Why Elections Are Stupid (Though Sometimes Funny)

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If anybody wanted to know why elections are stupid, all they had to do was watch the returns from New Jersey's primary election on June 6. If the spectacle of a Roman forum where statist gladiators fight to political death would not convince an objective observer, nothing would. However, like the Coliseum in ancient times, there was plenty of entertainment and unintentional humor to occupy the viewer.

I guess the story actually begins with former Governor Jim McGreevey, who suddenly and shockingly resigned his office two years ago after revealing he was gay, although he was "married" three years earlier and had a baby girl. The real problem, however, was that he appointed his secret lover to a six-figure income state job as Homeland Security Advisor, even though the guy was about as qualified as Barney Frank hosting the Miss America Pageant. The following year Jon Corzine, who spent $60 million of his own money to be called "Senator," resigned his seat to spend another $30 million to be called "Governor."

After beating another multimillionaire who could afford millions in TV ads (including one where Corzine's ex-wife attacked him for being untrustworthy) but could not afford a few hundred dollars for a decent hairpiece, Corzine appointed Congressman Bob Menendez to finish his term, which expires next year.

Fast forward to June 6 and Bob Menendez is running in the primary for a full six year term in the US Senate. His only opposition consists of a mental patient who lives in a halfway house and does not have a phone number. However, there is a heated race for the congressional seat vacated by Menendez between two political hacks from Hudson County. For those not familiar with New Jersey politics, Hudson County is the sort of place where city officials take credit cards for services rendered and politicians stab each other in the chest. There is no Republican Party to speak of in Hudson County, so the Democratic primary is the general election. This means that two Democrats, no matter how much they agree on issues, will rip and tear each other apart like two pitbulls in heat fighting over a female, because when it comes to a chance to increase the feathers in their own nest, there is no substitute for victory.

I watched the manager for one candidate explain to an interviewer how upset she was that their opponent ran a very negative campaign. She complained the opponent avoided discussing issues, and was a hypocrite for making personal attacks while at the same time helping a child molester get a reduced sentence, and for associating with a convicted narcotics dealer. During the interview, she made sure that every time she mentioned the opponent's name, she also used the terms "narcotics dealer" and "child molester" in the same breath. At this point I was laughing too hard to pay close attention to what was being said, but it seemed like this was a classic case of sending a negative subliminal message to score cheap political points, similar to neoconservative war hawks mentioning Saddam Hussein, Al-Qaeda and "terrorist" in the same sentence. Anyway, I couldn't care less who won, but at least I had a few good laughs.

Now we come to the Republicans, who can be just as entertaining. In a state like New Jersey, which no Republican has won statewide in nine years, it just isn't feasible to run on a Taliban platform of gay-bashing, mandatory school prayer, deporting immigrants and criminalizing abortion. Therefore, the GOP powers-that-be decided that if they can't win on issues, they'll win on personality. They recruited the son of the popular former Governor Tom Kean (appropriately named Tom Kean Jr.) even though he had less than four years experience in elective office. Being a "moderate" like his father, though, Kean Jr. did not sit well with the Taliban wing of the party. The mullahs huffed and puffed about being ignored by party leaders, and decided to exact their vengeance by running their own candidate in the primary. This would not be easy since ideology is no substitute for cash in a political campaign, and even the mullahs acknowledged the inevitable outcome. But they wanted to make their point, and they finally recruited a nerd who looked like a poster child for the John Birch Society.

The night of the primary the Taliban were beating their breasts and banging their drums as they proclaimed "victory" by getting 25 percent in a Republican primary. They bragged about how the GOP bigwigs would have to pay attention to and acknowledge "conservative values" (i.e., big government imposing a Taliban social agenda on everybody else). They were the usual assortment of little old ladies in tennis sneakers, dime store political operatives in cheap suits and bad hairpieces, and goofy looking guys you might see standing along the wall at a church-sponsored singles dance. The nerd gave a short speech surrounded by the dozen or so people who bothered to show up. Usually at events of this type for "minor" candidates (I have been to a few), the camera focuses on the candidate and the people standing around. If the camera were to pan the room, there would be no audience and the candidate would be talking to empty space. A few years ago, the Libertarian candidate for governor held a "press conference" to announce he had hired the campaign manager for Jesse Ventura (his slogan was "If a pro-wrestler can be elected Governor of Minnesota, a realtor can be elected Governor of New Jersey"). Ironically, the only news crew to show up was from public television, and when the camera panned the room, there was nothing but empty chairs and one lone reporter taking notes. By the way, the Libertarian ended up with about two-tenths of one percent of the final vote total in the election.

It should be noted even though the nerd got 25 percent of the vote, it wasn't much more than the nutcase living in a halfway house who didn't have a phone. The latter got 15 percent of the vote against the incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez, and since many more Democrats are registered in New Jersey than Republicans, the difference in actual votes was hardly significant. Which brings up the main reason why these elections are less about issues and more about personalities, power and money. This becomes evident watching the candidates and their operatives on the night of the primary election. No matter how much they agree on issues, especially being from the same political party, candidates need to massage their egos and feather their nests. Since they can only do this so long as they hold elective office, getting elected and staying elected is what politics and government is all about.

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Ken Bank's picture
Columns on STR: 12

Ken Bank has done some writing (including movie reviews) from a historical and libertarian perspective, and his background includes masters degrees in history and business.  He used to be active in the Libertarian Party but has given up politics.  He currently resides in Barnegat, New Jersey.  He is a retired real estate broker, and currently works part-time as an investment manager and consultant.