What’s at stake in tomorrow’s elections? Nothing, unless you live there

Boy, am I tired of hearing references to the Tuesday elections in Virginia and New Jersey by the national media as something with national import, the most common intellectually lazy assertion being that they are somehow A Referendum On Barack Obama.

How absurd. When people go to the polls in Virginia to elect a governor, or whatever else they’re voting for there (I don’t know because I haven’t paid attention, because I don’t frickin’ live in Virginia, so it is none of my business), they will make their decision based on guess what: Which guy they want to be their governor. Or whatever.

But the Washington-based media, having to wait a whole other year until any of the politicians in Washington face the voters again, and not knowing any other way to write about politics except in the simplistic, one-side-vs.-the-other, partisan, sports-oriented, winner-vs.-loser terms of elections, decide to regard these completely unelected contests as being between surrogates, rather than between real people running for real offices with real issues that actually don’t translate past state lines.

As Ron Elving blogged over at NPR:

The people in Virginia or New Jersey may know the names of their candidates for governor; the rest of the country does not. Everyone, however, will recognize the name Obama, and that is where the conversation will turn.

Exactly. Except you don’t blame it on “the rest of the country.” It’s the national media who don’t know anything about the candidates for governor or the issues, so they will pretend it’s really about Obama, because they know who he is. Or think they do. Or believe they can fool enough viewers and readers that they do. And Mr. Elving makes another good point:

And however small the president’s role has actually been this fall, the focus on him is fair in one sense. The results of these elections will affect him. They will make his struggles in Washington a tad easier, or more difficult, depending on how they change the political conversation.

In other words, because the national media will act as though these are referenda on the president (or to a lesser extent the Democrats in Congress), and everybody in Washington will follow their coverage and believe that they are indeed referenda on the president, and will then act according to how said referenda went, it will affect real life in Washington. To the extent that real life can be said to exist there.

This stuff is so wrong, and it really makes me tired.

16 thoughts on “What’s at stake in tomorrow’s elections? Nothing, unless you live there

  1. Brad Warthen

    In a related matter: Are you holding your breath about the municipal elections tomorrow in Batesburg-Leesville, Chapin, Irmo or West Columbia, eager to find out what the results say about Obama?

    Of course not. In fact, you probably aren’t paying attention at all UNLESS YOU LIVE IN ONE OF THOSE COMMUNITIES. Which is as it should be, when the world takes its proper shape and people have a sense of perspective.

  2. Bart Rogers


    Every election since 2000 no matter where, what office, signficance whether local, state, or national, was somehow related to a referendum on the GWB administration. At the time, Democrats were looking for anything positive to hang their hats on. Now, the shoe is on the other foot and Republicans are doing the same thing.

    It has become a staple for pundits, newsrooms, media outlets, talk shows, and the internet to translate results into a harbinger of things to come. After Tuesday, we will have a never ending litany of speculative commentary for the next year about the results, especially if Republicans win 2 out of the 3 contests in Va, NY, & NJ. Count on it.

    And, the WH is adding fuel to the fire by making public comments like the one by Obama when he said the success of his agenda depended on the outcome in NJ.

    This is a reflection on what we have become as a nation.

  3. Burl Burlingame

    Brad, not national media. Beltway media.

    It’s like they got so high on the national election last year that they’re craving a new fix.

  4. Doug Ross

    I’m in D.C. this week. The local airwaves are chock full of campaign commercials. And one of the most frequently played I’ve seen is one with Obama endorsing the Democratic candidate at some rally.

    If Obama is going on the campaign trail for a candidate and allowing his words to be used in a commercial, then there IS some measure of the Virginia public’s perception of Obama so far built into the vote.

    And Corzine doesn’t win New Jersey after Obama trounced McCain there just one year ago, it DOES mean something. Again, Obama has been campaigning in New Jersey for Corzine. Today’s Washington Post quotes Obama as saying, “He’s (Corzine) one of the best partners I have in the White House”.

    More than anything, I hope we see a “throw the bums out” mentality sweep the nation (including SC for Graham) in 2010. Tomorrow may be the start.

    The general public doesn’t care about government run healthcare or clean air standards. They want JOBS, JOBS, JOBS. And LOWER TAXES, LOWER TAXES, LOWER TAXES. We may have finally reached the tipping point where Americans wake up and realize just how they’ve been screwed by career politicians.

  5. Doug Ross

    And think about this for a minute… if Obama were to lose his re-election bid in 2012, would it be the greatest flop in American political history?

  6. Brad Warthen

    No. Yes. I don’t know. Just as it’s impossible for me to judge — I mean, really judge, not approximate — what an election in New Jersey means, I can’t judge whether an Obama loss in 2012 would be shocking or not. Because I don’t live in 2012.

    And yes, I suppose that if you think in terms of the two parties meaning everything, a Democrat winning or losing would have meaning. But that means nothing to me. To me, it means that this PARTICULAR Democrat won or lost on the basis of his relative merits and the situation at hand.

    And Doug, did you mean “including SC for DeMint” in 2010? He’s the one up for re-election. Graham was re-elected last year.

  7. Doug Ross

    Ooops… guess it just seemed like Graham has been in there too long. DeMint’s fine with me. But he should also quit after he wins again.

  8. Doug Ross


    Are you suggesting that Obama’s endorsement of a candidate doesn’t carry any value? Because if it can carry value then it is also possible that it carries negative value for some voters. There is no denying that SOME voters will be going to the polls with the explicit reason of voting for a Republican candidate based on the performance of the head of the Democratic party. The question is how many SOME is.

    Republican wins in NJ, VA, and the NY Congress race will mean something.

  9. bud

    The general public doesn’t care about government run healthcare or clean air standards.

    No, but they do care about GOOD healthcare, something we currently don’t have with the disasterous system in place. And people defintely care about clean air. Who wants to breath dirty, polluted, carcinogenic-laden air? Not me. The best way to get both is through government intervention. The corporate elitists only care about profits, profits, profits. Big insurance has shown it’s true colors with all the whining about the various healthcare proposals. Big banks have thrust us into a downward economic spiral that allows people to pay lower income taxes BECAUSE THEY HAVE NO INCOME. And big oil and big coal don’t give a damn if an oil tanker founders on the beach of some pristine area or a bunch of coal miners die from lung ailments.

    It’s all about greed. Until people can acknowledge that corporate greed is at the heart of most of our problems we will continue to die before we should. It’s time to restructure our economy so that corporate power is reduced. It’s the only hope for our children’s future.

  10. bud

    Of course big government must shoulder the blame for much of what is wrong with America. They want to interfere in choices that only individuals should make. This includes anything related to ones body (sex, drugs) or money (entertainment). Clearly it is time to legalize marijuana. To think that in the 21st century we still outlaw a plant that is of very minor health risk. That just boggles the mind. How do we allow such a horrible injustice to continue? Folks actually go to jail because over zealous law enforcement officials find it offensive that someone would post a photo of an athelete with a bong in his hand. Simply mind boggling to me.

    And the mental gymnastics people exercise to find ways to justify continued legalization of coffee shops, ice cream stores and other expensive wastes of money while championing the outlawing of video poker is amazing. Yet I have to give them credit for creative reasoning. (Of course the flat earth people can also be very persuasive.)

    Sometimes the problems of corporate greed and government intrusion come together. The best example of this comes in the form of foreign adventurism. With corporate greed pushing the military industrial complex government succumbs (willingly) to the phony threats from tiny countries thousands of miles away. The result is imperialism disguissed as national security. What we end up with is a deterioration of national security and a failure even to obtain access to the raw materials underpinning the justification for war in the first place. I’m speaking of Iraq of course. (As a side note, its, funny how the folks who wanted that war in the first place pretend it acutally started with the “surge”, forgetting the fabricated justifications that led to the initial invation.)

    What we need to do is strike a balance between the dangers of corporate greed and the evils of government intrusion. That is a difficult and narrow path to follow but one that must be adhered to if we are going to become the great nation that we can.

  11. Doug Ross

    Tonight’s spin out of the White House is that the Democrat running for governor in Virginia will lose because HE DIDN’T ALIGN HIMSELF ENOUGH WITH OBAMA.

    So Obama thinks he can bring the votes… except when he can’t.

  12. Doug Ross

    Watching the governor’s debate tonight…

    Of the what-seems-like-dozens of candidates, the only ones I would consider voting for at the moment are:

    Nikki Haley: If we are truly interested in change, she’d be a good start. Smart. Conservative.

    Mullins McLeod: Most impressed with him even though I never had seen him before. Seems smart. Hopefully can be a new voice.

    Bauer: Like him or hate him, he’s the most polished politician. And he will always surprise. He’ll get the old lady vote.

    Sheheen: Another young, smart guy.

    As for the others:

    Barrett: George W. Bush clone… no thanks.

    Ford : Really? Do we really want to make SC an even bigger joke? His butchering of the English language is reason enough.

    Foghorn McMaster: Please, no. It’s not 1970, ah do declare.

    Drake : Can’t win. A lawyer who is not telegenic has two strikes. Throw in all the lobbying $$$ and he’s out.

    Grooms : Forgettable.

    Rex: Acts like a professor. Gives an air of “why do I have to explain myself to you cretins?”.

    See Brad – I’m looking at candidates, not parties. Two Republicans and two Democrats are on my short list.

  13. Bart Rogers

    For all of the hoopla surrounding the elections in VA, NJ, & NY, even though two governor races went to Republicans, Democrats gained another seat in the House from a district that has not sent a Democrat to Washington in recent memory.

    Now, who made the most gains or took another step in adding to their already super majority numbers? VA and NJ have a history of going back and forth between Democrat and Republican governors, NY-23 did not have a history of sending Democrats to the House.

    Personally, I would have to give Obama the advantage on this one.

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