It’s a platitude we hear about politics all the time: Negative campaigns should be avoided. I don’t know how to break this to everybody, but at this point in our history, it’s nearly all negative. Let’s face it, we rarely vote for candidates. Normally, we cast our ballot against them.
No wonder. As often as not, it’s a choice between bad and worse — or worst, if there’s a third party involved. Of course, this year it’s really about choices … 468 of them: 435 in the House of Representatives, 33 in the Senate. But it’s also a singular decision that Americans will make about President Barack Obama. He’s not up for election this year, but he could be down if Republicans take control of the Senate along with the strong likelihood that they’ll at least maintain their House majority. Then, we can pretty much kiss the Obama presidency goodbye. Any of his selections for the high offices in his administration that require “advise and consent” will disappear into the partisan black hole. The same goes for any legislation he might initiate. He’ll be left with the power of the veto, and maybe not even that if enough frightened Democrats can be recruited for an override.
There’s an unpleasant debate ongoing about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She’s the most ardent liberal on a Supreme Court that has already been taken over by conservatives. She’s also had her share of serious health problems. So there’s a clamor on the left for her to resign. Why? So Democratic President Obama can nominate a progressive to replace her. And let’s not even bother with the claim that the justices’ rulings rise above politics. That’s demonstrable poppycock, which is a word I use because children might be reading this. The problem is that if the GOP has taken the Senate, you can forget about any jurist nominated by the White House. By the way, Ginsburg says she ain’t going anywhere, but if any Supreme leaves, a replacement just won’t be picked between now and 2017.
So what are the alternatives? What do you do when you believe that all of the candidates are buffoons, or worse? How do you select between political philosophies that leave you cold? And how do you express your disgust over an election that almost certainly will be determined by big-money interests who will then control the agenda in Washington?
That’s hardly an exaggeration. You probably read about the newly released study results compiled over 21 years by Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page from Northwestern. They found that “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose.”
Put another way, we’ve regressed from a true democracy into an oligarchy. What’s the point of voting? Why not express disapproval by staying home? Sometimes, frankly, that’s the best way to demonstrate one’s contempt.
This is not one of those times. This year, it’s important to do what little each of us can do to make it as difficult as possible for various insidious forces to completely take over. Unless we really don’t care whether the theocrats pass laws that govern our personal choices, we need to reject those who pander to them. Unless we’re perfectly happy for fewer and fewer people to control all of our wealth and leave the rest of us with nothing, we need to get out and cast our ballots. And for those who are worried that liberals are clearing the path for a government takeover, they need to vote.
They already will, whipped into a frenzy over Obamacare. But on both sides, we all need to get off our butts and choose. Then we can figure out if there’s any chance that our government is capable of accomplishing anything through negotiation. Or not.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.