This is the time of year when we hear all the drumbeating to get out the vote. Unfortunately, for too many Americans, the question is, “What for?” After all, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that two-thirds of those questioned believe the country is going in the wrong direction. Favorable ratings for the Democratic Party are at a 30-year low of 39 percent, and Republicans are even lower, 33 percent. That same survey, by the way, puts Barack Obama’s approval rating at 40 percent, which is also a new low for him.
This is the midterm election, though, which is not about Obama. Among other things, it’s about deciding who will make up the next Congress, and whether Republicans, who now control the House, also will take over the Senate.
Except that to a large degree, this IS about Obama. The GOPs are running against him and his dismal approval numbers. Nearly all the Dems are running away from him. The most glaring example is the Senate race in Kentucky, where the Democratic candidate, Alison Grimes, isn’t even willing to say whether she voted for Mr. Obama in his presidential races. He’s that unpopular in the state.
In the process, though, Mrs. Grimes has embarrassed herself to the point that the party’s money people are pulling out their ad dollars. Obviously, they’ve concluded that Kentuckians will choose Mitch McConnell for his sixth term. Not only that, but if the Republicans take over the Senate, which looks likely, McConnell almost certainly will become majority leader, the guy who runs the show.
Here’s the thing: McConnell is really unpopular in the state. The polls show that he, too, rates just above pond scum. But the D’s ran such a bad campaign (or came up with such a weak candidate — or both) that residents of the state are left with little option but to hold their noses when they vote for one or the other.
Actually, there’s a third option, and it’s one that so many Americans choose these days. It’s the not-voting option. Various experts predict the turnout will be under 40 percent, well under. That means six out of 10 voters will not bother. Invariably, it causes a lot of hand-wringing, but let’s look at things a different way: Who can blame them?
As in Kentucky, there is a growing belief nationwide that we have lousy choices. We’re expected to choose between Tweedle Dee Sleaze, and Tweedle Dee Dumb. There are a lot of reasons for this.
The defenders of our system as it exists now blame vicious negative ads, which reduce any well-intentioned candidate to rubble. They also correctly blame those of us in media for scandalmongering and blowhard analysis with little coverage of substance. What person in his right mind would subject him- or herself to such certain abuse? The answer is: not many, so we’re left with a dubious selection.
The winners usually are the ones who sell their souls to the monied special interests and are able to afford more of the toxic commercials that poison not just their opponent but any positive feelings the potential voters might have naively held. Then the victors head off to Washington, where they don’t disappoint, mainly because nobody expects anything good from them.
I’ve often advocated for a “Vote No” choice on the ballot, where we could exercise our franchise by rejecting the options. The problem is that “No” would usually win.
The best we can do now is to choose the one we dislike least to misrepresent our interests in government. Of course, there is another possibility: We can demand that our political system clean up its act and attract those who truly believe in honorable public service. If we don’t, our political system’s days are numbered.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.