That's my reaction to the latest boilerplate from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It came in the form of two e-mailed news releases, one headlined "Democrats Win Special Election in More Republican District Than Congressman Dold’s," and the other "Democrats Win Special Election in More Republican District Than Congressman Walsh’s."
The first begins: "In a more Republican district than the one Congressman Robert Dold (IL-10) represents, Democrats won a special election Tuesday in Arizona because voters rejected the Republican’s failed priorities. The Republican lost a Republican district because he backed the same plans that Congressman Dold has: drastically cutting Medicare in order to give tax breaks to millionaires, Big Oil and companies that ship jobs overseas." This e-mail then examined Dold's voting record in Congress with a fine-toothed comb.
The second begins identically, except that instead of Congressman Dold, the butt of the message is Congressman Joe Walsh, IL-08. His voting record comes in for the same close scrutiny.
If you keep reading hoping to find out more about that special election in a district more Republican than Dold's or Walsh's (or 82 other Republican-held districts, according to the DCCC), you're going to be disappointed. Eventually the DCCC lets on it's in Arizona. Jesse Ferguson of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is quoted as saying. “It’s clear that Congressman Dold’s [Walsh's] re-election is in jeopardy because he supports the same out of touch agenda that cost Republicans the special election in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, a Republican-leaning district.”
Hold it right there! That would be the special election—it got plenty of coverage—held to choose a successor to Gabby Giffords, the Democrat who was shot in the head in early 2011, survived, but resigned her seat five months ago. The winner was Gifford's former aide, Ron Barber, himself seriously wounded in the same shooting spree, in which six people died. He defeated the Republican Giffords defeated in 2010.
Was this election a simple referendum on Democratic versus Republican agendas? Of course it wasn't. You don't have to live in Arizona's Eighth District or anywhere near it to know that for plenty of voters the decision came down to honoring a valiant survivor by choosing her surrogate to finish her term. Sometimes electorates have a collective sense of what is decent and fitting. The Democratic boilerplate ignores this vital backstory, neither mentioning Giffords by name nor even acknowledging that this "Republican district" was already in the hands of a Democrat. Instead, the DCCC frames the election as a simple choice between Democratic and Republican agendas. Yes, it's lovely to think so, but who can take the idea seriously?
The Dems sure want to. Here, from the DCCC website, is a discussion of the "important lessons" Democrats should learn from Ron Barber's victory in Arizona. It mentions Giffords twice, almost in passing, and with the clear intent of marginalizing her impact on Barber's win. If you're cheering for the Democrats in November you'll want to believe every word. But that won't be easy.
When Scott Walker of Wisconsin survived the recall election last week, one of the reasons that didn't get much analysis—because it's so hard for pundits to slice it and dice it—is the sense of impropriety some voters must have felt at turning out a duly elected governor before his term was over. Voters don't like to think they're simply voting for one "agenda" over another. They like to believe they're bringing their best selves into the voting booth. And often they are.