I love Woody Woo students. Their affability. Their political charm. Their electoral obsession. But I know I’m not – nor ever will be – one of them. I’m a prideful English major, content with my metrics, and my ever-mounting stacks of books. There are overlaps, assuredly, between the literary and the political approaches to life – human psychology and pompous writers come to mind – but sometimes, the gulf is felt. And a lot.
Yet on Wednesday last, something happened. I felt like a genuine certified political schmarm.
The scene: lunch, Hertford College’s dark wood-paneled dining hall. A portrait of former student John Donne vigils the fruit table. I arrange myself at a table of Woody Woo students – Woody Woo has an Oxford/Princeton fall term exchange – and listen for conversational cues. The Wooers are excitedly rehashing the elections. They get to the part about…my beloved state, fair Virginia…and they commentate like the best of sportscasters. I lower my head, quietly go at my lunch, and wait for:
“Hey, Porter, you’re from Virginia, aren’t you? So did you vote?”
And it comes. “Yes, I did,” say I. And I puff my chest out, just a little bit, and begin to expostulate, just a little bit, about how I feel like I am one of the 7000-some in the split-hair margin. “I voted for Webb.” Ah, true and fleeting political schmarmdom.
The next day, I wear my blue t-shirt that proclaims the truism of my state: “Virginia Is For Lovers,” and give passers-by on the street mildly amorous expressions. And Virginia Is For Lovers. Praise be Democracy.
— Porter White
My biggest election-night disappointment was the grace and civility with which Rick Santorum made his concession speech: devoid entirely of “man-on-dog” malapropisms and blast-from-the-past moralizing. My biggest election-night joy was reading Kathryn Jean-Lopez, Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg, and the rest on National Review Online’s “The Corner” grumble and grouse as things got darker and darker for them. It sure was a great night for schadenfreude – eminently detestable people like Santorum, Richard Pombo, J.D. Hayworth, Randy Graf, George Allen, Charles Taylor, Katherine Harris, and Don Sherwood all fell short, as did the anointed proxies of DeLay and Foley.
But it was also a great night for liberal hopes, for optimism, for beliefs and feelings that a year ago would have seemed quaint and naïve – like the feeling of being proud of one’s country, or the feeling of being “actually excited for the future of America,” as one friend and fellow Nasstaffer put it. I don’t know if I’m ready for this level of commitment: apathy got me this far, and apathy ain’t let me down yet. Apathy never lied about a blowjob or sold weapons to Iran. Apathy never bombed a wedding or a pharmaceuticals factory. Apathy is loyal and always forgives because she never remembers. Apathy was there with open arms when we went to war under false pretenses, and apathy was also there when we eighty-sixed the Geneva Convention. Apathy made hot cocoa and kept the radio playing when abortion became a crime in South Dakota, and apathy showed up with extra blankets when there was talk of secret prisons and illegal wiretaps. Apathy gives so much and asks so little. If you promise not to take things too seriously and stop worrying, she’ll reward you with unflappable well-being and a comfortable existence. And the only thing you have to lose is your soul.
South Carolina is a strange place where the nexus between cause and effect that holds elsewhere has no power. Whereas in other places the utter failure of our policies in Iraq and other fields has led to a decrease in Republican fortunes, here it became a stubborn point of pride to endorse those same failed policies come hell or high water. There are a few bright blue spots, though. As far as the Congressional delegation goes, SC-5 sent Rep. John Spratt (D) back to Washington where he’ll soon be chairing the Budget Committee, something no doubt as exciting as it sounds. And of course Rep. James Clyburn (D) won re-election by about 45 points in his low-country district. He’s the first African-American Congressperson from South Carolina since Reconstruction, and has been involved with civil rights in our state ever since the beginnings of the Orangeburg Movement and his work helping direct the South Carolina Farm Worker’s Association. CLOBBER ‘EM, CLYBURN – Jim Clyburn for Majority Whip!
— Hal Parker
Overheard in Cairo:
Cab Driver: Zis Bush. Ee’s no good. Yes, Deeck Shayney, he likes zees little boys. I know. Mahy friend American told me zis. Zees Saudis, zey like ze boys too.
High School Student: The elections are good for the people. They can express their – how you say…urges? With the government. In America this is good because Bush will die now.
— Colin Pfeiffer
I’m still pissed off at my ancestors for moving to Canada as loyalists during the American Revolution. They took all the trouble to venture over to this New World a whole century before, and then they couldn’t be bothered to stay when the shit hit the fan. When I was little, since I already owned a pony, I wanted nothing more than to become an American citizen. I saw their defection as the sole reason why I wasn’t. And boy, was I mad.
There are those silly explanations for why I want to be American: like I have always felt American, like I adore New England and New York, or like my belief in the principles of democracy equality and all those other pesky ideas of the Founding Fathers, blah, blah, blah. But a reason that is perhaps truer, and certainly less hackneyed, is that I love your elections. I can’t get enough of them. They’re my drug of choice. My sports, with sound bites and rhetoric replacing balls and bats and hoops.
I come from a parliamentary system, and as such, nothing is more comical that a two party affair. Elections in America are unbelievable because there is no real choice being made. If you don’t like one party, vote for the other. Especially in this day and age, when the two are separated by such a vast cultural chasm, there is no thought necessary when going to the ballot box. You agree or you don’t.
Two parties also force only one side to frame their issue coherently, as the other side only has to refute a policy point to take a stand. No thought needs to be involved, no nuance. Just opposition. When you’ve got four major parties vying for control, you’ve got to listen and learn and think hard about your choice.
Call me crazy, argue with me that it can’t be done because of the electoral college, but someone needs to get started on a viable third party. Not even for the national interest. But because it might even be more entertaining. Why do you think primaries are so nasty and so much fun? More people throwing more insults around equals an even better time. And sometimes, just sometimes, even more substantive debate.
— Ali Sutherland-Brown
A lot of people think that this midterm election was about Iraq, which it wasn’t, sort of. It’s about the implosion of Republican faux-populism and their loss of ‘values.’ It’s the explosion of caricatures of liberals as latte-sipping effete defeatists. Yet because the Dems have been put in the position of being the party for both liberals AND conservatives, the new Democratic majority is an unusual beast. The new senators include a gun-toting agrarian and a self-declared socialist. The Big Tent is back, bitches. It’s almost as if the New Deal coalition was reborn without the racial time-bomb implanted in its skull. All it took was half a decade of the highest offices in the country scaring the shit out of the American people, screwing them on behalf of the top one percent, starting a foolish war of occupation, and sticking their children with the tab.
This country is tired of the oddly Leninist-in-execution tactics of the Republican Party, and the one-party state we’ve been subjected to for the past four years. It’s not even the ideology, really. It’s the incompetence, corruption, and stupid greed that became the stamp of the party in power.
Katrina. Iraq. Abramoff. Foley. These events cut through the spin like a 20mm armor-piercing depleted uranium round.
In part, this may be a result of ideology – when government is held in contempt, only the contemptuous go into government! – but I think at its heart, this was what 2006 was about. Now, there were a lot of decent Republicans who got beat out for no other reason than they were running in the wrong year. 2008 will still be very interesting, but whatever happens, I hope both parties take to heart the mistakes of the past six years.
— Adam Flynn
I was talking politics, and the conversation veered towards the recent brash of hilarious/horrifying/offensive campaign ads, when it hit me: I’d much rather talk about tv ads than the real issues, because I know more about them how to judge them, and we’re all on the same page about what’s entertaining. You can’t grow up in America without developing at least a rudimentary appreciation for ads themselves – otherwise you’d go crazy. If your roommate plays the Didgeridoo, like, all the time, (and you know who you are, Chris Arp), you can’t help but develop an appreciation for when it’s better or worse. So the Anti-Harold Ford ads were a godsend. I’m tired of seeing some goon in a suit with a gaggle of pre-schoolers, or having an indifferent quote slide slowly the middle of the screen while someone tells me, “Joe Congress’s voting record proves he hates America.” And so unprofessional! Compare them to the recent TV ads for Casino Royale – it’s like comparing the New York Times to the Nass the Prince. Up until this election cycle, watching political ads has been like getting hit over the head with a Didgeridoo, but Goddamn it, that anti-Harold Ford ad is good. It’s sleek, it’s surprising, and the acting is good. I’m not so petty that I think this eclipses the obvious horror of the ad – on a moral level, it sucks worse than Flu-Fest (I don’t mean Flu-Fest is immoral, just lame), but there’s no arguing with a job well done.
— Ben Elga
To my mind, the most interesting part of the midterm elections was simply how much adrenaline was tied into interest. I enjoy a close race – close equals fair, right? – where I can root for the underdog, and I generally find both partisan politics and rabid little partisans startlingly shallow. Still, it was to my own surprise that I would follow the elections just on the basis of sheer suspense. The election process was entertaining, though not simple entertainment. Just think of that cultural phenomenon of the “election party.” Doesn’t “America” always win out over the odds? I don’t expect much to change in the D.C., yet it was a ton of fun seeing Goliath take a few to the knees. I certainly derived a weird sense of personal satisfaction by seeing a few senior citizens (politicians and otherwise) all flummoxed up on television, and I can only wonder how many voters went along for the same ride.
— John Raimo
Given the many failures of Bush’s second term, the Democrats unsurprisingly turned this election into a referendum on the President. Though the Democrats made large gains running negative campaigns, they did not offer voters many new legislative ideas, as the Republicans did in 1994 with their “Contract with America.” Even Sen. Chuck Schumer, the head of the DSCC, admitted in an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley A. Strassel, “75% of this election was about the people’s opinion of the president and 25% was about what Democrats would do.” And it’s quite possible he was being generous to the Democrats.
Months ago, the Democrats realized they were in good position to retake Congress, but they couldn’t obtain the majority running only liberal candidates. So Schumer and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who heads the DCCC, were forced to embrace more socially and economically conservative candidates. Heath Shuler, elected to Congress in North Carolina, is a pro-life, pro-gun conservative; Bob Casey, Senate-elect in Pennsylvania, is almost as conservative as his predecessor, Rick Santorum, except Casey is less abrasive and has a “D” next to his name.
Does the change in the type of candidate recruited to run for the Democratic Party show that the Democrats are now moving closer to the center, or does it reveal a party tired of losing and ready to sacrifice its principles in order to retake Congress? Voters should hope this is a sign that the Democrats are willing to moderate. Then, at least, a united Democratic Party would begin to pursue policies devoted to centrism, and could, hypothetically, push the Republicans to the center as well. If not, it shows that the 2006 Democrats are only united in their disapproval of the President. Assuming this is true, what will connect this ideologically diverse, agenda-less group two years from now?
— Sam Siegel
I have this problem where I get overexcited about things. So, when I returned from fall break, I told myself I would not watch a single minute of election coverage. This way, I could avoid an emotional rollercoaster. My plan of distraction seemed foolproof, but then I cracked. I was glued to Olbermann and Matthews. Even before midnight, the House had effectively been decided, but the Senate looked as though it would not be going my way. When McCaskill pulled ahead out in Missouri, though, I began to consider the possibility that an election night might actually turn out for the best. I fantasized about the long faces on Fox News the next day, the inevitable Bush press conference, and perhaps, far-fetched though it may seem, a positive short-term political future for this country. Oh, sure, the night wasn’t actually perfect: hateful folks made marital discrimination official in several more states, but Limbaugh and Jesus couldn’t stop Missouri’s stem cell bill from passing, and South Dakota’s abortion ban went down.
— Justin Gerald
Karl Rove’s dreams of a “permanent Republican majority” now appear to be shattered indefinitely, and for that, I think, we can all be grateful. I do hope, however, that the Democrats won’t let the midterm results go entirely to their heads.
This was not exactly a landslide victory. The Dems made great gains in the House, but less so than opposition parties usually do in sixth-year midterm elections during a two-term Presidency. They took the Senate by a margin of just one seat, delivered to them by a spread of only several thousand votes in Virginia and Montana. And look at the ideological credentials of many of the candidates thanks to whom the Democrats made their breakthrough. George Allen’s nemesis Jim Webb is a former Reagan appointee who is pro-gun and toes a hard line on illegal immigration. Pennsylvania’s creepy Rick Santorum was unseated by the pro-life Bob Casey. And get a load of Hence Heath Shuler of North Carolina, anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-tax – and now a Democratic congressman.
But I think the most meaningful election victory was Joe Lieberman’s. A few short months ago, he was overthrown by his own party, scorned and left for dead. Now Lieberman holds the balance of power in a 51-Democrat Senate. Perhaps this proves that even rampant Republican corruption, incompetence and arrogance do not a left-wing victory make?
— Akil Alleyne
I didn’t vote in this past election. I felt pretty bad about it so I figured that volunteering at the campaign headquarters in my lovely state of Maryland would be a sort of atonement for my democratic sins. I haunted voters reminding them to vote on Tuesday. Most people hung up on me. A few lingered and told me they supported the Democrats all the way, “Let’s throw all those Republicans out of there!” Most of the time I was just hung up on so I got a very non-feeling feeling about democracy in general. That’s before I talked to Phyllis, who needed convincing on just why exactly she should vote for the guy I told her to vote for. I didn’t have an answer. So she kept on pressing me, and I found myself in the midst of an explanation about how we need to change direction, how this ‘stay the course’ rhetoric has us stuck in Iraq, and how No Child Left Behind is a joke, and the Republicans don’t like poor people or something and I kept going on and on and I realized it was quite possible to talk on forever in these gutless, soulless word abstractions. Then Phyllis interrupted me and was like, “I know we are in Iraq. I ain’t askin’ you about what Bush has done wrong. I’m askin’ you why I should vote for Cardin, when he’s been in there for twenty years and all this has gone on. I mean why am I votin’ for him?” She gave me her number and told me to call her back with Cardin’s education plan and I did. I think I may have won him that vote. But then after all was said and done, and the balloons had fallen, I got to thinking about janitors. I wonder sometimes who has to clean up after parades and game shows and all that fancy stuff. And it’s probably going to be Phyllis and me. I can see us both hunched over four years from now, picking up wilted balloons and streamers – all red, white, and blue.
— Max Maduka
In Mississippi, national politicians are about as entrenched as they can be. So when I decided to check out the returns late that night, I was not at all curious about who had won, but rather how large their margin of victory had been. My eye turned first not to my own district but to that of the man for whom I worked this summer in D.C.: Charles W. “Chip” Pickering Jr. I was pleased to see that he had garnered 78% of his district’s vote…but the name beneath his, listed beside an unthinkable 16%, jumped out at me: Jim Giles, who for weeks stood flagrantly outside my private, relatively homogeneous (a.k.a. white) high school waving a massive confederate flag as we all arrived at school. A glance at Giles website, www.rebelarmy.com, confirms just how far some in my state have yet to come, while at the same time affirming the progress made in the hearts and minds of so many others – after all, in the 60’s, a man whose slogan read “Working for Whites” would have won by a landslide.
— Kelley Frances Fenelon
I have never voted in New Jersey, my explanation being that there is no inducement of which the human mind can conceive that would make me want to vote in a state as politically wacko as New Jersey. The past Illinois elections are bringing me dangerously close to reconsidering.
Cook County, long among the most Democratic and totally fucked-up-beyond-comprehensibility, elected Todd Stroger as the new Board President, in what has to be the worst electoral decision I have had the dubious privilege to live through.
2004? Ok, Bush sucks, on a wonderful, historic level, but that has its benefits. When we’re huddled in our post-apocalyptic techno-grunge enclaves, engaging in an eternal guerilla war with Canada over the remaining food stocks (Moose, white-tail deer, Quebecois), we can at least say “Hey, remember when we let North Korea and Iran get nukes so we could blow up shit we missed in ’91? That was freaking awesome!”
A quick history of Todd “Democracy is the system where the Democratic Party rules” Stroger:
Aside from the fact that Stroger was corrupt and wasteful and generally in every way bad, he also had the misfortune to suffer a severe stroke mere weeks before the primary. The Party bosses in the county, realizing they were faced with the first real prospect of reform since the Council Wars in the ’80s, concealed the severity of Stroger’s stroke, and campaigned hard. This had the tragic effect of allowing a man who, if he were a sympathetic looking woman with a crazy family, would be named Terry Schiavo, being officially the Democratic Party candidate. The Party maintained this absurd pretense until July, when it finally admitted that Stroger was an overweight, elderly cucumber, and replaced him with his son. So, in the end, a man who owes his position entirely to corruption and nepotism, and who can be relied upon to follow the orders of his sponsors to the letter, was elected 54% to 46%. And I can rest assured that the majority of my county is totally fucking retarded.
— Hal Pratt