Voter anger or voter impatience?

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By Hal Rhodes

The conventional wisdom has it that we, the American people, are angry, frustrated, fed up and that we aren’t going to take it anymore.

“Down with the rascals!”

“Off with their heads!”

“Out with the bums!”

Who knows? Once in a while the conventional wisdom turns out to be on target.

Certainly, there’s evidence that Campaign 2010, here and elsewhere around the country, has the potential to become one of the nastiest in memory. The very thought of it makes the flesh crawl, especially when you reflect upon some of the campaigns of distortion, lies and negative ads to which we have been subjected in recent years.

 This reporter has been on the political beat a good while and is appalled by the things candidates and their hired guns say about one another. Civility finds itself no match for such nastiness.

During New Mexico’s recent primary campaign for the 2010 Republican gubernatorial nomination, the front runners, former state GOP Chair Allen Weh and Doña Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez, were down and dirty in their assaults on each other.

Now, at this very early stage of the general election campaign, the Democratic nominee for governor, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and Martinez, are already going at it with TV ads sufficient to make eyes roll back in their sockets.

Last week a Martinez attack ad against Denish involving the Children, Youth and Families Department proved so ferocious that whatever message she hoped to convey sank under the weight of  vitriol.

It’s hard to tell whether candidates are responding to voter ferment roiling down at the grassroots or whether they’re actually fostering it.

One of the problems is that we Americans are an impatient lot and famously inconsistent and unrealistic in the expectations we have of our elected officials.   

A year and a half ago, we threw the bums out and handed their replacements the task of fixing the staggering messes left behind by their predecessors.

 Today, a year and a-half later, a surprisingly large number of our countrymen have decided to indulge themselves in anger and the fantasy that problems it took years to create ought to have been remedied in a matter of months.

Somewhere, there must be a role for thought and reason in politics. Facts and historical experience must count for something.

But because many voters today have scant regard for thought or reason, facts and historical experience, those who would govern us turn to distortions and outright falsehoods to gain our favor come election day.

I’m reminded of the response of two-time (1952-56) Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson to a supporter’s assurances that “every thinking person will be voting for you,”

“Madam,” Stevenson is said to have lamented, “that is not enough.  I need a majority.”

The trouble is electoral majorities can be famously fickle, inconstant.

Most polls taken in the period leading up to New Mexico’s June 1 primary showed Denish with relatively comfortable leads when matched-up against Martinez.

Yet, in a poll taken by Rasmussen Reports just two days after the primary, Martinez had pulled slightly ahead of Denish, 44 percent to 42 percent.

 The margin of error of this poll was plus or minus 4.5, which translates into a dead heat at this early stage of the Denish-Martinez race for governor.

But a turn-around of this magnitude in only a matter of days, for no apparent reason other than primary elections had been conducted, suggests that the ballyhooed voter anger of 2010 is playing second fiddle to voter volatility so turbulent as to be disconcerting.