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The Boring Midterms

Peter Beinart suggests a reason why the midterm elections seem so boring:

The dullness comes from this election’s lack of a compelling macro-theme. Yes, there are national refrains: Democrats in state after state call their Republican opponents heartless misogynists; Republicans call their Democratic opponents Obama clones. But there’s no big national issue on which voters feel that they can change the country’s course [bold mine-DL]. It’s not that candidates today are more cynical or homogenized than in midterms past. It’s that the subjects they’re discussing cynically and homogenously don’t matter as much.

It’s not just that the election is mostly about nothing. Another reason why these midterms seem so uninteresting is that we already know they aren’t going to change the balance of power in Washington very much, and what little change there will be won’t matter on most issues. Yes, Republicans are likely to have a majority in the Senate next year, but it will probably be a small majority that will be stymied on most big things by the other party. A Republican majority will do more damage to diplomacy with Iran, but overall it won’t be able to do much at all. Republican control of the House is secure, so there’s no chance that anything will be different there next year.

2014 also suffers by comparison with the most recent midterms in 2006 and 2010. The last two midterm elections were more significant in that they represented major protests against signature policies of the president at the time, and both of those protests were successful in putting a new party in control of at least one house of Congress. The protests were considerably less successful in forcing the president to abandon the policy that drove a large part of the protest. Despite its importance in ending Republican control of Congress, the Iraq war was not brought to an end until many years after Bush suffered his “thumping,” and now the U.S. is once again at war in Iraq. Even though it was the focus of Republican opposition and a big factor in mobilizing huge Republican gains in 2010, the ACA is still in force and isn’t going to be repealed. The point here is that the last two midterms delivered massive wave election results for one party or the other, and the winners of the wave elections have been unable to halt or undo the policy that was responsible for a large part of the result. Voters could be forgiven for thinking that presidents mostly ignore the message they try to send at midterm elections even when they inflict large punishments on the president’s party.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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