Can Our Politics Stop Being Stupid?
The news media, conservatives and liberals were all guilty of shallow thinking in the run-up to last week's election. Here are some wishes for a return to intelligence.
Fortunately, with all of the votes now finally counted, Coloradans will not have to put up with the eloquence of a Sen. Ken Buck, who assured voters that his boots were, in fact, covered in "real Colorado bulls---." The residents of Delaware are arguably even more fortunate. With a 56 percent to 40 percent victory for Christopher Coons, we are all fortunate that there will be no Sen. Christine O'Donnell giving speeches about the lustful scourge of masturbation and the un-American idea of separating church and state. And we can all thank the good voters of Nevada who rejected Sharron Angle's suggestion to exercise their Second Amendment right to "shoot" her opponent and instead re-elected Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
So for all the vitriol, misinformation, intolerance, ignorance and just sheer stupidity unleashed by conservative candidates this election season, I wish for the far right a sense of basic decency and at least glancing familiarity with U.S. history and the Constitution. Angry, know-nothing candidates and campaigns do sometimes prevail. But we are all fortunate, indeed, that such moments tend not to last.
My last complaint is against liberals and progressives, most of those who at least sometimes think of themselves as solidly to the left of the Obama administration (at least on some issues). You know who you are. You are the folks behind the headlines suggesting that black and Latino voter turnout would be low because Obama had let down minority communities. You are the folks behind the claims that the financial-recovery act didn't do enough for middle Americans. You're the ones tirelessly asserting that Obama is "no FDR." You're the ones busily claiming that Obama is a divisive presence in American politics. Yes, you, you and even you. For all of you, much like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, I wish you all a brain.
The political challenge of this era seems obvious to me, but not to too many liberals. Instead, many of "us" were and are part of the relentless public criticism of Obama. This happened even though we are in a context in which, on Inauguration Day, Rush Limbaugh declared that he wanted Obama to fail; in which Republicans in Congress adopted the most unflaggingly recalcitrant -- "Just say no!" -- posture seen since pre-Civil War days; in which Fox News has, more unabashedly than ever before, declared its right-wing ideological commitments; and in which Republicans are now the majority in the House and in which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that his top priority is to make Obama a "one-term president."
As University of Chicago political scientist Michael Dawson once put it to me, "Victories for the right usually do nothing to organize the left." I want to applaud you for your political erudition, my progressive friends. By adding to the deafening roar of negativity coming from the right, you have just made it much harder to achieve any of the policy goals that most of us who like to be thought of as liberals would like to achieve. Bravo.
By the time the 2012 contest is really under way, I hope the press does real investigative journalism and shows some actual politically grounded judgment in its reporting. I hope conservatives move back toward some measure of civility and thoughtfulness in the candidates and ideas they put forward. And I hope liberals figure out the real contours of the political context that Obama, the president who campaigned for Hope and Change, actually faces and behave accordingly.
They say be careful what you wish for. With this ugly midterm election season now behind us, I'm desperately ready for all of these wishes to come true.
Lawrence D. Bobo is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University.