Our midterm elections and the tyranny of the comfortable


It’s Monday the 7th, and I’m writing the first section of this column the day before The Election. I’ll write the second half on Nov. 9... 


I’ve finally quit reading the horserace predictions. Many of you probably quit long ago. It’s demoralizing, hearing one poll after another predicting what seems unimaginable to me... That despite the hypocrisy and disingenuousness running rampant at all levels, the party that’s not only embracing a senate candidate who is known to have put a gun to his girlfriend’s head is also “favored” in most other races, as well.   Election deniers, climate change deniers, Putin supporters, and instigators of absurd rumors like the one about Paul Pelosi’s attacker seem on the verge of ‘owning the libs’ again. Rage and disinformation have become the weapons of choice for many – and to our dismay, it’s looking like that could turn out to be the winning strategy.   

And yet – here on Monday, I refuse to believe it. I contend that we are better than this. I remain ever the optimist – yet I must admit, the last few days have made we wonder whether I am a realistic person or not.  

I’m hoping to write a happy column on Wednesday, (which of course will be 10 days old by the time you read it.) I so hope to say that Democrats have held the House and picked up seats in the Senate, and that we might now get a chance to pass the Voting Rights Act. It would be nice to feel that we live in a “moral universe,” one that’s finally bending toward justice... 


Tuesday night, my wife Diane and I decided not to subject ourselves to the “one percent reporting” flurry. Instead, we’d simply wake up and read the news. 

In the morning, I awoke to this text, apparently sent to 19 people whose numbers are not in my phone:  

“im bout to murder you all”

I thought to myself, “Well this could be a good sign.” Maybe there wasn’t a red wave after all! 

And sure enough, the news was pretty mixed. Fetterman beat Dr. Oz. Yay. Tim Ryan lost to J.D. Vance. Boo. Can’t tell who won the Senate, yet. Can’t tell yet who won the House, either.  Has anything changed?

Maybe not. And suddenly it dawned on me: comfortable people don’t want change.  

Quoting FiveThirtyEight: “One of the most ironclad rules in American politics is that the president’s party loses ground in midterm elections... Since the end of World War II, the president’s party has consistently gotten a lower share of the national House popular vote in the midterm than in the prior presidential election. Indeed, in the 19 midterm elections between 1946 and 2018, the president’s party has improved upon its share of the House popular vote just once.”

Why? I propose this: While 90% of regular voters are highly engaged and committed to one party or the other, the “Unaffiliated Swing Voters” are the ones that determine virtually every outcome.  And what makes these voters “unaffiliated” is that they are comfortable with the way things are. They are disengaged from politics, and they don’t want whoever is president to be able to accomplish anything.  

They say they don’t like all the “partisan bickering,” but that doesn’t bother them as much as the prospect of something disturbing their comfort.  

(And don’t get me started on the nauseating implications of the word “bickering...” – as if we’re talking about two siblings in the back seat rather than life and death issues like abortion, climate change, and democracy.) 

I think it is clear to all of us that if you are committed to your party, you’re not voting for the other one, no matter what the candidate does or stands for.  We accept the fact that the party dominated by the Christian Right would prefer to elect a Republican with several abortions and secret children rather than a Democrat who’s a bonafide Christian pastor.   On the flip side, I don’t see any committed Democrats voting Republican anytime soon, either. There is no convincing the already convinced.

So, the only hope in a competitive election (beyond “getting out the vote”), is to reach the “comfortably disengaged.”  

How do we do this? You can’t force people to care about matters of justice if they don’t feel the injustice in their hearts.   You can’t force consciousness on someone who would rather simply “not notice.”   

Threats to democracy didn’t seem to awaken them... A Supreme Court that finally has become activist didn’t seem to do it. In a universe already bent toward justice, this election would have been a landslide, but no... 

This Tyranny of the Comfortable has gripped us for years, and my question is this:  Must it always be so?  

*PS – If I end up getting murdered someday, do to tell the cops about the text. 


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