Should members of the LSU Board of Supervisors disclose who receives their scholarships?|
Story Archives: The joke should not be on voters
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|The joke should not be on voters|
Wouldn't it be grand if, by voting early, one's brain could block out all political commercials for the last week of the election? Great as that would be, it wouldn't work, because the registrars' offices could not handle the crush of voters desperate for relief.
Given the incessantly negative tone of the campaign, it was tempting for many voters last week to briefly buy into the notion that the U.S. Senate race, like the presidential contest, was all but over--except, of course, for the voting.
The sense among many, reinforced by some news stories, was that Sen. Mary Landrieu had momentum moving strongly in her favor, based on weeks-old polling and her 2-1 fundraising advantage on Republican challenger Treasurer John Kennedy. But, as with that other race, about when people start saying it's over is when it gets interesting.
It sure looked like a knockout punch when the National Republican Senatorial Committee decided to pull all its advertising in support of Kennedy in order to defend embattled incumbents in other states. The downturn in Republican fortunes nationwide is seen in once-safe senators like Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky fighting for their political lives. In Minnesota, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman trails in some polls to Al Franken, a comedian no less.
In face of the downbeat reports, the Kennedy campaign released recent internal tracking polls showing Landrieu leading only 47-41 percent.
Disputing that, the Landrieu campaign released its own tracking numbers week showing Landrieu leading 51-34 percent. "The reality is that if the spread were only six points and we were under 50, the NRSC would not have pulled out," said a Landrieu spokesman.
The next day, the Republicans were back in, announcing the resumption of TV commercials. Landrieu commercials have described the party-switching Kennedy as one confused politician, but he is a rock of certitude compared to the gang that is supposed to be helping him.
Kennedy's GOP problem is not just national but uncomfortably close to home, where leading Republican officials in large suburban parishes, which need to be the strongest for Kennedy, have come out for Landrieu. That the parish president and sheriff in St. Tammany Parish, Kennedy's home, and the sheriff of Jefferson Parish publicly endorsed Landrieu weeks ago was, for Kennedy's sake, best left unmentioned. But state party leaders couldn't resist, denouncing the perfidy and calling for the straying pols to be punished.
Before sounding off, party leaders failed to consider that they have no procedure for disciplining members, especially in a state where ticket-splitting and party-changing are common. All the tempest served to do was give free publicity to the endorsements and to provide the popular officials with the opportunity to justify their action by citing Landrieu's hurricane recovery work.
Worse still, the intramural squabble made statewide news while the endorsements themselves had been confined to the New Orleans area.
So, after the comedy of errors nothing has changed. Both party committees are hammering away at both candidates and the uncontrite Republican officials are still as publicly behind Landrieu.
To their credit, the candidates, meeting in four debates, have tried earnestly to spell out the policy differences that separate them and to keep their campaigns out of the gutter, going at least up to the curb.
Their comportment doesn't make the debates any more interesting, and so they go largely unwatched. We can do better. My modest proposal for livening things up is drawn from the high point of the presidential campaign, which was the Alfred E. Smith Foundation dinner in New York at which both candidates hilariously mocked themselves and each other in short speeches that were more like stand-up comedy routines.
In that spirit, to future series of Senate and gubernatorial debates there should be added a joke-telling contest, or some other test of wits. After all, the road to the White House now runs through Leno, Letterman and Saturday Night Live. As with the leader of the free world, if our senators and governors can't take a joke, or crack one, how can we take them seriously? It's either that or hasten development of the post-early-voting brain block.