the ditto heads at Fox News keep saying; they will be about two things: competence and frustration, pure and simple.

In fact most elections usually boil down to who can do the best job. It’s just that, given the shaky economy, tensions are particularly high this year. This translates to an over the top response by the electorate that borders on the irrational. If the unemployment rate wasn't hovering around 10%, fortunes would be considerably better for the party in power.  Right now it wouldn’t surprise me if a grapefruit took the lead in the national polls.

This is the largest anti-incumbent wave we’ve seen in generations and regardless of the outcome this November 2nd, the political landscape will be profoundly altered. If the Dems hold serve, they will do so by the slimmest of margins and more than likely will be, well what they’ve been so far, useless. If the GOP takes the House, and virtually all the polls now indicate that is likely to happen, expect gridlock as Republicans attempt to systematically repeal every Obama initiative from the Healthcare law to the Financial Reform law. If they can’t repeal them, they will simply not fund them. Can you spell “government shutdown”? If they take both Houses, well, let’s just say the next two years will not lack for drama.

Want proof that ideology is not driving this election? Three words: New York and Delaware. Despite the overwhelming tide of anti-incumbency that is alive and well in both states, voters are overwhelmingly rejecting the candidacies of both Carl Paladino and Christine O’Donnell. People may be pissed, but they’re not crazy enough to give the keys to the Kingdom to candidates who are clearly in over their heads and, shall we say, a few oars short of a full rowboat.

So if sanity is overcoming irrationality in New York and Delaware, and perhaps Connecticut, where Richard Blumenthal is still holding a sizable lead over Linda McMahon, why isn’t it doing so in the rest of the country? Why is Barack Obama’s Senate seat in Illinois, which in any other year would be a slam dunk for the Democrats, now considered a toss-up? Why is Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, in for the fight of his life in Nevada against a woman who makes Sarah Palin look intelligent? Why is Russ Feingold, a progressive stalwart of the Senate, and the co-sponsor of the McCain-Feingold Act, in need of a miracle to stave off almost certain defeat?

How can two completely different scenarios be unfurling right in front of our very eyes in various parts of the country in a year where being identified as part of the Washington establishment means almost certain derision from the masses and a ticket to the sidelines?

The answer is as obvious as the nose on your face. In virtually every instance where Republicans are leading their Democratic opponents, the temptation has been to look at the front-runner and ask what he or she is doing correctly that the other Republicans aren’t. I submit we have been missing the real question. It’s not what the Republican candidate is doing correctly to earn his or her lead; it’s what the Democratic opponent is not doing correctly to make his or her point.

Where Democratic candidates have stood their ground, and made the case for why they should be either elected or reelected, and shown themselves worthy of election in the eyes of the voters, polls show they are, for the most part, ahead in their races. Christine O’Donnell and Carl Paladino aren’t that much different in either their stances or temperament than, say, Sharon Angle or Joe Miller. The difference is that Andrew Cuomo and Chris Coons are considerably better opponents than Harry Reid and Scott McAdams, or Lisa Murkowski for that matter.  The fact that Alexi Giannoulias is tied with Mark Kirk is due more to Giannoulias' questionable connections to mobsters than to Kirk's superior campaigning.  That's what you get when you nominate Michael Corleone.

What the Right and, to a lesser extent, the Left have missed this election year is that voter frustration owes no loyalty to either party affiliation or inflammatory rhetoric. The Tea Party may think it is liberating America from the shackles of tyranny, but as far as the electorate is concerned, it comes down to one simple question: can you cut the mustard? This November it will cast its votes accordingly.

The crazies may end up riding the wave of discontent all the way to the finish line this year, but know this; if they do, they will owe their success as much, if not more, to a lack of qualified opposition than to whatever message they claim to have.

Crazy does as crazy is often allowed to get away with.

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