FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2022
The demographication of everything: Just for the record, there's absolutely nothing wrong with David Von Drehle's smarts.
Von Drehle is one of (roughly) three million columnists for the Washington Post. That said, there is exactly nothing wrong with the scribe's sagacity.
For that reason, we were especially struck by a column Von Drehle wrote last week. It dealt with what the voters were trying to tell us in our recent elections.
Long ago and far away, a famous TV star named Lassie was constantly said to be "trying to tell us something." Today, the voters, or perhaps the American people, are frequently cast in a similar role.
What were the voters trying to tell us last week? Focusing on the voters of Kansas, Von Drehle began by offering this:
VON DREHLE (11/11/22): Instead of focusing on Florida, gauging Georgia or pondering Pennsylvania, I was hung up on results from Kansas, of all places. One weird pair of results in particular. I recalled the words of political consultant Dick Tuck, a legendary Pundits Club member. “The people have spoke—the bastards,” he said in 1966. His words echoed as I wondered what Kansans were trying to say.
The voters reelected Gov. Laura Kelly, a moderate Democrat with a soothing demeanor. Kelly is the sort of governor you want if you prefer not to give much thought to your governor: knowledgeable, practical, low-key. You get the feeling she probably has a safety pin and a spare handkerchief in her handbag, and maybe caramels for the grandkids.
Down the ballot, the same voters elected Kris Kobach to be their next attorney general. Kobach is an original gangsta of MAGA Republicanism; he manned the ramparts against immigrant throngs when Stephen Miller was but a lad watching “The Simpsons” and crushing on Mr. Burns. A perpetual candidate, Kobach distilled his platform this time to just three words: “Sue Joe Biden.”
Kelly and Kobach go together like a Christmas cardigan and a bag of broken glass. I can see why people might prefer one or the other, but I’m surprised to see both in the same shopping cart. Surprised and baffled.
In this column, Von Drehle, who is plenty sharp, was "wonder[ing] what Kansans were trying to say" in last week's elections. The bafflement he experienced stemmed from these basic facts:
Kelly, a moderate Democrat, got re-elected as governor of the state. But in the same statewide election, Kobach, a MAGA Republican, got elected as attorney general!
What were Kansans trying to say, Von Drehle unwisely wondered. By the end of his column, he was offering a familiar conclusion, one pundits often reach:
Kansans were trying to say that they want divided government! More explicitly:
"Americans express a persistent impulse toward divided government...The ballot that elected both Kelly and Kobach...was cast by the electorate’s invisible hand, which seeks balance, always balance." Or at least, so Von Drehle said!
The Kansas electorate was seeking balance (between the two major parties)! David Von Drehle is very smart, but this extremely familiar judgment doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
For starters, there's no such congregation as "Kansans"—at least, not in the way Von Drehle's analysis might seem to suggest or imagine.
A whole lot of individual Kansans went to the polls and voted last week—but they didn't do so as a group. It isn't clear that they were somehow voicing some sort of group judgment.
Why then did Kansas voters elect both Kelly and Kobach? A simple look at the Kansas tallies tells us this:
Kelly did win re-election—but she won by just over two points. Meanwhile, Kobach won his race for attorney general by substantially less than two points.
It would take very little ticket-splitting to produce those twin results. Almost surely, the vast majority of Kansas voters voted a straight party line, at least in these two races.
To her credit, Lassie was constantly trying to tell Timmy something. By way of contrast, there's no sign that the bulk of Kansas voters were trying to say that they favor divided government or some type of "balance."
That said, a simple fact emerges here—our elections are routinely decided by slender victory margins! Peeling away a small number of voters can turn defeats into wins.
That brings us to an instructive letter in today's New York Times. The letter writer makes several excellent points, while failing to notice another:
To the Editor:
Lest we Democrats take excessive comfort from the 2022 midterm results, note that many pivotal races were won with razor-thin margins. This means that tens of millions of Republicans backed candidates who were egregiously incompetent and/or blatantly dedicated to sabotaging future elections.
We cannot count on such helpful incompetency in the future, nor such timely outrages by the Supreme Court, to fuel our future success. Now is the time for Democrats to dramatically upgrade our messaging to earn a more substantial, reliable victory in 2024.
E— D— / Princeton, N.J.
Correct! The writer notes that many Democratic victories "were won with razor-thin margins." Beyond that, he notes that Democrats got some assists from outside forces this year.
Dems got help from the Dobbs decision, and from some of Donald J. Trump's strikingly weak nominees. They may not get that kind of help next time, or in the elections which follow.
On that basis, the letter writer sensibly suggests that Democrats, and the blue tribe in general, need to upgrade their game. Along the way, he fails to note another key point:
Republicans actually won the majority of House seats this year! On balance, "the American people" don't seem to have been delivering the upbeat message which is currently being bandied about all over our blue tribe's cable news programs.
Republican candidates actually won the House—won more seats than Democrats! It's hard to square this obvious fact with the triumphalist cries emerging from within our blue tribe.
As that letter writer suggests, our blue tribe badly needs to step up its game. In our view, it has needed to do so for years.
Next week, we'll start to discuss one of the ways our tribe may be letting the GOP peel voters away. More specifically, we'll start discussing the seventh point on Kevin Drum's recent list.
As we do, we'll euphemistically start to discuss "the demographication of everything." In our view, it's one of the least helpful parts of our tribe's prevailing culture.
David Von Drehle is very smart. In our view, he wrote a column which pretty much wasn't.
Anthropologically speaking, it's very easy for us humans to make mistakes. We leave you with an award-winning question:
What kinds of mistakes—on the politics and on the merits—is our vastly self-impressed blue tribe perhaps inclined to make?
Coming: The demographication of everything