In the run-up to every election, Americans are told they must vote because “this election is the most important of our lifetime.” Usually these words are spoken by candidates for whom every election is the most important of their lifetime — because they can be career-killers if they lose.
Every election is important, of course, and free citizens should take pride in exercising a right that many have fought and died to protect. Not every election is quite as important as some claim, though. This year, however, the claim is justifiable. The votes cast today across this country will determine not just who manages the Senate, but the course of American domestic and foreign policy for perhaps a decade.
President Obama spoke the truth in declaring that while he isn’t on the ballot, this election is about his polices, “every single one” of which is on the ballot. Some Democrats were dismayed because their Senate and congressional candidates were busy assuring voters that a vote for them was not necessarily a vote for everything Mr. Obama wants.
That, as both they and their president know, is pure bunkum. They can say whatever it might take to win, but know too that when their party and president call, they will support his increasingly unpopular policies. They and their president know that if they can maintain their majority in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will continue to call the shots, and they will respond.
So as Americans go to the polls, they should be asking themselves not just whether they and the country are better off today than two, four or six years ago, but whether they have any confidence that things will get better if we don’t change direction. The polls suggest that most voters think we aren’t doing very well at home or abroad; most question the direction Mr. Obama and his Senate supporters are taking us and their ability to do much of anything well.
Pollsters are almost uniformly telling us that while many races remain close, Republicans may well find themselves with a Senate majority Wednesday morning. Whether that happens isn’t up to them, but to those millions of Americans who have already voted or will be doing so today. In a representative democracy, pollsters and party bosses don’t have that final say. Voters do.
In many ways, this fall’s election campaign was a disappointment. The vital issues that will be decided today were too often ignored as candidates exploited racial and gender issues in disgusting and potentially dangerous ways. In North Carolina, supporters of an incumbent female senator ran ads trying to tie her Republican opponent to a murder in Florida. In Louisiana, a Democratic incumbent female senator suggested that the president’s weakness in the state that had elected her several times, along with an Indian-American governor, were traceable to racism and hostility to women.
In Iowa, where a conservative Republican appears to be on her way to becoming the first female elected statewide there, her popularity is dismissed by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin because she is “as good looking as Taylor Swift.”
In Colorado, the state’s usually reliably liberal newspapers have endorsed a Republican over an incumbent liberal Democrat senator because of the senator’s refusal to discuss real issues. His campaign has been little more than a monomaniacal diatribe portraying his Republican opponent as a foot soldier in some mythical “war on women.”
It is true that as Peter Finley Dunne’s Mr. Dooley said years ago, “Politics ain’t beanbag,” but the vitriol and personal attacks broadcast this election cycle have been over the top at all levels. In Washington state, supporters of a Democratic candidate published brochures charging that the Catholic Republican opponent is “running not to represent you, but the pope.” If that wasn’t enough, the brochure also condemned the poor fellow for having been born in Mississippi. It was difficult to tell whether it was his Catholicism or roots that was his greatest sin. All this blather is tiring, and some of it borders on the disgusting, but today the decision lies in the hands of voters who, if history is any guide, are fully capable of seeing through the rhetoric and electing men and women who will at least try to solve serious problems.
There are some who simply don’t think a Republican Senate majority will make much difference, but they are simply wrong. Republicans are far from perfect, but if a Republican Senate allows votes on even half the bills that have passed the House this session, the partisan deadlock created will have been broken, and the president will be forced to block real solutions to the nation’s problems or to work with the Congress to free the economy and strengthen our nation’s ability to deal with our enemies.
So although it may sound like a mere cliche, this election may indeed be the most important of our lifetime.
David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.
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