When Timothy Egan isn’t winning prizes like the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, he writes terrific columns for The New York Times. He’s got a new one today right here. Egan writes:
This fall, voters are more disgusted, more bored and more cynical about the midterm elections than at any time in at least two decades.
It’s so bad that Senator Mitch McConnell is paying people to show up at his rallies and pretend to be excited. There should be plenty of applicants; just 29 percent of the electorate said they were “enthusiastic” about voting this year.
Tim goes on to say:
You can trace the Great Breach to Justice Kennedy’s words in the 2010 Citizens United case, which gave wealthy, secret donors unlimited power to manipulate American elections. The decision legalized large-scale bribery — O.K., influence buying — and ensured that we would never know exactly who was purchasing certain politicians.
Kennedy famously predicted the opposite. He wrote that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”
Egan spends most of the column explaining why Kennedy’s “rise to corruption” and “appearance of corruption” have, despite the Supreme Court Justice’s blandishments, exactly come to pass. He’s careful not to blame only Republicans – the obeisance to obscene wealth is clearly a two-party problem. And he’s right. I’ve just got one little quibble – Tim, get a solution! Stop complaining and start solving. Or as John Goodman said in Raising Arizona (by way of Eleanor Roosevelt), “I’d rather light a candle than curse your darkness.”
Egan knows something about Arizona and Roosevelts – he’s written about both and more, as the Times’ official Correspondent west of the Mississippi. He’s praised the prairie as a place where people spare the sentiment and get things done. So as the baseball world’s attention turns to Kansas City, I’d prefer Egan spare the sentiment and take a minute to talk about Greg Orman, a prairie man who may well become Kansas’s next Senator – by repudiating both the Democrats and Republicans.
Thomas Frank’s ten-year-old book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” is one of the few political books that many people seem to have read, or at least gleaned – it’s not uncommon to see celebrities genuflecting to it on talk shows. It purports to explain why conservative voters consistently vote against their own interests. The tiny problem with the book is that it reads as though liberals are smarter about their interests. (Metropolitan Books set up an unfortunate binary with the cover photo of an elephant stepping on a donkey.)
Alexandra Pelosi recently complicated this vision, naming Frank’s book and pointing out that liberals are just as likely to act against their own interests – often by not voting at all. And let’s face it, that has a lot to do with the issues Egan discusses today – people have good reason to believe that neither party has anything to do with their interests. This land was built on freedom of choice, but today politicians tell us that we can only make two choices, which comes down to no choice at all.
That’s why I hope more people go to Greg Orman’s site and even contribute to his campaign. Like me, he’s in his 40s, old enough to remember that the parties weren’t always like this, and young enough to know that he need not choose between them. Orman tells a fascinating story of growing up in a Humphrey family, liking Reagan, working for the first President Bush, quoting Ross Perot in his 1991 college yearbook photo, and continuing to work for social tolerance and fiscal conservatism. In many ways it’s a journey we can all understand. I would love everyone who reads this to read his basic statement here:
I decided to run for the United States Senate to represent Kansas as an Independent because I know that Washington is broken. We’re sending the worst of both parties to Washington and we know it.
For too long, we’ve elected politicians who continue this broken system that caters to special interests and the extremists in their own parties rather than solving problems of the people who elect them. Unfortunately, all that’s led to is a Congress that can’t get anything done. And right now we’ve got real problems that, if unsolved, threaten to irreparably harm America’s middle class that is the foundation of our country and our economy.
Kansans believe in hard work, accountability, and common-ground collaboration to get things done. When I hear a good idea, I don’t care if it comes from a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent. I’m going to Washington to put egos and party labels aside and work with everyone to get things done for Kansas and our great nation.
Throughout my business career, I’ve been a pragmatic, effective problem solver who knows how to bring people together to find common-sense solutions.
I have never lost faith in the American Dream and that our state’s and our country’s best days are ahead – if we can just get government working toward solutions instead of partisan advantage.
Kansas has a record of electing candidates who think this way, like Bob Dole. When he recently toured the state, I was honored to have the opportunity to listen to him. He spoke eloquently, and at length about how our system isn’t working today. Even though he was a proud Republican, he never shied away from working across the aisle to get things done. That is the mindset we must bring back to Washington.
Orman suggests where populism goes from here. These days, the parties dig in trenches like something out of World War I, and when the rain comes (say, the debt-ceiling debate), they just dig in further until the rain finally stops. I say leave those parties in their 100-year-old trenches. Let Orman light the prairie fire. The term “Prairie Fire” has a very proud tradition – it refers to great sports teams, computers, drinks, books, and even military operations. If Kansas can light the candle and make Greg Orman an American Senator, he can help fan a prairie fire that can pass over the trenches, scorch some of the earth, and restore America to the land of opportunity that it was for our grandparents. I love his name. Orman sounds like Norman, which shares a root with Normal; Orman has a chance to re-normalize America.
If you read fivethirtyeight.com, you’ll know that it’s possible – not probable, but very possible – that in the second week of November, two weeks from now, Greg Orman could hold the fate of the United States Senate in his hands. That is, if Orman wins as an Independent (as polls now suggest he will), and if the rest of the Senate-elect consists of 49 Democrats and 50 Republicans, Orman will have a decision to make. He won’t lose his Independent label, but by choosing which party to caucus with, he will decide who becomes Majority Leader (Mitch McConnell or Harry Reid) and decide which party controls the Senate committees – in other words, which legislation makes it to the Senate floor. He’d be responding to the sincerest single-Senator sycophance since Jim Jeffords in 2001.
If that happens, Orman should respond in a manner that reflects the 13 years since then – the national-security overreach, the refusal to sacrifice on behalf of the budget, the internet-driven desire for transparency. Orman shouldn’t get locked behind closed doors, in the sort of anti-transparency proceedings that Egan laments. I hope Orman demands that both parties parlay with him honestly and openly. Make them declare how far they’ll go in the name of actually responding to the majority of Americans who demand common-sense solutions. Put them on the spot, Senator-Elect Orman…for all of us Normans.