Rachel Maddow. (photo: Virginia Sherwood/MSNBC)
know it wasn’t planned this way, but there is a certain genius in how we snug Election Day up against Halloween on the calendar. We scare each other for fun and profit on the last day of October every year, but then in even-numbered years, we keep going. We scare each other on the first Tuesday thereafter, too, rolling right from our night of haunted houses and zombie costumes into a national election that’s being directed like the shower scene from “Psycho.”
This year, the closing argument from the Republican side is a whole bunch of ghastly fantasies: Ebola, the Islamic State, vague but nefarious aspersions about stolen elections and a whole bunch of terrifying fantasies about our border with Mexico. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) still hasn’t explained why only he knows about the “at least 10 ISIS fighters who have been caught coming across the Mexican border in Texas.” Ten fighters from the Islamic State are in custody in Texas, but only Hunter knows about it?
Once and would-be future senator Scott Brown says it’s polio that’s sneaking across the border. Polio, or maybe whooping cough. Or Ebola. Or the Islamic State! Whichever. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), another Senate candidate, says Mexican drug cartels and the Islamic State are colluding to mount a sneak attack on Arkansas. Boo!
In the Colorado governor’s race, Republican Bob Beauprez says his opponent, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper “is threatening to set a mass murderer free”! Life in prison without the possibility of parole is a weird definition of “free” but, hey, it’s election time.
And in the conservative media, there is even more to worry about. Conservative blogs lost their minds recently over a surveillance video showing a Latino man delivering completed ballots to an elections office in Maricopa County, Ariz. Ballot stuffing! Blatant fraud! Caught red-handed!
Actually, delivering other people’s ballots to elections offices is perfectly legal in Arizona. Even Republicans have asked Arizonans to bring their early ballots to campaign events this year, so they could be collected and dropped off at polling places. But when the person doing the same thing was Latino, the blogs made it seem like the guy was hiding under the bed, ready to grab your foot if you got up in the night.
On the other side, Democrats want to keep control of the Senate, so their best fear pitch is that if Republicans take over, things in Washington will suddenly get worse. That’s a little hard to take as we coast into the closing days of what is literally the least productive Congress in the modern history of Congress. It’s hard to imagine how much worse things could get.
The oldest Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has already explained that part of the reason she’s not retiring is because no one she would see as an acceptable replacement could possibly be confirmed in the current Senate, even with Democrats in charge. Yes, the Senate might become an even worse place for the president and for Democratic priorities if the GOP takes over, but Congress is already such a pointless and inhospitable environment for even normal, day-to-day legislative responsibilities, it’s hard to make the case that the Democrats’ current Senate majority is somehow the “good old days” that will be missed if the Republicans win.
For all the end-of-the-world clamor around this year’s elections, you’d never guess that the economy is growing at 3.5 percent, unemployment is below 6 percent and gas prices are way, way down. Even Halloween candy was cheap this year. But good news, schmood news. This year, we’ve decided to be miserable and afraid.
Once all the votes are cast and counted, it will be interesting to see if telling voters to be afraid sent more of them to the polls or kept them home, hiding under the covers. My guess is the latter: Fear, like guilt, is an emotion that creates more upset than action. The feeling of being afraid doesn’t usually lead to rational efforts to address the things you’re afraid of. At least, that’s what Washington has banked on this year.
For all the fearmongering ads, for example, Congress has done nothing to improve the nation’s response to Ebola, other than a House oversight committee hearing where Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) went on and on for the TV cameras about something he called “Eboli” that he said was from Guyana.
For all the politicking on the threat posed by the Islamic State, Congress decided to neither debate nor vote on the U.S. military fight against the group in Iraq or Syria. As the president announced expanded military deployments in the region, Congress canceled its remaining workdays in October and November, until after the election. Congress thinks it’s more advantageous to run ads about how scary the Islamic State is than to face the real threat of actually taking a vote on what to do about that threat.
Halloween is over, but the most deeply craven, vacuous political season in years has followed down its ghostly trail.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.