Shrieking, Hurricane-like Politics – a Gutcheck

Today, the American political world is in the eye of its own storm.  The strongest feelings, efforts, and emotions are immediately behind and, likewise, just ahead.  The creaking gears of American democracy turn again as New Jerseyans head to the polls if they haven’t already voted by mail or dropped off their ballots in designated drop-boxes.  The poll workers now facilitate the political direction ahead for their respective communities.  This embattled group of individuals—many of whom on the receiving end of threats and abuse from those whose voices they are to collect—will then transfer their charge to the municipal and county public workers who will process and count the votes to enact the will of the people.

Electoral politics in America is increasingly hurricane-like.  The dark storm is never out of sight, there is a constant simmering turmoil, and as Election Day draws nearer, candidates, pundits, media talking heads, internet trolls, insidious foreign agents, and malicious domestic provocateurs, go into overdrive to discredit “the other guy” and present their choice as the only one to save America from disaster.  Sign stealing is an inevitable fact of what had quaintly been known as “silly season” but outright harassment is becoming more and more prevalent as American civic discourse continues to degrade.  The “noise” becomes louder with each election cycle and with the increasing rise of misinformation, the distortion gets an ever-greater bandwidth.  The general public which intends to play a part either further entrenches into their positions, determined to defend to the last, or gets irritated to the point of tuning out completely, and thus abandoning the direction of both discourse and party policies to more extreme elements.

So how does that shape and define the matter?  

Candidates seek out their own messaging methods as their situations require.  For many, TV ads and YouTube commercials have played a huge role in the A/V aspect of their messaging.  While it is impossible to cram anything of particularly meaningful or intellectual value into a 30 second spot, the nature of these ads—whether addressing social or economic issues or trying to define the campaigns along personality—say much about the atmosphere of the given race.

Overwhelmingly, Democrats have been trying to shape the midterm election along two lines: protection of a woman’s right to abortion following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the defense of democracy itself as a rejection of the Trumpism that manifested in the January 6 insurrection.  For Republicans, the campaigns have tried to define the race as a referendum on President Joe Biden in terms of economy, hammering hard on inflation and rising costs, and social issues particularly with respect to sexual education curriculum and, to a declining extent, personal health (ie. rejection of vaccine mandates).

Various polls have predicted that the momentum is with the Republican Party overall and this comes as bad news for President Biden who had a razor-thin Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives and a 50/50 split in the US Senate, with Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema proving thorns in his side.  Major bills are almost exclusively moved along party lines and if the likes of Manchin or Sinema are, in fact, on board, then Vice President Harris is counted upon to cast the tie-breaker.

Depending on how the Election Day results turn out, this may change.  Polls expect more of a Red Shift in the US House than the Senate, but in either case, given the closeness of the margins, each seat is a crucial one.

In New Jersey, the State Democratic Party is counting on returning nine Democrats to the House.  If Tom Malinowski can defeat Tom Kean, Jr., then that will be 10, with Van Drew and Smith being the expected Republican incumbents to make up the New Jersey delegation.  The State Democratic Party would apparently be content with 2/3rds of the delegation being Democrats, and Malinowski’s rematch with Kean is his to win or to lose.

The two men have taken different approaches for their bids for Congress.  Kean has kept his campaign focused and quiet.  Shunning media appearances and interviews, Kean only made a few appearances opposite Malinowski.  By keeping a generally close-mouthed approach, he insulated himself from being hung up on any particular gaffes or policy inconsistencies, although he has said he is pro-choice while Democrats attacked him for not supporting the codification of Roe v. Wade in New Jersey.  To that point, Kean said, he felt the bill went too far and would therefore not support it.  Instead, Kean has allowed public dissatisfaction with the general state of the economy to carry him along.  It is hard to imagine Kean Jr. wearing a red MAGA baseball cap, but the aristocratic heir to New Jersey’s Governor Tom Kean, Sr. is hoping that that Republican base which he identifies with not at all, will nevertheless carry him over the finish line.  Kean may have reason to be optimistic.  The redistricting has given CD7 a larger share of Republican voters, although not an overwhelming number.  Regardless, Malinowski, who has been battered by Republicans for alleged stock misconduct at the start of the pandemic, is quoted as saying he would be happy with a “one-percent landslide” when the tally is made.

In CD3, two youthful candidates will now watch and see how their futures for the next two years unfold.  Congressman Andy Kim, arguably New Jersey’s most progressive congressman and the first Korean-American to serve in the House, is squaring off against businessman Bob Healey, the more moderate victor of CD3’s Republican primary race that saw embattled gym owner and MAGA-man Ian Smith defeated.  Healey presents a more New Jersey brand of Republican, one which used to be mainstream at the turn of the century, and one perhaps more akin to the “compassionate conservativism” of George W. Bush when contrasted to the likes of Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Lauren Boebert with whom he would share seats with should he defeat Kim.

Healey and Kean have tried to define Kim and Malinowski respectively as clones of the ultimate boogeyman, Nancy Pelosi, although Kim’s positions are more in contrast with Pelosi’s than his colleague in CD7.  Few expect Kim’s mission to prohibit members of congress or the president to own any stocks to actually succeed—Pelosi herself dismissed the idea entirely—but it is a tangible demonstration of his distinction from the present national party machine.  Some “swing towns” such as Hamilton and Robbinsville, new to CD3, are opportunities for Kim and Healey to tilt at one another on an even tournament ground.  Both of those municipalities are closely divided and had previously been represented by Congressman Smith.

Up north, Congressman Bill Pascrell, in his mid-80s, is running for another term, once again facing Billy Prempeh, in his late 30s.  The two Patersonians look to derive their support from the communities of their hometown as well as those on the outside suburbs.  Pascrell has never lost an election and is expected to carry one more term, but Prempeh has demonstrated a strong energy which outweighs the overall financial support he has been given from the GOP.  Both Patersonians are veterans, both look to effect change.  Pascrell, an outspoken and vociferous critic of President Trump, has made numerous appearances on the campaign trail for himself and in support of others, but he has declined to debate Prempeh.  Prempeh lambasted his opponent for refusing to meet across the table and made as much known at a press conference last week when Democratic leaders gathered in Paterson to denounce a racially-charged flyer that was sent to New Jersey addresses by a Stephen Miller linked organization.  Prempeh demanded to be heard, saying that Democrats had called for Republicans to disavow the mailer, and that he would do so if he could be heard.  He accused the Democratic leadership of taking minority communities for granted while not delivering positive change.  Pascrell did not directly engage with Prempeh on the stairs of the Old Courthouse.  In support of Congressman Josh Gottheimer at an event with President Bill Clinton, Pascrell warned that Republicans were threatening social security and Medicare, calling them “lunatics” who would imperil the well-being of the nation’s senior citizens.

Echoing the repeat pairings of other races, Congressman Josh Gottheimer battles with Frank Pallotta once again, mirroring in some respects the Kim/Healey contest, except CD5 is not thought to be as competitive.  Gottheimer benefitted from a redistricted CD5 which shed much of the Sussex and Warren county constituencies, anchoring more heavily on the purple Bergen orbits.  With a huge warchest, Gottheimer has been stumping hard against his opponent and just recently brought President Bill Clinton to Paramus for a Get Out The Vote rally.  The former presidential speech writer has tried to characterize Pallotta as an extremist who wants to criminalize abortion and is sympathetic to the Oath Keepers, whereas Gottheimer characterizes himself as the bipartisan champion of the House.  Pallotta has cast this bipartisanship as a sham and blames Gottheimer for supporting big governmental spending bills, linking that to rising inflation and costs.  Gottheimer, to counter this, pointed to his support for the Inflation Reduction Act and for the on-the-ground benefits which will be seen thanks to the passing of the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

November 8, for those who do not work in the political world, may seem to be the eye in the storm.  It is the day in which democracy will take its course, with however many hiccups and bumps along the way, and afterwards, once the results are in, the maelstrom roars once more with an outpouring of analysis, hand-wringing, and potential calls for recounts.  But the system will function and the faith in the American representative institutions will continue so long as the voice of the people is heard and the results which follow are respected, along with the respect for the process, above any other individual or objective.

After the Second World War, Prime Minister Winston Churchill had said, “Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

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