The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

David Brooks thinks 2014 is the ‘most boring’ campaign he can remember. It’s even worse than that.

Even Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is bored with this election. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

David Brooks thinks this election stinks.  Here's how he described it in a column Tuesday:

Brooks is right. Having watched lots and lots of TV ads and talked to lots and lots of candidates, pollsters, media consultants and other political professionals over the last 22 (or so) months, it's become clear that at the center of this election is a whole lot of nothing.  On the one side you have a Democratic party whose enthusiasm for the "hope" and "change" promised by Barack Obama six years ago has withered, and which hopes to hang on to its Senate majority by running away from him. On the other are Republicans who are entirely content to simply be the not-Obama party, trumpeting their plans to roll back some of his most controversial accomplishments but without any real plans of their own about what to do.

That lack of ideas — new or otherwise — has created a remarkable sameness (and vanilla-ness) in the rhetoric being used by the two parties' candidates all over the country. Republicans like to remind voters how their Democratic opponent voted with Obama "99" or "97" or "93" percent of the time.  Democrat after Democrat argues that Republicans want to rob women of their rights, roll back the clock to the "Mad Men" era and reward the wealthy on the backs of the poor. In virtually every high-profile race — no matter what state it is being held in or whether it's an open seat or a challenger taking on an incumbent — you hear variations on those attacks. And almost nothing else.

It's a race to the bottom with the emphasis on tearing the other guy (or gal) down. Of course, there's some level of "same as it ever was" at work here.  Campaigns — and especially midterms — don't tend to be the ones in which the two parties battle it out in the arena of "big" ideas.  Back in 2006 — when Democrats won a sweeping victory in the House — they pushed a policy platform called "Six for '06" but, in truth, that was largely a set of platitudes, not a specific blueprint for what they would do if given control. Even the much-ballyhooed "Contract With America," which is widely credited with keying the Republican House takeover in 1994, was more of a broad policy statement than a set of specific ideas. (The entire "contract" runs a total of two pages.)

But the thing that's different this time around is that the American public are in a stage of disenchantment and anxiety that is historically unique. Faith in institutions — from Congress to the presidency to the Supreme Court to big business — is at or near record lows.  A majority of people believe the country is headed in the wrong direction — and have felt that way for years.

Add it all up and you get an anxiety-filled electorate, anxious not only about the various challenges (threats?) we face in this country and around the world but also about the ability of our leaders, in politics and outside of it, to do anything about it.   In a world of the Islamic State, an aggressive Russia, turmoil in the Middle East, Ebola fears, an economy not recovering as fast as anyone wants and a growing belief that the American Dream is dying (or dead), there's no one out there offering a vision of what the future could — and should — look like.

The election is boring, sure. But it's more than that. It's vapid and inconsequential at a time when the world's challenges suggest a need for something more. We now live in an era of political smallness mismatched to the big-ness of the societal issues we face. It's no wonder everyone is so anxious about the future. It's as fuzzy as it's been in a very long time.

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