2014: Where Is Everyone Who Wants To Be In Politics?

Politico.com reports on an interesting story but I wonder if it calls for a different interpretation. The headline reads, “The incredibly shrunken 2014 battlefield.”

“Battleground 2014 is shaping up to be a very small place. With the House sliced and diced into districts that leave most incumbents insulated from any serious reelection challenge — and a host of prized Senate recruits from both parties deciding they’d rather just stay home — control of Congress could be decided next year by the fewest number of states and congressional districts in a decade or more.”

Politico goes on for paragraphs describing the few real contests we will have. Then, at the very end of the article they offer something the reader has been wondering about through it all: an explanation as to why there are so few challengers:

“The main reason for the shrunken battlefield is the failure of both parties to land prized recruits. Time and again, top-tier potential candidates have decided the lure of the Senate isn’t strong enough to endure a grueling campaign that might or might not end well. Former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the party’s best hope of keeping Sen. Max Baucus’s seat in their column, was only the latest example when he opted on July 13 not to run. Democrats haven’t turned up strong candidates in two states where members of their party are retiring, West Virginia or South Dakota, making them likely GOP pickups. Republicans have had their own recruitment shortcomings. The party has yet to field quality candidates in purple and blue states that, if history and demographics are any guide, should be competitive. The GOP also has yet to capitalize on Democratic retirements in Iowa and Michigan…”

This doesn’t sound like a real explanation to me. So let me offer my own speculative hypothesis:

As the nation’s moral and economic judgment day approaches, American politics doesn’t have the same power it once did. American politics has been driven by buying corporations and voters through promises. In general, one could get away more easily with breaking promises to voters than to corporations, but one still had to do something to make enough voters happy, at least on Election Day.

The campaign money (and whatever other personal benefits could be handed over under the table) from the corporations, and the votes, were purchased mainly by the power of the government to take on massive amounts of debt. Debt empowered the Pentagon and thus enabled politicians to pour out money on regions and industries based on military contracts. Debt empowered new programs of all sorts.

And many people, even those who deny it, now see that we are running out of time and credit. The voters are starting to look for candidates who really promise to slash spending, even if it means cutting entitlements in some cases or spending on what we euphemistically call “defense.” How does a politician operate in this environment? We are in an unprecedented situation—or at least one that no one can remember ever existing during their lifetime.

Call it the “political bubble.” It looks like it is about to pop. To those who are not incumbents and who have to win a campaign, the whole thing looks like more trouble than it is worth. Furthermore, even tea party conservatives have got to realize how severely they and their families will be attacked—with no likelihood they will succeed in turning the country around. So I imagine many would-be candidates, who would actually be principled and honorable statesmen, are deciding they don’t want to be drafted into the war.

And for the rest: Maybe the rats aren’t leaving the ship yet, but many are refusing to climb on board.