Mark Leibovich writes about "the bumpkinization of the midterm elections" -- candidates running ads in which they wear flannel shirts, ride Harleys, shoot guns, and tell cornball jokes:
McFadden, a former college-football player who now coaches a youth team, recruited his players to appear in a "Bad News Bears"-style spot in which they mess up handoffs ("Washington is fumbling our future") and clobber each other ("Obamacare needs to be sacked") before the coach rouses them to "get out there and hit somebody." At that point, for no particular reason, one player hits him below the belt, leaving the coach to recite the "I'm Mike McFadden, and I approve this message" bit in a high-pitched squeal -- the universal signifier of a guy who has just been hit in his junk.And, of course, the classic of the genre, from Iowa's GOP Senate candidate, Joni Ernst:
When Ernst, who grew up on a farm castrating hogs, opened her mouth to speak, she drew the inevitable connection between her upbringing and her current role as a Republican candidate for the United States Senate. "When I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork," Ernst said, smiling. Title cards reinforced her credentials. ("Joni Ernst: Mother. Soldier. Conservative.") "I'm Joni Ernst, and I approve this message because Washington is full of big spenders. Let's make 'em squeal."Paul Waldman seems inclined to blame this on the voters as much as anyone else:
I wouldn't want to excuse Washington consultants, but let's not forget that responsibility is not zero-sum. Everybody who takes part in this is to blame. There are the candidates, who serve up a ten-course meal of drivel. There are the outside groups that swoop in and try desperately to distract and confuse. There are the reporters who decide that it's really important that they write another ten stories about somebody's chickens or somebody else's "gaffe."Well, yeah, but the reason they don't is that they're constantly told -- by serious-seeming, non-bumpkinish journalists -- that the policy differences between Democrats and Republicans, and the parties' strategy differences (specifically, Republicans' absolute refusal to compromise on issues of substance), are less important than a generalized "gridlock" that in most stories and opinion columns is reduced to a simple playground standoff. Voters are told on a regular basis that the substance of our political arguments doesn't matter -- what matters is that Congress (everyone in Congress) fights like kids in a sandbox; what matters is that President Obama doesn't lead.
But in the end, ultimate responsibility lies with the voters themselves. It is within their power to say to candidates, "Look, I'm upset about Congress' inability to solve problems too, but the fact that you put on a flannel shirt and told me a story about the wisdom of your grandpappy does nothing to convince me you'll actually be able to solve those problems." They could do that. But they don't.
Journalists, pundits, and even Democratic politicians (and certainly Republican pols) dumb down economics, telling voters that they should think of the federal budget the way they look at their family budgets -- even though the federal budget includes many levers that help in the process of creating prosperity, in a way that family budgets don't. If voters are told that budgeting is simple -- jut spend less than you take in and you're golden (as recessions hit, people go without help they need, and Keynes rolls over in his grave) -- of course they think politicians with simplistic messages make a whole lot of sense.
Yes, a lot of voters are unsophisticated. But the sophisticated don't do very much to change that. So these are the campaigns we get.