The logic of voting “the person, not the party” in federal elections has never been very strong, but in our present highly polarized national politics it is down right stupid. Paul Krugman’s recent praise of the South Carolina voters who just elected Mark Sanford to Congress makes this point quite concisely.
Nonetheless, we all know folks who take great pride in their willingness to “rise above” partisanship by casting their ballots for the “best person for the job.” It is these very folks that the campaign of Gabriel Gomez will be going after with great intensity. Frankly, without them Gomez’s slim chance of winning on June 25th would disappear completely.
Gomez won’t even try to disguise his strategy in this regard. He will openly avoid policy issues and argue that the real “issues” in this race are about “leadership” and replacing the “professional politicians” with non-politicians like him who will go to Washington and bring an end to “politics as usual.”
Some of the voters who came out for Stephen Lynch in the Democratic primary will undoubtedly turn out on Election Day to support Gabriel Gomez. I personally know several, many of whom voted for Scott Brown…twice. No matter how clearly and explicitly you explain that the present US Senate is a highly partisan institution in which Scott Brown-like promises of moderation and compromise represent either pure fiction or extreme naïveté, these folks remain unmoved. Why?
Because they have internalized the notion that the act of voting is a deeply “personal” one, and that one’s vote is an expression of values, even a reflection of one’s character. Candidates like Gabriel Gomez in Massachusetts and Elizabeth Colbert Busch in South Carolina are all too happy to encourage this personalization of federal elections because they understand that were they to campaign on the issues that will actually matter to them if elected, they would lose badly.
Indeed, Stephen Colbert’s sister did lose pretty badly in her race for Congress in South Carolina because the majority of the voters in that district were not fooled into cutting off their noses to spite their faces. They voted for their “disgraced ex-governor” because he was not running for Saint or for the job of role model; he was running for Congress. Fifty-four percent of the voters in that South Carolina race voted their political and policy preferences because Congress is a place where politicians make policy.
There has been and will be no shortage of smug liberal pundits mocking the conservative voters of South Carolina because their social conservative values appear very much out of step with the personal narrative of their chosen Congressman. Oh the hypocrisy….they will lecture. Well, they are wrong and the conservative voters of South Carolina are right. If you are a conservative voter, voting for the Democratic candidate in a federal election does not evidence your higher moral or intellectual status; it shows that you have no idea what you are doing.
On June 25th, many self described “independent voters,” as well as some who enjoy claiming to be Democrats (but not the “blind partisan”kind), will vote for Gomez. When he is defeated, many of these folks will self righteously complain about the “sheep” who blindly voted for the Democrat, while they took the “high road” and chose the better man without regard for party. The reality is that these folks are either conservatives whose vote for the Republican candidate was a foregone conclusion, or suckers whose ignorance of how the federal government actually works makes them easy marks for politicians willing to exploit that ignorance.
The good news for the liberal voters of Massachusetts is that there won’t be enough of these voters to put Gomez over the top on Election Day. The good news for the folks who will vote for Gomez is that they will get yet another opportunity to lord their moral and intellectual superiority over all the poor slobs who “toed the party line” on Election Day here in the “People’s Republic of Massachusetts.”
Maybe this is actually a win-win situation?