Talk of the 2006 mid-term elections is everywhere. So much so that I even tried to avoid writing on the topic. Alas, no other subject would make its presence known.
The big question is how to write on what obviously is a dead-even election for a Congress that is already as evenly divided as it can get. And how can one address the issues of the 2006 election without being accused of partisanship in one of the most highly partisan periods of our history?
Luckily for these purposes, all of the members of the Mississippi delegation of both parties appear to have carved out safe seats for now and the foreseeable future. Indeed a number of columnists have lately acknowledged the power of their incumbencies and the obvious public satisfaction with them.
The support for our incumbents offers the perfect opportunity to point out the existence of one of the classic facts regularly uncovered by political research. That is the often-documented dissatisfaction with Congress in general by the same voters who express satisfaction with their own representation. While our delegation is apparently safe and sound from any voter unrest, a recent poll conducted by The Wall Street Journal revealed a startling low 16% approval rating of Congress. As one might expect in this day and age of 24-hour news and talk on television, every explanation in the world has been emanating from the left and right. The potential causes suggested by journalists and political strategists for this low rating are certainly too numerous to list here.
One thing is clearly evident. In elections for a Congress that already is almost evenly split, every single seat is not simply desired but is the object of an all-out battle. In such an environment, every flaw that can be discovered in an opponent becomes the stuff of press releases and, if seemingly serious enough, calls for the sort of investigations that cast doubt on that candidate’s suitability for office.
In the process, however, a dazed and confused electorate buckles under the weight of contradictory news stories and simply concludes that all of Washington must have degenerated into accusers and the accused. The voters have long since ceased to distinguish which party they believe is most at fault.
As we stagger toward Election Day, there is much speculation among the pundits as to what this battered electorate is indeed thinking. The strategists seem to be puzzled about the economy. One line of thinking wonders why people aren’t turning flips over the economy when the stock market is breaking records, gas prices are falling and the unemployment rate remains at a quite acceptable level. A little basic research offers some possible explanation for stubborn voter discontent in the economic arena. This research entails simply walking around engaging regular folk in political talk and then paying attention to what they say.
The basic conclusion is that there is a huge difference in the perceptions on Wall Street and those in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The big areas of concern in the latter location can be categorized as jobs, medical issues and long-term economic security. It is somewhat surprising how conversant, blue-collar types are on what they perceive as threats from relocation of factory jobs overseas and increasing threats from foreign immigrants coming to this country seeking employment.
With regard to medical issues, the number of citizens without health insurance is approaching 50 million and those who are insured express increasing concerns with regard to the future adequacy of their medical coverage. Finally, the average working guy has felt a significant loss of the old standby defined benefit pension plan, and in many cases has become convinced of the lack of long-term viability of Social Security. In summary, news of the galloping global economy and the consequential glee on Wall Street is not resonating in the small town centers of commerce.
It is an old political maxim that most citizens vote their pocketbook and the barrage of news from Washington simply makes it an easy target.
The only prediction that I am prepared to offer for the outcome of the 2006 elections is that both houses will certainly be more evenly divided than they are now, and that on Wednesday morning, November 8, we will commence 24 months of the most vicious hand-to-hand political combat that we have likely ever seen.
We will be beginning the approach to a 2008 national election in which there will be no incumbent from either party available for nomination. There will be huge nominating contests within both parties. All the while the battle between the parties will blaze even hotter. Every policy misstep by the Bush administration will be pounced upon and magnified by the Democrats. The specter or the reality of a Nancy Pelosi House Speakership will be kept before the public, and the Republican strategists on a daily basis will demonize Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
While all of this will be great sport for political junkies, it is perhaps fortunate that we in Mississippi are content with our current delegation.