Job Well-Done, Media: The Destruction of the Vote

The Rude Pundit is not going to predict whether or not the Republican Party will take over the Senate on Tuesday (or after run-offs in Georgia and Louisiana). His head says, "Of course." His gut says, "No way." Both have been egregiously wrong before when not in sync, as a mad cocaine and tequila weekend in San Francisco 10 years ago showed him. What he does know is that the speculation about whether or not the Republicans would win back the Senate began about five seconds after the 2012 election results were in. He knows that the drumming of the media since then has been that the takeover would happen, that Republicans would win back a majority, that the wretched worm-that-walks, Mitch McConnell, would become the majority leader.

Here's America's Greatest Poin, Nate Silver, prognosticating in February 2013 like we didn't just finish an election three months earlier: "Summing up the possibilities across all 35 Senate races yields a net gain of four to five seats for Republicans, just short of the six they would need to win back the majority. However, the margin of error on the calculation is very high at this early stage." So, of course, everyone took the story to be "Republicans Might Win the Senate." (This is not to mention Silver's November 16, 2012 column, "Democrats Unlikely to Regain House in 2014," which sits somewhere between "Fer chrissake" and "No duh.") By July 2013, the New York Times's David Firestone was already bemoaning what would happen when Republicans take over the Senate.

So that's what we've heard, on an endless loop, for 18 months: Republicans will win the Senate in 2014. It's a psychic beatdown by the mainstream media, let alone insane right-wing radio babblers and Fox "news." We're left with a disgust with the whole process, like someone telling you that Bruce Willis is dead in The Sixth Sense before you see the movie. All you've got then is a half-assed story of a mopey kid. (Oh, spoiler alert.)

The cycle of our elections has become a masochistic exercise, a perversion of whatever "democracy" is supposed to be. God help you poor bastards in states with tight races, where you must be seeing ads with a density and repetitiousness that'd break Alex in A Clockwork Orange quicker than a stream of violence. All you wanna do is sit down for an evening of NCIS: Poughkeepsie or wherever it is now, and you're inundated with a barrage of messages and images, telling you how horrible one candidate is, how awful the other is, how one will take your guns, how one will abort your 5 year-old, how one will get us all terror-murdered, how one will let Muslims dance on your entrails. This isn't democracy. It's an endurance test. And you can bet the ads aren't going anywhere because that's gravy to the meat of the local and national channels.

You combine the disgust with the whole flagellation-by-campaign-commercials with the endless news that the Senate is lost with being told that everything is going to hell (when, really, really, it's actually pretty damn good out there right now) and with voting restrictions in several states that are, quite humorously, affecting Republican and Democratic candidates (right now, Rick Scott sure wishes there were a few more days of early voting), and there's no reason not to throw up your hands and wonder if you should bother. We cannot sustain this. It is as if every election becomes a battle over who can cause the most PTSD to the general population, so scarred by the images and words that they'll vote for anyone to make it stop. Or just stay home and cover their eyes and ears and ignorantly hope that no one does anything to impact their day-to-day existence.

Congratulations, media. You've reduced hope from transformation of the nation to the whimper of "Leave me alone, please." When we parse this election out, there will be time to blame the Democratic Party for its failings. But it will not be theirs alone. It will be all of ours.

Elections should be more like sports seasons. We go through it for a few months and it's over, and only the die-hard fans follow the machinations of what goes on during the off-season. For most fans of losing teams, there's a sense of "Thank Christ that's over until next year." In the Times today (now that Nate Silver doesn't work there anymore, it's safe for people to speak out without fearing his wrath), an op-ed by a Duke professor and student calls for an end to the midterms: "[T]he two-year cycle isn’t just unnecessary; it’s harmful to American politics. The main impact of the midterm election in the modern era has been to weaken the president," often one that was just elected two years before after a long campaign. That's messed up.

We are defeating ourselves, constantly at the midterms. It's a calculated effect that both parties count on. And, yes, it keeps getting worse and worse. How the hell do we try to make this better? How do we attempt to reinvigorate the act of voting in the midterms as more important than a Facebook quiz? Or can we?