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Campaign 2006 - I'm With Stupid

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As President Bush's poll numbers continue to plummet, many Democrats assume that their Party will recapture Congress. There's already talk about what Dems should do in the 110th Congress, whether or not they should immediately begin impeachment proceedings. In their enthusiasm, Democratic loyalists forget the obvious; many of the seats they expect to capture are in red states or districts, locations where the GOP can be expected to spend obscene amounts of money, places where voting behavior is not guided by reason. Dems tend to overlook the fact that when they vote on November 7th, the person voting in a similar booth in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio or Pennsylvania is marking their ballot for reasons that are not in their best interests. Following logic that most of us regard as stupid.

The best analysis of what drives this stupidity is Tom Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. He points out how Republicans play on culture wars to bring their base to the polls. Frank observes that Dems made a gigantic error when they stopped talking about class, "they [assume] that people know where their economic interest lies and that they will act on it by instinct." But they don't. As a result, in Kansas and other red states they have renounced "forever our middle-American prosperity in pursuit of a crimson fantasy of middle-American righteousness."

If you look at the Gallup polls you'll find that the average American does not consider cultural issues like abortion and gay marriage to be very important compared to matters such as the war in Iraq and Healthcare. Ah, but to the Republican base these cultural issues remain important. That's why Republican leaders running a do-nothing Congress are returning to debates about moral purity. In June the Senate will consider a constitutional amendment to restrict marriage to between a man and a woman. And, they'll debate an amendment making it a crime to burn the American flag.

Now that Karl Rove has taken off his hat as White House policy czar and taken the reins of the RNC effort to retain control of congress, we can expect the GOP to wage a no-holds-barred culture battle. We'll hear some familiar refrains, "Democrats will raise your taxes" and "We need a Republican Congress to defend America." And Repugs will play their Immigration card, chanting that the US must protect our borders and send "those people" back to where they came from. But, a significant element of the GOP strategy will be based upon mobilizing the "stupid" vote; convincing citizens to vote against their self interest, distracting them with phony cultural issues.

To understand how the 2006 GOP campaign to mobilize the stupid will work, let's look at Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. In Colorado there's an open governor's seat and three tightly contest congressional races in districts 3, 4, and 7. There are two ballot propositions designed to trigger the stupid vote: a bill to restrict marriage to a man and a woman and another to prohibit government services to illegal immigrants.

Michigan has a female Democratic governor, Jennifer Granholm, and Democratic Senator, Debbie Stabenow, running for reelection. Repugs are attempting to link the two women and take them both down. Their strategy has three components: They found an extremely wealthy Republican, Dick Devos, retired Amway CEO, to run against Granholm. They blame Michigan's weak economy on Granholm and Stabenow, rather than on auto-plant closures. And they'll entice the stupid vote with propositions to grant "due process rights" to a fetus, limit the growth of the state budget, and ban affirmative action programs in government hiring.

Ohio's a battleground again. The Gubernatorial race features Democratic Representative Ted Strickland against Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell. The Senate race has Democratic Representative Sherrod Brown holding his own against incumbent Mike Dewine. The four hot congressional seats are Ohio 1, 6, 15, and 18. The propositions include the "Taxpayers bill of Rights", and two "tax and expenditure limitation" proposals; the GOP logic is "taxes make bad government."

Pennsylvania features the most publicized Senatorial campaign of 2006, where archconservative Republican incumbent Rick Santorum is trailing State Treasurer Bob Casey, Jr. In the Governor's race, popular Democratic incumbent, Ed Rendell, is being challenged by former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, Lynn Swann. Four incumbent Republican congressmen are in tight races in Pennsylvania districts 6, 7, 8,and 10. Pennsylvania has no voter initiative and referendum initiative process, so there'll be a media campaign for the stupid vote. As of April 30, Santorum has $4.5 million more than Casey; "tricky Rick" will fill the airwaves with ads to inflame his base.

Before the 2004 election, several observers predicted that Bush would win because Republicans were going to the polls filled with emotional fervor, either for Christian Dubya or because of a cultural issue, like gay marriage; meanwhile, many Democrats were not enthusiastic about John Kerry. Political scientists observed that voters are more likely to show up to vote because they are for something, rather than to vote against a candidate or issue. In the key states of Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, Republican strategists will once again follow this logic and strive to inflame the stupid vote. So when you step into the polling booth on November 7th, consider that millions of Americans will also be voting; only not for their best interests, but rather for "righteousness."
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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