Monday, November 6, 2006

Monday with McKenna: For Whom the Bell Polls

The autumn of shit-slinging, racist advertising, fear-mongering, paranoid corporate agitprop is nearly over. As Frank Rich observed yesterday, it would all be quite hilarious if democracy here and the future of this planet weren't at stake.

What's an honest citizen to do? After all, if you suspect that the American government is now controlled by a cadre of corporate interests whose primary instrument of self-regulation is manufactured by the Diebold Corporation, it is entirely possible that you are right. But in order to rid ourselves of corruption, we must first see it clearly exposed, in all its pustulent nakedness. Your vote tomorrow will be another contribution toward that outcome. And if you can't take the word of an old and marginal New Age liberal on that point, check out what my more mainstream co-blogger has to offer. Now comes Mr. Terry McKenna's election-eve spout:

It’s decision time. Time to vote.

Today is the Monday before election day. And this one is important. Maybe all elections are, but in 2000, no one knew how bad the combination of George Bush and a Republican Congress would be. With 6 years of experience, now we know. Now more than ever, it is time to vote your conscience. My conscience tells me to vote against any person running as a Republican for national office. This includes even good Republicans like Christopher Shays in CT, Lincoln Chafee in RI and my Congressman, Rodney Frelinghuysen in NJ. So please vote your conscience, but I hope your conscience it telling you the same thing that mine is.

Now a bit about polls. Most of the polls you hear about are telling us a national story, so they may not be reliable when describing a particular congressional district. For example, look at the map of the district adjacent to mine, now represented by a Republican, Scott Garrett. It winds along NJ’s northern border, covering parts of 4 counties. By the way, two of those counties have a combined population of over 1.3 MM residents, so it is strange to group their citizens with those of 2 other much smaller counties, but that’s how gerrymandering works. Gerrymandering disenfranchises all of us, but protects our ruling two party system along with virtually all incumbents.

Scott Garrett’s district is a remnant of NJ’s rural past. When I was a kid, we would take our Sunday drives up through the middle of the district. In the fall, we’d look at the turning leaves, maybe while coming home with fresh picked apples or a pumpkin. In the summer, we would buy fresh corn and tomatoes at farm stands. My father fished and hunted up there and to this day, I think of this part of the state as mine. (Yes, I also love the Jersey shore.) Though today the farms are fewer, the rural footprint remains. The current population consists of aging small town conservatives – retired farmers among them, and new arrivals who moved here for cheaper housing. Neither group is sympathetic to the Democratic urban agenda which appears to these hard working people as coddling. So as bad as George Bush or the Republican congress are doing, it’s unlikely that a Democrat could ever win. Karl Rove has been telling conservatives that he has better data, and that it shows that the Republicans will retain control of both houses. He may be right. Of course, he also is a master of spin. Nonetheless, the message is clear, now is not the time for over confidence on the part of anyone who wants change.

I am not a statistician, but I use lots of data in the course of my day job and I consider myself an informed data user. So it was with some eagerness that I agreed to participate in two pre-election polls run by a non-profit polling organization. The two polls focused on the NJ Senate race and my local congressional race.

The NJ senate race is critical for Democrats this year. Although it seems that the Democrat, Bob Menendez, may be pulling away in the last week, his Republican opponent, Tom Kean, Jr., has managed to use the issue of local corruption to make a horse race of the affair. In the poll, I was asked lots of questions about how I believed each candidate voted or would vote on various issues. I gave my best and truest guess. But what they are able to conclude from my answers is hard to say. They omitted what for me is the key question: will you vote for a candidate you don’t like just to make sure that the Republicans are pushed out of power.

By the way, NJ is what is called a blue state. In fact, VERY blue. Thus Bob Menendez is quite willing to list himself as a Democrat, but his opponent, Tom Kean Jr., is not willing to identify himself as a Republican. Neither is Congressman Garrett. Maybe that’s all we need to know this time.

Tom Kean, Jr. is the son of a well-known former Republican governor. All of his ads describe him as an independent, yet he remains stuck to Bush’s fiscal policy.

Scott Garrett is one of those conservatives who before this year were happy to purge the party of what they called RINO’s - Republicans In Name Only. Wonder what he thinks of that strategy now?

The day before an election is full of possibilities. The day after, full of disappointment for at least half of us. If you are at all interested in what is going on in America, you owe it to yourself and to others to vote!

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