cnerlien

Journalistic and Epistemological Dissonance

In Opinion/Editorial on November 12, 2010 at 1:05 am

As speculation about the meaning of this year’s election continues to pour in, we need to step back and understand the nature and structure of how our government is formulated.

From The New Yorker commentator Hendrik Hertzberg to GOP pundit Miguel A. Faria, Jr., there seems to be confusion in the press as to why the Democrats retained control of the U.S. Senate while the U.S. House was swept up in a Tea-Party tidal wave. For Hertzberg, “The Democrats retained their Senate majority by the grace of the Tea-Party, which in Colorado, Delaware, and Nevada, saddled republicans with nominees so weighted with extremism and general bizarreness that they sank beneath the wave so many others rode.” According to Faria, Jr. “if the entire Senate had been up for re-election in the same fashion as the House of Representatives, it is very probable, almost certain, that the Democrats…would have lost control of the Senate.” Now, granted Faria is a GOP air-horn, it is nonetheless disingenuous to treat the U.S. Constitution as an inconvienence. The very same document the GOP claims to champion cannot be made to justify any loss in the Senate. With respect to Faria, though, he gets the reasoning better than The New Yorker’s own Hertzberg.

The U.S. Senate is constructed to produce such an occurance as our nation saw in this year’s election. With 6 year terms and staggered elections, the constitutional framework carried out its task. It is important to note that this rarely happens to be the case, but a highly polarized political atmosphere should be seen as the most plausible moment by which such an occurance may come to pass. With that said, lets turn our attention to Hertzberg’s notion as to “the grace of Tea-Party.” The idea that somehow Tea-Party extremists in the GOP ranks caused a loss in three states and thus a retention of the Senate by the Democrats is foolhardy. Buck, Angle, and O’Donnell were hardly the only extremists running for office via the Tea Party Express (colloquially, that is). Political strategy is one thing, but every election is governed by the founding document and as such, must be analyzed with the U.S. Constitution at the starting line, not without a word, as in Hertzberg’s case, or as an inconvenience to one’s agenda, as Faria’s column suggests.

Putting aside the politics of the U.S. Senate, the over-arching question “what did the people truly say in this year’s election?” remains. Without question, the White House is feeling that it got shellacked, John Boehner is calling for change in Washington, and Mitch McConnell has a little spring in his step this fall. The numbers tell a bit of a different story though. In 2008, just over 53% of voters chose the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House, whereas just under 53% this year chose the Republican as Hertzberg rightly notes. The results were nonetheless more striking than these numbers suggest, but the numbers have a far deeper meaning than simple electoral victory and defeat. Our nation is simply divided. It is polarized to a much greater extent than many of us realize. This is the parsimonious reality of American politics today. The numbers don’t show a landslide, a mandate, or a call for sweeping change yet again just two years after many on the Left felt that Obama’s election had done just that. This year’s mid-term is reflective of a public that is anxious, unsure of  the nation’s needed course, all while more than 9.5% of them are unemployed.

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