Election Thoughts

November 05, 2012

After months--well, years--of politicians and corporations spending billions of dollars to tell us how to vote, it is finally all coming to an end. Who thought they would be so excited to see used car commercials return? Here are a few random thoughts about various candidates and races that I have been following.

1. Presidential race. Yeah, it is the big one. And yet, it is so unexciting. When you look at the historical data, President Barack Obama should not win a second term. But he seems to have the good fortunate of running against a man who should not even win a first one. If Obama wins--and it seems the most likely outcome--we will have two presidents in a row who won despite being fairly unpopular. But both Obama and George W. Bush lucked out by facing a rich, out-of-touch, flip-flopper from Massachusetts (although Romney seems to be working hard to make John Kerry seem stubbornly consistent). If Obama wins it will also be the only the second time in U.S. history that three presidents in a row win reelection--the other being the Thomas Jefferson-James Madison-James Monroe era (although I am by no means suggesting Bill Clinton, W. Bush, and Obama should be considered like those guys!). There have been a lot of religious issues involved in this election (as I noted in my book Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics and in various blog posts), ranging from attacks on Obama's faith to questions about Romney's faith to various political efforts by religious leaders. Hopefully we will be able to separate religion and politics for awhile after tonight (though I am not expecting that to occur). It is hard for me to be excited for either candidate. On the one hand, Obama has failed to live up to many of his promises (like taking serious action on global warming or Guantanamo) and has made the troubling decision to dramatically increase the use of military drones (even against U.S. citizens). On the other hand, Romney has run one of the most dishonest campaigns (as evidenced by all the major fact-checkers) and offers very troubling economic policies focusing on helping the wealthy and hurting the poor (a concern only increased by his choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate). And so, I am drawn--like the last two presidential campaigns--elsewhere at the national level. I particularly like the idea of the "Voter Witness Pledge," an Anabaptist effort to encourage people to send a message by refusing to vote for either Obama or Romney.

2. A couple of U.S. Senate races. I have most closely followed the senate races in my current state of Virginia and my home state of Missouri. In Virginia, Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine are vying for an open seat (that Allen held until he lost reelection six years ago due to his racially-charged "Macaca" controversy). Allen is seeking political redemption, but it is hard to see how he brings much good to the national table. Kaine, on the other hand, is a politician I admire. He takes his faith very seriously (even served as a Catholic missionary in Honduras for a year). He works thoughtfully through religious-political topics like abortion and the death penalty, which should be admired even if people do not agree with him. The Washington Post recently did a nice piece about how his faith impacts his politics. (He is also someone who grew up in Missouri and then moved to Virginia, so that makes him pretty good as well!) It looks like Kaine will win, probably by more than Obama will in Virginia (who will probably just squeak past Romney in the "Old Dominion"). In Missouri, incumbent Claire McCaskill is fairly unpopular and was an easy seat for the Republicans to pick up--that is, until primary voters went with Todd Akin over two other candidates who would have performed much better in the general election. The simple truth is that Akin should not be in Congress (I have reported some on him and his connections with Missouri Baptist leaders here, here, and here). And so he will lose tonight even as Romney easily wins the "Show Me" state. It will also be interesting to see if Republican Richard Mourdock blows the Senate race in Indiana (even as Romney easily wins the state). The "Tea Party" candidate (like Akin in Missouri), Mourdock knocked out incumbent Richard Lugar, a great senator who served as an example for bipartisanship and national security issues. If Mourdock and Akin both lose, it will be the "Tea Party" who will deserve much blame for a Democratic Senate (especially after "Tea Party" candidates blew three easy Senate races in 2010 after knocking out better Republicans in the primaries).

3. Some U.S. House races. In 2010, the U.S. House became much more polarized. Moderate Republicans were knocked out in the primaries and moderate Democrats were defeated in the general election. Hopefully we might move back just a little this year. In particular, it would be nice to see some of these extreme and divisive candidates lose: Republican Michele Bachmann in Minnesota, Republican Scott DesJarlais in Tennessee, Republican Louie Gohmert in Texas, Democrat Jesse Jackson Jr. in Illinois, Republican Steve King in Iowa, Republican Pete King in New York, Democrat Charlie Rangel in New York, Laura Richardson in California, Republican Joe Walsh in Illinois, and Republican Allen West in Florida. It is quite possible that a couple from this list will lose. We need more representatives who will work together and stay ethical, but unfortunately we will probably not move even back to pre-2010 levels (which were not that good).

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