We are less than one month away from perhaps the most crucial Congressional election in a generation, but its importance is derived less from strength of ideas or provocative contrast, as it is from the systemic weakness of the body itself.
It is the very partisanship that demeans legislation that makes majority control of both houses of Congress so coveted. Strict adherence to party platform is sadly the force of governance now, with the power of personal conviction being left somewhere in the rear-view mirror. With the parties being comprised of two separate masses of blank, homogeneous thought, majority platform becomes de facto American policy.
Partisanship has invaded the soul of democratic government for years, so why is this election so particularly noteworthy? The parties have never been so diametrically opposed on the key issues of the day, specifically national security and international relations – and the race has never been so close, with Democrats holding precariously to a one-seat majority in the Senate, and Republicans maintaining a six-seat edge in the House.
The magnitude of what’s at stake has not elevated the intensity or idealism of the campaigns, but instead transformed them into tentative, embarrassingly non-committal competitions over who can make the least mistakes and steer towards the middle ground fastest.
Campaigns are so devoid of inspiration that ordinary bad behavior has become tragic catharsis. Upon withdrawing his bid for re-election amidst allegations of graft, whimpering and whining New Jersey Senator Robert Toricelli presented himself more like a deposed king than the fallen, mediocre legislator that he is.
While it is still early, the Democrats seem likely to be uneffected in New Jersey, as last second Toricelli replacement, former Senator Frank Lautenberg, holds a small lead over Republican challenger, entrepreneur Douglas Forrestor.
This election marks a changing of the guard in the south, as Republican stalwarts Strom Thurmond (S.C.) and Jesse Helms (N.C.) are both retiring at the end of the term. But these departures will not likely represent a shift in ideology or party label, as former transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole (R) looks strong to replace Helms in North Carolina, and former Clinton impeachment manager Rep. Lindsey Grahm is leading former College of Charleston president Alex Sanders in South Carolina.
Control of the Senate, the single most important issue of the 2002 campaign, will likely be decided by Sen. Paul Wellstone’s (D) re-election bid in Minnesota, and two Democratic women named Jean. Wellstone, regarded on both sides of the aisle as probably the fiercest ideologue and the legislator most unwilling to compromise his beliefs, is embroiled in a dead-locked battle with St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman, the runner-up to Jesse Ventura in the 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial election. Both candidates enjoy wide-ranging personal popularity, and maintain unyielding, passionate bases.
Voter turnout will determine the election, with low turnout meaning independents are satisfied and high turnout signifying that voters have been galvanized toward change.
Democrats would love nothing more than to retain their one seat in Missouri, as Sen. Jean Carnahan, appointed to replace her deceased husband who won the seat in 2000, faces a special election. But even if Carnahan is defeated, Democrats can restore balance if New Hampshire governor Jean Shaheen (D) can defeat Rep. John Sununu. Incumbent Bob Smith was eliminated in the Republican primary.
The majority party schedules and prioritizes legislation, and with our national security in question and our economy facing downturn, control has never been more pressing. This page will dissect the election and its fall-out between now and December. It will examine the weakness of our flawed system and judge its motives.
With passion and conviction falling as predictably and unavoidably as the setting sun, the chance for one to stand out and lead is greater than ever. There remains great opportunity hidden in the malaise of apathetic discontent.
This week we are forty years removed from the Cuban Missile Crisis, and we face the uncertainty and terror of nuclear peril once again. Upon Russian submission in October 1962, President John F. Kennedy said, “This is not a victory of might, but a vindication of right.”
It is this belief in the endowed altruism of America, this sense that the United States will act in relationship to justice rather than politics or expediency, that we must once again demand of our government.