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Editorial: Voters expose folly of hubris

  • Ballot Clerk Lillian Gahagan enters mail-in and hand-delivered ballots into the tabulator at the Fairlee, Vt., polls on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

Published: 11/14/2022 12:18:26 PM
Modified: 11/14/2022 12:18:24 PM

When it became clear sometime Wednesday that the much-anticipated — or much-dreaded, depending on your point of view — red wave failed to wash over the land in this year’s midterm elections, it was only natural to speculate about who was to blame — or, again depending on your point of view, who deserves the credit.

We rounded up the usual suspects and immediately absolved the news media and polling organizations. It’s very clear that in these unsettled and divisive times, the philosopher-king Yogi Berra had it right when he observed that “in baseball, you don’t know nothing.” The same goes for the high-stakes game of politics. The only thing that can be reasonably asked is that news outlets and pollsters display a little pre-election humility.

To state the obvious, the voters themselves are responsible for holding back the toxic red tide. In New Hampshire, for example, they showed the good sense to re-elect three Democratic congressional workhorses — U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, and U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas — in preference to a trio of right-wing extremists who had the backing of Donald Trump. Hassan was thought to be in a tight race against Donald Bolduc, a retired Army general who has forged a second career as a conspiracy theorist and election denier. In the end, it wasn’t all that close, with Hassan winning nearly 54% of the vote. We note also that the state’s House of Representatives probably will have a distinctly bluer hue next year, depending on the outcome of some recounts.

Trump himself bears much responsibility for the Republicans’ underwhelming performance, as some party stalwarts have been quick to point out. A number of the candidates he endorsed in high-profile, competitive races were defeated, including nominees for the U.S. Senate and governor in Pennsylvania and for governor in Michigan, New York and Wisconsin. “Republicans have followed Donald Trump off the side of a cliff,” David Urban, a longtime Trump adviser, told The New York Times. It remains to be seen, though, whether the lesson Republicans draw will be to bet more heavily on Trump’s cult of personality or move on.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court was not on the ballot in the midterms, the elections were held in the court’s long shadow. It’s decision to overturn a constitutional right to abortion was one of the key — if not the key — factors in energizing the Democratic base and broadening the party’s appeal. Republicans had no answer for the anger the court’s abortion decision aroused except to try to change the subject to inflation.

Voters in Vermont, California and Michigan moved to protect abortion rights in their state constitutions last week, while conservative Kentucky rejected an amendment saying that the state constitution provided no right to abortion. In retrospect, August’s referendum in Kansas, in which voters rejected by 18 percentage points an amendment removing abortion rights protections from their state constitution, can be seen as a harbinger for how the issue played out in both red and blue states.

It’s also possible that many voters inferred that the current court cannot be relied on to uphold other rights they value, such as gay marriage or access to contraception, and so began to understand the importance of settling those questions in the political realm.

Like the Supreme Court, the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection was not on the ballot and but may have had an effect. Its meticulous inquiry made clear that Trump planned and orchestrated the insurrection, with the goal of keeping a legitimately elected government from taking power. The committee also made a strong case that Trump and his associates are continuing to plot to seize the election machinery in 2024 in furtherance of their scheme to subvert democracy. For anybody paying the slightest bit of attention, the committee’s indictment of Trump was compelling.

Finally, a word about the role played by Barack Obama, who repeatedly warned in campaign appearances that American democracy itself was in peril in this year’s elections. “I understand that democracy might not seem like a top priority right now, especially when you’re worried about paying the bills,” he told a rally in Philadelphia. “But when true democracy goes away, we’ve seen throughout history, we’ve seen around the world, when true democracy goes away, people get hurt. It has real consequences.”

It certainly does, and America is not out of the woods yet when it comes to election denial. Many members who won seats in the U.S. House this week and candidates all over the country espouse that bogus and pernicious doctrine. All that can be said with certainty, and relief, is that for one election cycle at least, they were held at bay.

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