The Midterms, 2014

Federal Hall, the original meetingplace of the US Congress.
Engraving of Federal Hall By Robert Hinshelwood, 1855

You may have heard, the United States Senate will be in Republican hands until at least 2016. You may have heard, it was a bloodbath, a slaughter. One of the two is true, the other is silly.

In 1972 or 1980 the presidential elections could arguably be called slaughters. Republican presidents elected by huge margins (Nixon by about 23 points and Reagan by about ten). But in the 2014 midterms, although the Republicans picked up a number of seats, the spreads were not at levels to be called pummelings.

The media, for their part, don’t care. If a boyscout helps an old lady cross the street, the media would call it a mugging for the ratings. The media is a waste of our time. The result, predicted in advance, was acted as a surprise by the media. There were a few surprises, but all within the margins of prediction.

And now the media trots out their analyses of “what went wrong” or “what went right.” Tries to distill some lasting wisdom from what amounts to business as usual.

In the nine closest races for the United States Senate, the average margin was 4 to 4.5 points. With a turnout likely in the mid-30s, that means if we ever get people to actually vote the results could be wildly different. But it also means that among the close races, where the balance of seats actually changed hands, there was no overwhelming preference.

In other words, the media interprets local elections as though voters have national intentions. They try to pack into the voting public ideas of intention that do not fit there. They harm voter motivation by making it seem like the people who voted against the winners of various races might as well have gone out and flown kites all day.

But that’s not how our country functions. A close race means no mandate. It means that while the balance of power might have swung in the smaller body, all the people continue to be represented. Republicans and Democrats with slim margins, should represent their constituents. Those with big margins should, too. But the media won’t say that.

Even in no-contest states, where the margin might be 20 or even 30 points, where the mandate is clear, there are still a lot of people that voted against the winner. And they should still be represented. The media conflates popular choice of representation with a parlor game where the winner is endowed with only the power of her winnings and not responsibility to use them wisely.

Not so. The duty is to govern, the oath is to do so. The media needs to get its head on straight. They have a bizarre split narrative chalking up the ballot initiatives to being a consolation prize, while painting the elections as a drastic repudiation. People just want a functional government, and the ballot initiatives that passed in most states make that clear.

Let’s just hope the Republicans are smarter than the media. If they are, they may actually prove themselves worthy of their victories.

What should they do? Tax reform. Clear the code out, fund the IRS properly and modernize it. Why they won’t: most of their biggest donors reap huge rewards from the arcane code and broken bureaucracy of the IRS. They want reform (to them meaning tax cuts), but it’s unlikely they want real reform enough to forgo a rate cut to get it.

Financial regulations. Protect the economy from the offenses that caused the recession. Why they won’t: the Democrats barely tried, the Republicans won’t even make an attempt. If they did, they wouldn’t know where to start.

Immigration reform. Build some good-will with hispanics while making for a more robust worker visa program that strengthens the economy. Why they won’t: their base might vote for them less enthusiastically.

Health care reform. The ACA could use some improvements, not abolishment. Why they won’t: they aren’t interested in issues that affect the average citizen, and their base hates the ACA for no good reason.

Climate change. They could introduce some modest legislation that would not be what’s needed but would be a first step. Why they won’t: their party’s position is that it doesn’t exist.

Bolster women. They could strengthen laws protecting women against violence and improving wage-parity. Why they won’t: their base is the employer class, and stronger women means stronger workers, which is seen as dangerous to employers.

Bolster education. Reduce the cost of college, improve the quality of primary schools. Why they won’t: modern businesses think education grows on trees, they don’t train their workforce like they used to, and they certainly don’t want to pay to educate competitors’ workers through public education.

What, oh what, will the Republicans do? This is their chance to step away from the ledge. To actually accomplish something. Even something modest would be a welcome change. The next two years will either be their comeback or their epitaph. Ball is in their court.