THE BLOG
10/24/2014 09:26 am ET Updated Dec 24, 2014

Stampede to the Exit

As the election season winds down, voters are caught between scary movie and farce.

Thanks to a Tar Heel friend who alerted me to issue ads in the North Carolina senate race, I now know that "for six years the policies of Barack Obama and Kay Hagan have dominated Washington." Karl Rove's American Crossroads, you see, is touting Republican Thom Tillis.

For months the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has raised funds with emails titled "Devastating defeat" and "All hope is lost." Happily, hope is revived if I donate a mere $5, and it's Triple-Matched! One subject line sadly failed: "This is a long email. Please read the whole thing."

Last weekend I got an appeal from DCCC signed by public-minded diva Barbra Streisand, with lines like: "The deficit is rapidly dropping and is just 2.8% of GDP -- the lowest since 2007." At first I doubted she had such expertise, but then I remembered she brought in her movie Yentl at only 11 percent over budget.

Meanwhile, marriage equality is sweeping the nation, while dejected opponents invoke the End Times. When a U.S. District Court ruling on October 17 made Arizona the 31st marriage equality state, Gov. Jan Brewer slammed "unelected federal judges" for robbing citizens of the right to make laws directly. I wonder if those who say this have ever taken a civics class. The Constitution affirms no right to make laws by ballot measure, but it does guarantee equal protection. Why should people expect a veto on their neighbors' marital decisions?

The real problem the right has with our judiciary is that it interferes with their efforts to stampede the public. A stampede helps you enact your agenda as rapidly and with as little scrutiny as possible. James Madison worried that minorities could be tyrannized by the majority as much as by a king. The federal judiciary is part of the checks and balances he and others designed to prevent tyranny from below as well as above.

In this election, the Republican Party is winning the sweepstakes for stampeding voters to avoid examination of its record. Panic and outrage are the best ways to provoke a stampede. In the late 17th century, an accusation of witchcraft could eliminate a rival. In the early 20th century, the alleged rape of a white woman could set off destruction of an entire black community with nary a whisper of due process. Today, the favored goblins are Islamist head-choppers and sick Africans.

None of this could withstand critical inquiry; but politicians exploit our herd instinct. A beloved Psalm, after all, portrays us as sheep needing a shepherd. The faithful are called a flock. Using the brains that God gave us to think for ourselves is condemned as vanity. One of the strongest social forces is ostracism of anyone who rocks the boat. We picture ourselves as a nation of rugged frontiersmen, yet react to each new threat like a victim in a horror movie.

It is as implausible that we are helpless against ISIS attacks as it is that we are less able to stop Ebola than Senegal. Republicans are merely trading on our worst instincts to win an election. The shortage of Profiles in Courage among Democrats notwithstanding, if you are equally scornful of both major parties then you may have missed patriotic scenes like that of GOP senators faulting public health failures while refusing to confirm a Surgeon General.

Tea Partiers love to quote Jefferson, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Their bloody fantasies make especially relevant John Philpot Curran's words from 1790: "It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance."

As of October 19, statistician Nate Silver gave Republicans a 62 percent chance of taking the Senate. Go prove him wrong, but consider this: if the GOP wins, Mitch McConnell will have to contend with the ambitions of Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. Perhaps Log Cabin Republicans can welcome him to the Majority Leader's office with a two-year supply of rainbow-colored antacids.

This piece originally appeared in Washington Blade and Bay Windows.