What do Republicans need to hear? To coin a phrase: 'It’s the issues, stupid'
“It’s the economy, stupid," is a phrase attributed to James Carville. In 1992, Carville was a campaign strategist in Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign against incumbent George H.W. Bush. While the phrase was directed at campaign workers, it was picked up nationally and has become a phrasal template.
While watching all of the self-flagellation of Republicans after the midterm election, accompanied by finger-pointing and blame-shifting, I offer a phrase for the times: “It’s the issues, stupid.”
While pundits and politicians are talking about where this or that campaign committee spent money, who did or did not do an advertising buy and “messaging,” I think they’re missing a fundamental point. I also think they’re being dismissive of the American people. Voters are perfectly capable of assessing the issues, evaluating the positions taken by candidates, and casting their votes for people they agree with and against those they disagree with. It’s that simple and that profound.
In a democracy, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis observed, “The most important political office is that of the private citizen … democracy means that the people shall govern, and they can govern only by taking the trouble to inform themselves as to the facts necessary for a correct decision, and then by recording that decision through a public vote.”
The issues in the recent midterm elections included the economy, violent and non-violent threats to domestic democracy by the Jan. 6, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and “election-deniers” and internationally by Russian imperialism, and abortion.
In the first few days after the midterm elections, there were also repetitive claims by pundits about how “America is deeply divided” as evidenced by the near split of seats in the Senate. Some simple arithmetic shows that this is, in part, attributable to a dictate of the U.S. Constitution: The awarding of two seats in the Senate to each state irrespective of that state’s population.
When the next Congress is seated in 2023, depending upon the results of the Georgia runoff, either 50 Senators will be Democrats or Independents who caucus with Democrats and 50 will be Republicans, or 51 Democrats/Independents and 49 Republicans. Either way that’s a near even split.
But if you look at it another way, by population, depending upon the results of the Georgia runoff in December, either 20 or 21 states will have two Democratic senators, five or six states will have one Democratic and one Republican Senator, and 24 states will have two Republican senators. But we all recognize that the populations of the 50 states vary widely. Let’s keep the math simple and assume that Senator Raphael Warnock prevails in the runoff — if he doesn’t, it doesn’t change the math much. Then 54% of the U.S. population will be living in a state with two Democratic senators and 39% in states with two Republican senators and seven percent with one of each. If we split the latter group evenly then approximately 57.5% of Americans have a Democratic Senator and 42.5% a Republican Senator. This 15% difference is close to a landslide. It is why seven of the 10 largest cities in the U.S. are in states with two Democratic Senators.
In the 18th century the Senate was created as a technique to give low population states among the original thirteen states, like Delaware, a way of exerting themselves against high population states, like Virginia. In the first half of the 19th century the Senate helped preserve the power of slaveholders in the Southern states and in the 20th century it allowed Southern senators to stymie Civil Rights laws. The Senate provides disproportionate power to a minority. That’s part of our system. The main reason the Senate is “divided” is that it ignores the population of each state. If senators were elected statewide in each state and the number of senators per state was determined by the population, it would be a very different story.
While some people treat our elections and voters like a marketing exercise, trying to sell candidates like a breakfast cereal, I think they underestimate the people. Many Americans treat their rights as a citizen seriously: they evaluate the issues, decide where they stand and vote their principles. And that is something worth our time to acknowledge and honor.
Edward C. Halperin, M.D., M.A., teaches history of medicine at New York Medical College in Valhalla, New York, where he is also the chancellor and chief executive officer. This essay represents his opinion and not that of the college.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: 2022 midterms offer lessons for Republicans