On elections

Tuesday came and went, and with it passed my 14th straight Election Night of work. This one was smoother than most, and a little quieter for me — I had to leave early because I needed to come back to work by 5 a.m. Wednesday — but it still bore one characteristic I’ve seen in most mid-terms:  It was overanalyzed.

In the minds of some analysts, every election is “historic,” every election offers a “mandate,” every election marks a big victory for some movement or another.  However — although the size of the GOP turnover actually did have a historic flavor to it this time around — claims of “history being made” in midterms are seldom true, IMHO.

I’d argue that in every election for the last 10 years, what people really have tried to do is find elected officials who can govern.  Voters have cast about, swinging somewhat wildly back and forth on the political spectrum, just in hopes of finding that magic combination of elected officials who can run government once they get elected.

But governing with skill is no longer the key to getting elected. For many elected officials — even those actually in office — ridiculing government and claiming it is broken is the key to victory. It’s also a terrific fundraising strategy. After all, if the only thing that stands between you and the collapse of civilization is your elected representative, you might be inclined to shove a little cash his/her way.

But like so many things that seem shiny and wonderful at first, running for office in this manner has some corrosive effects. For one thing, once elected, you immediately become part of the body that you said was the problem — and the person who’s going to challenge you in a few years, using the victory template that’s been established, will be sure to point that out. For another, being an effective elected official is hard and often surprisingly thankless work, and rare is the elected newbie who fully understands what he’s gotten himself into.

And all this money and all this campaigning means that, if you run and win, you will spend an increasingly absurd amount of time raising yet still more money and doing yet still more campaigning. You’d also better vote as you’re told or that money supply might just dry up.

None of that has much to do with the business of running a country, which is ostensibly the reason we have elections. And when elected officials don’t run the country, there are all sorts of unelected folks who step in to “help out.”  Of course, we might not like the outcome of that.


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