POSTED ON OCTOBER 27, 2010:
Why They Play the Game
Despite GOP's confidence, votes still need to be cast
The political stars are aligning to produce ... what?
If you listen to some in-the-trenches Republicans, you'd think the electoral tool of choice in 2010 is the broom -- a clean GOP sweep is coming to Oklahoma.
If you listen to some die-hard Democrats, you'd think the apocalypse is near -- a red tidal wave approaches that will render the party of Robert S. Kerr and Carl Albert a marginalized minority.
If you listen to folks who don't live-and-die with the latest Internet political skirmishing, you'd think: There's an election next week?
So what does it all mean?
Republicans are confident, perhaps overconfident?
Democrats are waving the white flag of surrender?
The average Oklahoman is yawning, much more interested in the numbers 1 and 14 (the first week's BCS rankings for the Sooners and Cowboys, respectively) than the numbers 54 and 38 (the percentage support for gubernatorial nominees Mary Fallin and Jari Askins, respectively, in the recent Sooner Poll)?
I'm getting mixed signals that suggest voting could be much closer than polls indicate.
Yes, Oklahoma Republicans are so confident of victory that they recently created, and circulated on-line, a movie poster heralding a GOP electoral tsunami. The mostly black and white poster features their mortal enemies, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama on the left, and Republicans Fallin and Sen. Tom Coburn on the right. In large red letters is the mythical movie's title: Accountability Day. The subtitle: The day Oklahoma fought back.
It's part of a GOP strategy to focus voters on the alleged failings of Washington, rather than the failings of a Republican majority state Legislature that enacted $770 million in ill-conceived tax cuts and hundreds of millions more in corporate welfare through tax breaks, credits and exemptions -- money the state with at least an $865 million budget hole next year sure could use for vital services.
But it's also worth noting that Fallin and her campaign took off after Askins last week, claiming the Democrat has flip-flopped on the federal health care reform measure. Candidates comfortably ahead don't typically go on the attack -- instead, they close the campaign with warm, fuzzy messages aimed at spurring their supporters to the polls.
Democrats seem similarly conflicted -- some energized, confident they're going to surprise their opponents, others mired in a funk that easily can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
More than a few Democrats suspect polls showing Askins way behind and a Republican sweep likely are calculated to dampen enthusiasm among Democrats. Remember, the Sooner Poll had Askins trailing Drew Edmondson by double-digits a week before she won the Democratic primary in July.
I'm not an expert on polling, but it's clearly becoming more difficult to gauge public sentiment. There are technological hurdles -- more cell phones, fewer land lines, for example -- but it also seems America's collective attention span is getting shorter by the minute. It's almost as if many of us wake up in a new world every day. What lit our fuses one day isn't such a big deal the next.
I also have a friend who delights in misleading pollsters, telling them the opposite of what she intends to do. It's her way to poke the powers-that-be in the eye.
So the question for Oklahoma Democrats may be this: Does fear trump despair?
Clearly, some Democrats fear what this state will look like if Republicans complete the trifecta -- controlling not only the state House and Senate, but also the governorship, especially with redistricting on the horizon. The reasoning goes like this:
If you think it's been tough with only Gov. Brad Henry as the last line of defense, imagine if Gov. Mary Fallin joins forces with a GOP-majority Legislature. State government would be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce.
Then throw the Liberty Caucus into the mix? Ever heard of the Liberty Caucus? It's the two-dozen or so Republican lawmakers who live in a parallel universe -- some are birthers, some are Tenthers, some are Birchers, some are xenophobes, some are theocrats, some are truthers, some a combination thereof.
Some are pushing a religious agenda that would make the Taliban blush -- including the destruction of public schools. They want church schools or home schools because they want young people indoctrinated in their skewed world where church and state are united. It's not the American way, but they've convinced many in Oklahoma -- often via the pulpit -- that our founders intended for us to a Christian nation, not a nation that values freedom of -- and freedom from -- religion.
They also wrap themselves in the flag, self-styled super-patriots who demonize anyone who doesn't look or think like they do. Look at their agenda: anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-anyone who isn't their kind of Christian. Why do you think one of the state questions on this year's ballot -- placed there by the Republican-dominated Legislature -- involves Voter ID?
And is it even necessary to mention the antipathy for Obama? They lambaste him over health care. Rail about federal spending, especially the stimulus. Thousands of Oklahomans would be on welfare or food stamps today if it hadn't been for $37.5 billion in Obama stimulus money -- it saved 1,900 teaching jobs alone.
What do Republicans in control in Oklahoma City really want? Every government service privatized for profit -- private prisons, private mental health facilities, private schools. For profit. Payment guaranteed by the taxpayers.
A rather glum Democratic lawmaker sat down next to me as I finished lunch recently in Oklahoma City. He talked about what a tough election year it was shaping up to be. And then he waxed philosophical about how maybe it would be the best thing if Republicans did get total control -- because it would force Oklahomans to face the reality of what they were voting for.
He clearly doesn't want that to happen -- he expressed serious concerns about those who would be hurt in such a scenario. But sometimes, he mused, you have to hit rock bottom to face reality.
"Is it really the case that one always has to have a disaster before anything sensible can be done which would have prevented it?"
The mainstream media love a narrative. This year's tale is of Republican ecstacy and Democratic despair.
Is it reality? Or is it like my father used to say, when taking note of the fact that Las Vegas oddsmakers established his favorite team as a two-touchdown underdog: "That's why they play the game."
In other words, the experts aren't always right when it comes to predictions. Even Jesus didn't pick 12 winners.
- Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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