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Sean Evans: A plague on both their houses

The Jackson Sun
The Jackson Sun
 2022-11-27

In Romeo and Juliet, as Mercutio lay dying because of the feud between the Montagues and Capulets, he cursed both families saying, “a plague on both your houses.” In last week’s elections, voters delivered a similar verdict by rejecting both parties and giving each party a very narrow majority in either the House or Senate.

Americans were clearly upset with the Democrats. President Biden has low job approval, Democratic leaders are unpopular, and many Americans blame Democrats for high inflation, a border crisis, and rising crime. Moreover, voters are frustrated with a party that supports few restrictions on abortion, can’t define the words man or woman, views parents as obstacles to their children’s education, proposes trillions of dollars in spending without paying for it, supports canceling views they oppose, and sees race as the explanation for every issue.

These views and actions should have led to a Republican rout. However, voters see a Republican Party out of its mind because it lies that the 2020 election was stolen, downplays the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 continues to support the instigator of the assault, chases non-Trump Republicans out of the party, nominates extremist candidates, and mocks the attack on Speaker Pelosi’s husband. Meanwhile, the party has either no policies, commitments without substance, or policies that most Americans oppose.

Almost 60 years ago V.O. Key wrote that “the voters are not fools.” Even though some voters make bad decisions, the overall electorate acts rationally and responsibly because independents make decisions based on incumbent performance and candidate positions on critical issues. This election proves that. Exit polls show that independents and voters who somewhat disapproved of Biden’s performance voted Republican when they were presented with a normal conservative Republican like Georgia Governor Brian Kemp or New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. However, these same voters voted against Trump-like candidates which caused the candidates to underperform the district’s baseline partisanship and lose competitive races. Consequently, Democrats held their Senate majority while Republicans won a narrow House majority.

In other words, the voters voted for gridlock to prevent either party from harming the country. Moreover, the narrow majorities create the conditions for moderation and bipartisanship. The question is whether either party will listen to the voters and move to the middle.

For realists to take control of both parties, they will need to do several things. First, pragmatists need to stop complaining and counter the ideological extremists. They need to fund think tanks that produce pragmatic center-right and center-left policies and fund organizations that support pragmatic candidates, create activists who support these ideas, and mobilize voters for these candidates and policies.

Second, the moderates in office need to leverage their numbers for rule changes. For years, the far-right members of the House Freedom Caucus have threatened to withhold their votes for the Republican Speaker candidate unless the party adopted rules changes that it supports. Moderates should do the same.

They should withhold votes from Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) unless he supports rules that require the Speaker to prioritize bipartisan bills, guarantee members can offer more amendments, guarantee each member a committee hearing on one of their bills, and grant rank-and-file members more power to write legislation. If the center-right and center-left do this, we may get the parties we deserve and the government that we need.

Sean F. Evans, Ph.D. is professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Union University.

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