Thursday, September 16, 2010

"the republicans are crazy"

With polls pretty uniformly pointing to a Republican sweep this November, and substantive issues mostly against them, the Democrats have tried a new tack. Basically, the argument is: we may well be incompetent, but they're crazy, and accordingly unfit for office. The argument gets stronger each time a Tea Party-backed candidate, most recently Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, gets nominated. The argument is strongest for Senate candidates, the Democrats having seemingly adjusted to, if not conceded, the possibility of losing real or effective control of the House.

A nice try, and it may work in some cases. But how likely is it to affect the overall result? Consider a few factors:

1. To paraphrase the 2004 Bush campaign, elections are not referenda, but choices. There is virtually no candidate who is "unelectable" depending upon their opponent. Rand Paul (Kentucky) and Sharron Angle (Nevada) were both unelectable at one point; so was Ronald Reagan. All ran or are running well. Will the new wave be any different?

2. A lot of the alleged "craziness" depends on marginal or even irrelevant issues. For example, O'Donnell is said to be outlandish because she defaulted on loans and has suggested that people (meaning men) masturbate too much. Neither one of these is likely to hurt her at the polls or in fund-raising: and the second is almost certainly true. She raised over $1 million today.

3. Mud tends to stick to the party who throws it as much as to the receiver. If the Democrats have ideas to turn around the economy, people may ask, why are they talking about 5- year old speeches to abstinence groups?

Again, it's possible or even probable that the Tea Party will cost the Republicans a seat or two in some cases. But it's a bit clever to suggest a conservative wave will result in a liberal victory at a systemic level. If it did, Jimmy Carter wouldn't be spending so much time in North Korea.