Tuesday’s election results, which apparently shocked the nation, have consumed days of TV talk as cable pundits and others have sorted through data for clues to explain why so many voters pulled the lever for Republicans.
Depending on the corridor — Interstate 405 or the Acela rail — every other person seems to be one or the other. That doesn’t mean they know what they are doing.
Democratic consultant James Carville would be an exception. In summing up why Virginia voters went for Republican Glenn Youngkin for governor instead of Democrat Terry McAuliffe, Carville said on PBS: “It’s this stupid wokeness.”
He was also correct when he said in 1992, during Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid.”
More generally, I would suggest that the simplest explanation for the outcome is about national identity. It boils down to this: Americans hate being told what to do. And lately they’ve been told a lot: Stay at home. Stand apart. Wear a mask. Get a shot. Get the booster.
Also? They don’t like transparently cutesy slogans that lack a cutting edge. Whoever came up with “Build Back Better” needs to go back to the marketing department or wherever they came from. At least “Make America Great Again” didn’t sound like a 5th grade diorama assignment. When the House convened to consider the BBB package Friday, I half-expected a singalong: Everything is beautiful, in its own wa-ay.
Some commentators have pointed out that voters are rarely so engaged in policy details that they’d oppose a candidate over a few billion dollars here and there. This is inarguably true. But they might vote against a party that’s trying to cram social services and climate regulations into the same $1.75 trillion package, even if some of the specifics accrue to their (or their grandchildren’s) best interests. There’s no mystery to why Democratic moderate Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who sided with big business rather than support Medicare expansions and corporate tax hikes, are now darlings of the GOP.
Telling Americans how to live their lives is, unfortunately, sometimes necessary, and I acknowledge that covid is one of those times. But don’t expect people to like it. Or to line up to vote for more of it.
It’s partly the spending, stupid. All told, President Biden’s proposed federal spending would amount to $5 trillion over the next decade, according to government number crunchers. Even though Democrats say that most will be covered by increased revenue coming from the wealthiest, it won’t just be billionaires picking up the tab.
But the other weapon Republicans deployed was about parental control, or lack thereof. Some voters surely see Biden’s proposed expenditures for universal pre-K, otherwise known as day care, as a back door to ever-greater government control over their lives. Or, in the vernacular of the far-right: government-weaned babies potty-trained by socialist nannies, precursors to propagandist educators schooled in critical race theory. More or less.
Virginia’s gubernatorial race was a textbook case. When Fairfax County parents objected to library books they deemed too sexually explicit for their children, McAuliffe sealed his own fate in an instant when he said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
If you want to lose an election, say that.
Some people, of course, are never satisfied no matter what a president or Congress serves up. Even people who would have benefited from “Obamacare” opposed it for one word alone: mandate. The program wouldn’t work unless everybody signed on, and so a penalty, subsequently determined by the Supreme Court to be a tax, would be imposed on non-participants. The cure for cancer could have been contained within Obamacare’s many pages and some Americans still would have rejected it. Simply put: They didn’t like being told what to do.
Opposition to faraway authority was among our founding battle cries and today remains a big part of our nation’s DNA. Democrats seem always to forget this. We don’t like hearing that something is for “your own good.” When government tries to relieve us of the burdens of responsibility, freedom is commensurately weakened.
Until Democrats absorb this message, we’re likely to see another Trump, if not the Don himself, come 2024.