The signs of panic on the left surround you like microscopic droplets of water; they are observable if you have any interest in isolating and identifying them, but they can also be safely ignored and even denied if you are not inclined toward intellectual honesty. Guess which course the center-left press is taking?
For weeks, a notion has been taking hold among ostensibly nonpartisan journalists and the leftwing commentariat which holds that this election is about nothing in particular. The Weekly Standard’s Stephen F. Hayes, who demolished this narrative in a must-read piece, observed a deluge of reporters racing to pay homage to this theme like high school teenagers tripping over themselves to declare fealty to the latest socially desirable trend. But repeating a narrative often, as Hayes observed, does not make it true.
“Not only is this election not about nothing, it is being fought over exactly the kinds of things that ought to determine our elections,” The Weekly Standard’s editor observed. “It’s about the size and scope of government. It’s about the rule of law. It’s about the security of the citizenry. It’s about competence. It’s about integrity. It’s about honor.”
It’s about a government that makes promises to those who have defended the country and then fails those veterans, again and again and again. It’s about a president who offers soothing reassurances on his sweeping health care reforms and shrugs his shoulders when consumers learn those assurances were fraudulent. It’s about government websites that cost billions but don’t function and about “smart power” that isn’t very smart. It’s about an administration that cares more about ending wars than winning them, and that claims to have decimated an enemy one day only to find that that enemy is still prosecuting its war against us the next. It’s about shifting red lines and failed resets. It’s about a president who ignores restrictions on his power when they don’t suit him and who unilaterally rewrites laws that inconvenience him. It’s about a powerful federal agency that targets citizens because of their political beliefs and a White House that claims ignorance of what its agents are up to because government is too “vast.” In sum, this is an election about a president who promised to restore faith in government and by every measure has done the opposite.
Hayes seems to have effectively shamed the press into reading a few of the polls which indicate that voters do, in fact, have priorities and positions on issues which are making them likely to head to the polls in November. The embarrassingly naïve narrative that 2014 was about “nothing” virtually disappeared in the days following Hayes’s column.
If you thought, however, that this means that the press would begin asking themselves what factors are driving an atypically competitive election cycle, you have not yet abandoned all hope. This mortifyingly silly narrative has been replaced by an even sillier one designed to absolve the left of a responsibility to engage in introspection following what is likely to be a stunning rebuke at the hands of American voters.
The 2014 midterm elections may not be about nothing, per say, but what they are about is terminally “boring.”
The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn noted that, to the extent that there is one issue being litigated by politicians of both parties on the stump this year, it is the Affordable Care Act – a law most Democrats will not aggressively defend and which most Republicans no longer convincingly claim they will repeal. Moreover, the TNR editor penned, GOP control of the Senate is a temporary condition; a map more favorable to Senate Democrats in 2016 combined with the dynamics of a presidential year make it likely that Senate Republicans will again be relegated to the minority in the 115th Congress.
First, there is nothing boring about this election. To confess ennui as an observer of an election in which control of the Senate will be determined by no fewer than nine razor-tight races, all polling within the margin of error, is to admit to a languid jadedness that would have impressed F. Scott Fitzgerald.
For political observers, particularly the dispassionate poll-watcher, this election cycle has been a fascinating one. Even an attempt to make the argument Cohn does, that the outcomes of the 2014 midterms will be of only marginal significance, does not hold water. The results of the 2014 elections will determine how Obama’s presidency closes, and that will prove the single most important factor in determining whether his party performs the historically difficult task of retaining control of the White House for a third term.
Cohn’s is an expression of grief more than a shot at political analysis, but so, too, were the many reporters who insisted that the election was about nothing at all. As Hayes ably noted, this election is about so many issues and of great consequence. How could that possibly be boring?