At long last, the conventional wisdom about the 2014 midterms is here: It’s an election about nothing.
The Washington Post may have been first in declaring the coming midterms “kind of—and apologies to Seinfeld here—an election about nothing.” But the Daily Beast chimed in: “America seems resigned to a Seinfeld election in 2014—a campaign about nothing.” And New York magazine noted (and embraced) the cliché: The midterm election “has managed to earn a nickname from the political press: the ‘Seinfeld Election,’ an election about nothing.”
Soon enough this description was popping up everywhere—the New Republic, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg, Politico, and many others. The 2014 Midterms, the Seinfeld Election.
Others posited something even worse. “The 2014 campaign has been the most boring and uncreative campaign I can remember,” wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks. That wasn’t harsh enough for Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post, who went further. The election isn’t just “boring,” he wrote, “it’s vapid and inconsequential.”
The big television networks seem to agree. The signature newscasts of ABC, NBC, and CBS have barely found the upcoming elections worthy of notice. According to the Media Research Center, ABC’s World News Tonight didn’t run a single story about the midterms between September 1 and October 20. Over that same seven-week period, NBC and CBS evening newscasts ran just 11 and 14 stories, respectively. (It probably goes without saying that the networks found the prospective Democratic triumph in the 2006 midterms much more compelling. Over the same time period that year, NBC ran 65 stories about the midterms, CBS ran 58, and ABC ran 36.)
We have a different view.
Not only is this election not about nothing, it is being fought over exactly the kinds of things that ought to determine our elections.
It’s about the size and scope of government. It’s about the rule of law. It’s about the security of the citizenry. It’s about competence. It’s about integrity. It’s about honor.
It’s about a government that makes promises to those who have defended the country and then fails those veterans, again and again and again. It’s about a president who offers soothing reassurances on his sweeping health care reforms and shrugs his shoulders when consumers learn those assurances were fraudulent. It’s about government websites that cost billions but don’t function and about “smart power” that isn’t very smart. It’s about an administration that cares more about ending wars than winning them, and that claims to have decimated an enemy one day only to find that that enemy is still prosecuting its war against us the next. It’s about shifting red lines and failed resets. It’s about a president who ignores restrictions on his power when they don’t suit him and who unilaterally rewrites laws that inconvenience him. It’s about a powerful federal agency that targets citizens because of their political beliefs and a White House that claims ignorance of what its agents are up to because government is too “vast.” In sum, this is an election about a president who promised to restore faith in government and by every measure has done the opposite.
As even Barack Obama acknowledges, the upcoming election is about his policies and those elected officials who have supported them. It’s about an electorate determined to hold someone responsible for the policy failures that have defined this administration and the scandals that have consumed it—even if many in the fourth estate will not.
And it’s about time.
Our politics is healthier when candidates in both major parties win election because they’ve campaigned on a policy agenda. We hope that the Republicans who run for president in 2016 will engage in a detailed and thorough-going debate on substance and ideas.
But much of the political debate this year has unavoidably focused on Barack Obama and his performance as president. Most voters think he’s done a lousy job and disagree with his policies and priorities. Democrats have supported him. Republicans have opposed him. That’s what will matter on November 4.
And that’s not nothing.