David Hoppe

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:: This election matters

It's more than a pit stop on the road to 2012

By David Hoppe

Midterm elections are next Tuesday. If this news lacks an exclamation point, maybe that's because elections are becoming less important than the campaigning we know will begin again on Wednesday.

It used to be that elections were a kind of climax. They were the culmination of a drama that began with the selection of candidates who then "ran" what was called a "race" to persuade the rest of us who was best to represent our district, state or, in the case of the presidency, country.

Blame it on the 24/7 news cycle, if you like, but it seems this process has gone the way of the Dodo bird.

Campaigns now are neverending. Republicans, for example, began campaigning the day after Barack Obama took the presidential oath of office. They decided among themselves to uniformly oppose every piece of legislation he proposed, regardless of whether or not they, as individuals, agreed with it and regardless of whether or not they thought it might work.

They did this, in spite of the country being at war and wracked by the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. They did it because they want to beat Obama and the Democrats next week.

And if this Republican strategy works, Democrats will doubtless begin a campaign of their own to make sure Republicans appear equally ineffectual in 2012.

Elections like the one coming next week seem more like pit stops than championships. Candidates will take a few hours to catch their breath and lick their wounds. Then the scrum will form again.

We, with the eager help of our media, have confused our politics with sports. It's all about winning and losing, who's up and who's down. And, as with sports, it's easy to think that it's only a game.

There's not a day that passes without some new poll (which, by the way, has almost certainly not solicited your opinion if you rely on a cell phone) indicating who's ahead or behind.

Polls say voters are angry, anti-establishment. This may be true. But, most of the time, this is as far as the discussion goes. So this year, in our politics-as-sports world, you have the bizarre phenomenon of voters who say they are angry about where the country's headed, supporting supposedly anti-establishment candidates as if they were players on an underdog team. Yet these are candidates whose unexamined positions (cut spending! reduce the size of government!) actually line up on the side of powerful corporate interests (cut Medicare! reduce Social Security!) that are making large contributions to their campaigns. This is like rooting for the Yankees.

Take, for example, Indiana's senate contest. Corporate factotum Dan Coats, a man whose political career has been dedicated to making the world safe for rich people, is favored to defeat Brad Ellsworth, a conservative downstate congressman and former sheriff. Ellsworth's main drawback seems to be that he's not Evan Bayh, and therefore not worthy of sufficient support from his party to mount a truly competitive campaign. Coats, incredibly, is running as "an outsider." Then again, he's been living off his Beltway lobbying gains in North Carolina, so this is technically true.

What passes for politics in Indiana can be particularly fatiguing. Ours, of course, is an especially sports-addled state. Unfortunately, the sport our politics most resembles is cricket -- a game that can go on seemingly forever and still end in a draw.

In a state like this one, it's tempting to pull the covers up and snooze through next Tuesday's vote-fest. Let the parties have their party and tune in again when the coming cage match for the presidency gets under way.

Believe it or not, though, what happens next week is likely to have a bigger impact on everyday life in Indiana than any election in recent memory.

Two things are happening here that deserve your attention.

Republicans are counting on anti-Democrat fervor to regain a majority in the state House of Representatives. This will enable Gov. Mitch Daniels to further his so-called reform agenda by way of buffing up his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Reform, in this case, means more dismantling or ignoring of environmental regulations, more reliance on coal for energy, more highway construction at the expense of public transportation and more bragging about Indiana as "Logistics Capital of America."

Then there's the referendum on writing property tax caps into the state constitution. Nobody likes taxes. But writing these caps into the constitution, rather than debating their merits as need be, will cripple the ability of towns and cities to raise money for essential services. Other, higher, taxes are bound to follow. This constitutional amendment is a way of avoiding the honest talk we need to have about what's important and how our communities can pay for it.

That talk is what politics is for. It's too bad there hasn't been more of it lately. But that doesn't make what's happening Tuesday any less important.