It’s scary, but I’m not…I don’t want to lose and I’m frightened.
So says the undercover reporter to the Congressman’s son by way of explaining the motive behind his absurdist voter fraud intentions in a now infamous Project Veritas video. It is at this moment that Patrick Moran’s defenses appear to soften and he starts musing about the relative ease of faking utility bills.
It’s simple: The sentiment expressed is precisely what the entire apparatus of a modern political campaign is designed to elicit. Presumably those who summon and exacerbate such fear professionally do so out of a belief that energy of questionable moral origins can be channeled into legitimate, positive ends, i.e. voter enthusiasm, partisan turnout, momentum — the litany of euphemisms we employ to describe the constant nagging anxiety that the Evil Bastards Who Think Not Like Us might take home electoral gold, basically.
It’s not as if these goals are a well-kept secret, either. When asked about a particularly overwrought Obama ad last Sunday on This Week a bemused Gwen Ifill chuckled as she explained the intent was clearly “to freak Democrats out; it’s supposed to remind them of their worst day ever, which is the day they lost the presidency.” And, indeed, a recent feature in the San Francisco Chronicle details the insomnia, panic attacks, and OCD poll-watching amongst liberals terrified of an Obama loss.
With friends like these, who needs Karl Rove?
Now, perhaps you, like I, would prefer not to surrender such a wide swath of headspace to something as manifestly vile as a politician, thereby saving “worst day ever” designations for trite occasions such as, say, the death of family members or maybe the cancellation of certain underappreciated television dramedies. Alas, in the era of Leviathan-as-mandatory-life-coach state, none of us can afford to completely ignore the madness.
And there’s the rub, to quote a prince who famously got the business end of political intrigue right in the neocortex: Fear is not exactly the handmaiden of rationality and the law of unintended consequences is comprised of sterner stuff than any hack political consultant’s pet theories about “ground games” and poll weighting.
There is, of course, nothing even remotely novel about negative political campaigns — and virtually all calls for “civility” are barely veiled plays for opposition-silencing domination — yet as the federal government metastasizes further and further outside the boundaries of the Constitutional pen designed to contain it, the implications of these increasingly zero-sum electoral battles grow ever-starker for each and every one of us. The specter of swarms of edict-wielding bureaucrats marching under a flag not our own looms and anxiety festers until panic sets in.
The boosters of Big Government demand the populace submit to the technocratic acumen of their endlessly regulating betters, but refuse to acknowledge the psychological consequences ripples that follow. Contra the frantic, frequently hysterical campaign to suggest any concern over the integrity of elections is Jim Crow redux, one of these ripples is bound to be voter fraud — much of it likely even dumber than what was sussed out on the Moran video, to be sure, though it does not take any great credulity to believe month-long voting windows increase the chance of more sophisticated and effective schemes.
Is it really so unreasonable to believe that a campaign during which a former president compares the possible election of a president from an opposing political party unfavorably to a deadly hurricane that very moment bearing down on the nation — “It’s nothing compared to the storm we’ll face if you don’t make the right decision in this election” — might leave some activists with the impression that perhaps fabricating a few registrations might be a relatively minor sin in service of the greater good?
Bill Clinton is hardly alone. Jonathan Alter insists on national television it is “just a fact” that “a lot of people will die” if Mitt Romney is elected. Forlorn future tykes sing to us of a dystopian Romneyworld wherein “the earth is cracked,” “the atmosphere is frying,” and “sick people just die and oil fills the sea.” Romney loves cancer; a distinguished NPR panel compares him to an en masse woman-beater openly running on the “white supremacist ticket.”
At best, this sort of rhetoric makes the Romney sound like a man better suited to a Department of Homeland Security watch-list than a ballot. At worst, it casts his candidacy as a potential cataclysmic extinction level event, which perhaps only General Motors and several forward thinking green energy companies can possibly hope to survive.
The election becomes, essentially, a ticking time bomb scenario. And as even the most superficial perusal of history will reveal, when an individual, party or nation is convinced everything they love is on the verge of obliteration all the usual rules go out the window and self-justification sometimes snowballs into a dirty, craggy mass too large to be directed by anyone.