The petty, empty spectacle of the 2014 election

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.