By Molly Worthen
Chapel Hill, N.C. — Over the last few weeks it has become fashionable to ridicule this election as a jumble of debates that don’t resonate with the average American. The Washington Post deemed these midterms “kind of — with apologies to Seinfeld — an election about nothing,” and many other journalists have echoed the comparison. The joke is an old one: “as the reigning cliché had it, 2002 was the ‘Seinfeld’ election — an election about nothing,” Frank Rich wrote in these pages 12 years ago.
To say that an election is “about nothing” means that no coherent national narrative has emerged — other than the media’s obsession with the tight race for control of the Senate. Pundits and pollsters have published reams of charts predicting the final tally, but this obsession with data has further fragmented the story rather than explained what a Republican takeover would mean. Journalists have said comparatively little about what the party might do if it wins.
In my state of North Carolina, the neck-and-neck contest between the Democratic senator Kay Hagan and the Republican Thom Tillis, speaker of the state House, seems to turn on one question. Who has provoked more voter outrage: the federal government or the state legislature? But this notoriously ugly and expensive race may help explain what the 2014 midterm elections are really about. The answer is not “nothing.”