Seriously?

It’s hard not to be cynical about the 2014 US Midterm Election results.

  • Candidates whose extremist views should have disqualified them or made them unelectable won.
  • Negative campaigns by “soft money” groups made a mockery of any candidate claiming to have run a positive campaign.
  • It’s hard to know if voters voted for someone, for someone’s ideas, or against someone.
  • Deceit, treachery, and lies are hard to refute.
  • It’s not enough to run against a bad candidate; you have to be a good candidate yourself.

I sort of understand the re-election of Scott Walker in Wisconsin. If he survived the recall election in 2012, it’s not unfathomable that he would win re-election two years later. What I don’t understand are the re-election victories of Paul LePage (Maine), Sam Brownback (Kansas), and Rick Scott (Florida), probably in descending order of incredulity. Paul LePage reportedly has gone out of his way to antagonize almost everyone in Maine. Apparently a third party candidate split the “Anyone but LePage” vote enough to secure his victory. Brownback’s extremist Libertarian state government fiscal policies have left that state’s finances in tatters, with declining revenues and souring debt ratings, but somehow he rallied to win. Florida may have been a case of a bad candidate beating another bad candidate, someone who changed parties to run again. I still thought Scott had sealed his defeat with Fan-gate, but apparently Charlie Crist is just that toxic.

It was galling to see a campaign ad for Scott Walker here in Wisconsin in which he claims to have run a positive campaign. This just illustrates why I could have titled this entry, This is Your Fault, John Roberts! Walker has already been under investigation about whether his recall campaign colluded with soft money groups in 2012, which would violate the charters of the soft money groups blessed by the Citizens United Supreme Court case. How is it that so many TV ads slammed Mary Burke so thoroughly — and in some cases, with so little truth in them? If Walker thinks he ran a clean, positive campaign, exactly what did he do to condemn or distance himself from those negative ads that worked in his favor?

The restrictions on soft money groups almost guarantee that they’ll run negative proxy campaigns. If they can’t endorse a candidate, all they can do is focus on an issue — and call out any politicians opposed to their position on these issues.

I really hope that Joni Ernst didn’t win in Iowa because Iowans love her positions on women’s rights and abortion. Did she win because of some “compelling personal narrative,” or did her opponent and his proxies merely antagonize her natural opponents? Did Pat Roberts win reelection to the Senate from Kansas because his positions represent Kansas so well,or did his opponent fumble away a chance by being evasive on some issues?

Slate Magazine has a post about November Surprises, those bombshells that occur extremely late in a campaign that sink a candidacy. They discuss Kay Hagan in North Carolina, who was reported, apparently erroneously, to be under investigation for abuse of stimulus money. Unmentioned there were the allegations that Mary Burke, instead of being a successful businesswoman, was actually forced out of the family business. Never mind that the accusations were refuted and the source discredited; the accusation may have effective enough to change some votes or merely suppress some votes. These reports weren’t from their opponents; they were from their opponents’ proxies. Sadly, it’s hard to quickly refute stories that are inaccurate at best and quite possibly malicious.

Did Walker of Wisconsin (as opposed to Walker of Alaska) win because how how much 50.1% of the electorate likes him, or did the electorate merely vote against Mary Burke? Did Scott of Florida win, or did Crist lose? Crist lost in 2010’s primary season when he chose to run for Senate; were the reasons he lost then the same as why he lost now? Martha Coakley of Massachusetts lost a statewide election for Senator four years ago, and like Crist, she lost a statewide election, for Governor, four years later. You have to wonder if Massachusetts Democrats, like Florida Democrats, should have known to run someone else instead.

All of this makes me fear that elections haven’t been about policies for a long, long time. We, the voters, apparently are willing to let politicians run shallow campaigns and get elected and reelected. We have no mechanism to tell politicians, “No, this wasn’t an endorsement of your ideas; it was a rejection of your opponents’ poor campaigns, or “We bought the negative ads against your opponent, not your stated policies.”

Senators who weren’t up for elections will benefit from these results. With the shift in power, climate change deniers like James Inhoefe and Ted Cruz will take up committee chairmanships over areas like energy policy or science policy and get to impose their rejection of science (or their endorsement of corporate campaign contributions) upon the rest of us. God help us all, even non-Americans, from the policy debacles likely to follow.

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