By Don Mohler
As we sprint toward November 8, 2022, there will no shortage of analysis or visits to The Front Porch regarding what is about to transpire. That journey begins today.
In his book, Why We’re Polarized, Ezra Klein wrote, “We are so locked into our political identities that there is virtually no candidate, no information, no condition, that can force us to change our minds. We will justify almost anything or anyone so long as it helps our side, and the result is politics devoid of guardrails, standards, persuasion, or accountability.”
That concludes this visit to The Porch, well not really, but it certainly could.
The polarization and tribalism that grips our nation is at a fever pitch and is putting our grand democratic experiment on the ballot this fall. I am an old guy and have been a political nerd since the day I was born. In more than seven decades, I can safely say that there has never been a time when voters across the nation identified the future of democracy as their number one issue. Education? Sure. The economy? Always. Public safety? A new, but increasingly frequent response. The future of democracy? Never.
And while the Democrats still have a tough row to hoe moving forward, they are channeling their inner Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re saying there’s a chance.” The Democrats were on life support, waiting for someone to just put them out of their misery and pull the plug. Then two things happened: One was Donald J. Trump. The other was the Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court of the United States.
On this visit, we will focus on Dobbs and save the Celebrity President and his gang of thieves for the next time.
Elections at their core always present voters with a “choice” or a “referendum.” Do we think that those in charge are doing a good job or not? Crime and homicide rates continue to plague our nation. Gas and food prices make balancing a family budget a very difficult and often deflating chore. And there is this thing called COVID that simply refuses to go away. If ever an election was teed up to be a referendum on a sitting president, this was it.
Republicans were on track to score historic gains in the House, and despite a bunch of Senate candidates imported from the Island of Misfit Toys, they had a chance to regain control of the upper chamber as well. Mitch McConnell would become Senate President and Kevin McCarthy the Speaker of the House. (Of course, in Crazyland, it could be Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, or Marjorie Taylor Greene.) Fox News and Newsmax would gleefully cover investigative hearings into the deep state, Hunter’s laptop, even the President’s dog Champ from morning to night. The Biden agenda would come to a screeching halt.
The AK 47 crowd could not have been more optimistic. But then the old “be careful what you wish for” proverb reared its ugly head: In June, the Trump Supreme Court decided to reverse 50-years of precedent and overturn Roe v. Wade. As it turned out, Justices Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Barrett were less than forthright when they told a Senate panel that Roe was “settled law.” What’s a little white lie among friends? And if that was not enough, Justice Clarence Thomas said the even uglier part out loud: he told millions of gay Americans living happily ever after as married couples, that we are coming for you next. To those who use contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies, forget that as well. To Justice Thomas, The Handmaid’s Tale is not a work of fiction, but a vison of a beautiful America that can be, and will be, if he and his colleagues have their way.
My daughter was born in 1973. She has never known a world when her right to choose was not protected. And she is not alone. Suddenly 50-year-old women, who had taken the protections of Roe for granted because they had never known anything else, woke up one day and said, “What the hell?” Republican candidates gleefully declared that a ten-year-old victim of rape and incest should proudly carry that child to term. There are no exceptions allowed on Team Alito. Other candidates spoke of the loving bond formed between the raped mother and child.
Will Dobbs move the needle in November? We shall see. As Klein detailed extensively, the only thing that tends to matter anymore is which team you are on. Facts don’t matter. Policy doesn’t matter. Competence doesn’t matter. Are you with us or against us. Early indications are that perhaps, and I stress perhaps, some issues might actually break through these partisan barriers.
In Kansas (yes, Kansas for crying out loud) 60% of the electorate voted to maintain abortion protections in one of the reddest of red states. Was that the canary in the coal mine? The generic congressional ballot in which Republicans had a solid margin for months slowly shifted in the Democrats favor. Republican candidates across the country are scrambling to scrub the extreme pro-life rhetoric from their websites. (Sorry guys there are screen shots and video, but nice try.) And then there is the registration data that is pouring in across the nation.
In Kansas, the percentage of women registering as Democrats jumped from 49% pre-Dobbs to 65% post Dobbs. In Ohio it moved from 47% to 54%. In Pennsylvania from 49% to 56%. Even in states like Alabama and Oklahoma the numbers are startling. In Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer has opened up a 13-point lead over her opponent largely on the strength of this issue.
But in the midst of Democratic optimism, let’s keep in mind that one of the worst candidates in the history of mankind (yes, this hyperbolic outburst is warranted) Herschel Walker is actually leading Senator Ralph Warnock in recent polls. Let that sink in for a minute. Yes, that Herschel Walker – the one who claims to be Sheriff. The one who beat his wife. The one who disowns his own children. The one who says we have enough trees and that climate change occurred because we sent our good air to China while they sent their bad air to us. Yes, that Herschel Walker. Raise your hand if you think tribalism is a threat to our democracy.
So, are modern elections simply a game of good guys/bad guys, or when it comes to the basic right of a woman to be in charge of her own medical decisions, will we set aside our tribal instincts in 2022 because it is simply the right thing to do?
In New York’s Hudson Valley, Democrat Pat Ryan put that question to the test. He won a district that few thought was possible. His yard sign had one simple message: “Choice is on the ballot.” Yes, it is America. It is indeed.
Don Mohler is the former Baltimore County Executive and President and CEO of Mohler Communication Strategies. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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