The Election Meant Nothing

Charlie Arlinghaus

November 5, 2014

As originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader

This too shall pass. If your people lost this election or won this election, my words of consolation and words of warning are identical. The election didn’t mean what you thought it did. This was not a sweeping denunciation of your way of life, your philosophical outlook, or your taste in personalities. This was an aberration.

One set of people has been given a chance to do a few things or not do a few things. We are not a lost people turning searching eyes to our last hope of leadership, begging him and her to show us the way, teach us to see the light, and find a new way of living.

Rather we are a weary and apathetic bunch who have to elect someone and chose this lot this year. We know we will be disappointed – at least to the extent that we even care. In truth most of us are so disengaged that we don’t have the energy to be apathetic.

Consider that in an election that set numerous spending records, that bombarded us with television advertising, that burdened our mailboxes with remarkably similar pieces of direct mail for and against someone or the other – in a year like that most of us didn’t bother to exercise our voting privilege. Roughly 60% of those eligible to vote didn’t bother to do so. They could have but chose not to.

Let me take the opportunity to quote to you my favorite author: me. In 2010, I warned the incoming horde of Republicans not to presume a revolution. The landslide was temporary; “Sweeping landslides of the sort we experienced this month are not unusual but rather a now commonplace feature of the voters’ general annoyance with their elected leadership.”

I think this fickleness is as it ought to be. The elected official is not our new best friend. We have not placed our trust and hopes permanently in that person. Rather, we have temporarily hired someone to do a temporary job. We fully expect them to disappoint us. And rarely have they failed to do so.

Too many politicians think about doing as little as possible after the election. They decide the importance of their service outweighs any need to actually act. The melodrama of the election gives them some inflated sense of how much the tired, worn down voter actually cares.

Statewide candidates will run around proclaiming “Nebraska is Jones country,” proving only that narcissism and complete cluelessness can coexist. Nebraska is Nebraska. The voters don’t cede control to some two bit politician. The majority of them care so little they skip the election. The rest are merely annoyed about the pollution of political paraphernalia.

A typical voter, overheard at the polls yesterday, said “thank God it’s over. I hope they stop calling now.” This is how disgusted and annoyed someone who actually voted is. He’s thinking about politicians not with passion but with the same resignation one shows the dog who has torn up the couch.

I don’t mean to imply there is no hope or that it is a waste of all our time. There are things that need doing. The state budget needs to be fixed (again). The federal government could stand to actually have a budget once in a while. Those things can and might actually happen.

Four years ago, a state representative asked me “what happens if we make all the difficult decisions to fix this thing but then get voted out because it was difficult.” He was speaking of an $800 million budget problem. I said, “You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you, unlike most politicians, actually did something.” That was good enough for him.

The state and the country face a lot of problems. None of them will be resolved to the satisfaction of everyone. There is another election coming up in just two years. But that’s not an excuse to stall for two years. Elections are aberrations and useless if politicians simply hold office and play a waiting game.

You got elected this time but you can and will be thrown out. Why not use the time you have to actually do something? Remember, nobody likes you. They are merely renting you and fully prepared to be disappointed. Surprise them.