Of the many awful features of post-election punditry, perhaps the most irritating is the requirement that every writer find a new, heterodox angle on the previous night’s results. Click around a bit and you’ll doubtless find a depressingly large number of columns making a series of clever, original, and dubious claims—why [insert accepted narrative] is wrong and why the counter narrative I just thought up deserves your attention. But last night’s results are, alas, fairly straightforward. They could be summed up, if one needed to do so in a sentence, as “The Tea Party candidates were a mixed bag and voters were angry about the economy.” So rather than hectoring you about everything you know being wrong—because it’s likely untrue, provided you didn’t get all of your election analysis from Ed Schultz—I offer selected thoughts on last night’s bloodbath, many of which adhere to conventional wisdom.
Nice job, South Carolina: Alvin Greene, performance artist, pornography aficionado, and shock winner of South Carolina’s Democratic Primary, managed to pull in an astonishing 28 percent of the vote against conservative Republican Jim DeMint. While there are more than enough issues on which one can criticize DeMint, Greene has apparently been living off-planet—with his mother. But despite a series of media appearances that could charitably be called disastrous, Greene still managed to pick up 361,912 votes and carry 10 counties.
Christine O’Donnell is awesome at losing elections: Why, a friend once asked me, is Pat Buchanan still allowed on television? The answer might sound conspiratorial, I said, but it always struck me as plausible that MSNBC extended Buchanan’s contract because he represents what that network wanted people to associate with conservatism: A get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon, waving his fist about immigration and, when times demanded it, defending former concentration camp guards. In a television studio last night, preparing to discuss the media’s impact on the election, the host asked me why Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell was, according to a Pew study, the media’s most covered figure during the election cycle. Perhaps O’Donnell—who was so stunningly mediocre, always good for a dumb quote, and set to become the Senate’s most powerful anti-onanist—is another Pat Buchanan. It was an uninteresting race, one that the so-called RINO hunters bequeathed to her opponent, but also one that underscored the idea of the Tea Party as home to fringe characters and goofy former Wiccans.
Cap and trade: What more can one add to this Politico lede: “House Democrats who voted for the 2009 bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions—dubbed cap-and-tax by GOP opponents—had a terrible night.” Did they ever. According to Politico “over two dozen lawmakers who favored efforts to clamp down on heat-trapping emissions” were given their walking papers. It’s an important data point to remember when your partisan chums sputter that last night’s elections may have been a bloodbath, but it was one motivated by anti-incumbent sentiment, not anti-Obama anger.
Alan Grayson crawls back under his rock: America’s most loathsome politician is unseated. With all the mania about negative campaigning and excessive nastiness, it is good to see that there is a limit to how much embarrassment the people of Florida’s eighth district are willing to endure. Grayson, who appeared on MSNBC an amazing 61 times this year, took negative campaigning to an astonishing low (see the “Taliban Dan Webster” ad) and the voters punished him for it, pulling in a pitiful 38 percent.
False consciousness: It was something I heard over-and-over at Jon Stewart’s Rally for Sanity, from well-meaning attendees who, having previously read Tom Frank’s book What’s the Matter with Kansas, believed that Tea Party types were stumping for causes that “were against their own interests." Marxist intellectuals call this “false consciousness,” and explain that a revolution of the workers is inevitable once those workers understand how badly the managerial class is screwing them. After accusing voters of having a tantrum, Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson hissed at those “voters who lost jobs in the economic collapse and are trying to rework mortgages the bank can’t find the paperwork for, aligned itself with the party that will add $3 trillion to the federal debt over 10 years to keep tax cuts for the wealthy, without specific offsetting spending cuts to speak of.” Expect more of this nonsense in the coming weeks.
The Rand Paul victory: Nothing surprising about this, nor was there anything surprising about the hyperventilating reaction of MSNBC host Laurence O’Donnell who, after Paul’s victory speech, warned that civilization would end when Paul was seated in the Senate. Meanwhile, The Root, a black issues magazine owned by The Washington Post, thought Paul’s celebration of divided government and gridlock was a harbinger of the extremism awaiting America: “Rand Paul is at it again, being his normal, insensitive, extremist self. Senator-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky says government gridlock isn't necessarily a bad thing, signaling that cooperation with Democrats isn't high on his agenda…After last night's elections, we can certainly look forward to no change in the future. What do you expect from a man who wants to repeal the Civil Rights Act? And yes, America voted for him anyway.” If by “America” you mean Kentucky and if by "wants to repeal the Civil Rights Act" you mean does not want to repeal the Civil Rights Act, then I suppose The Root is right.
The voters of California are the worst people on Earth: Back in 2003, they elected (and then reelected) an Austrian action hero that turned out to be as awful, if not worse, than the governor voters recalled. And now those very progressive, wheat grass-drinking Californians managed to elect Jerry Brown (insert Dead Kennedy’s reference here) and prolong the career of Barbara Boxer, while voting against the legalization of marijuana. And if that weren’t bad enough, the San Francisco city council yesterday approved a measure to ban Happy Meals, to be replaced by Sad Meals featuring Lori Berenson trading cards and tofu sticks in the shape of Cuba. But remember, their auras smile and never frown.
Money doesn’t buy you voter love: Every election it is demonstrated that piles of cash doesn’t assure one a seat in Congress, as it doesn’t assure the Yankees a spot in the World Series. Using a bunch of different metrics, Democrats did a mighty job of outspending Republicans and, nevertheless, to quote President Obama, were delivered a shellacking. So yes, Meg Whitman is the Michael Huffington of 2010.
MSNBC completes transformation: Watching MSNBC’s nauseating, petty, smug election coverage was like watching a live stream of a Park Slope dinner party. And it made it official. The network, which has adopted a piecemeal strategy of partisanship—the evening schedule seems to add a liberal firebrand every six months—has now completed its transformation into the left-wing version of Fox News. Prior to the election, one could hear Chris Matthews comparing the brief and isolated outbreak of violence at a Rand Paul event to—you guessed it!—Germany in the 1930s. Not to be outdone, Ed Schultz popped up an hour later declaring that it reminded him too of Nazi violence. A few days later, Matthews would praise Jon Stewart’s Rally for Sanity, which called for the media to tone down the hyperbole, as “a positive thing.” Last night he was to be found making dick jokes on television as his party was being driven off a cliff.
Exit question: How long before Alan Grayson is offered a job as an MSNBC contributor?
Michael C. Moynihan is a senior editor at Reason magazine. This column first appeared at Reason.com.