“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
Twenty months ago, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon came to Lindenwood University in St. Charles to deliver a speech on the state of political discourse. With his relatively easy re-election victory on Tuesday, his words speak to the disconnect between reality and the rhetoric in the election season that, thankfully, has ended.
“We are awash in uncivil discourse, “ said Mr. Nixon, the featured speaker at the Bates-Krekel Society luncheon in St. Charles. “If we disengage from those with whom we disagree, it becomes easier to demonize them on the other side. . . . The largest bloc of self-identified voters in our state proclaims neither party for their allegiance.”
Those voters sent a message loud and clear on Tuesday: They are happy in the middle.
The two Democrats on the top of Missouri’s ticket, Mr. Nixon and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, won by convincing margins even as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney easily won the state over President Barack Obama.
Disappointed Republicans will blame Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments for the Republican’s loss to Ms. McCaskill. Make no mistake, for weeks those comments all but shut down his campaign, starving him of the financial support that would have made him more competitive.
But that’s not the entire narrative.
The fact is that Ms. McCaskill, like Mr. Nixon, speaks to a wide swath of Missouri voters. Take a look at Missouri’s top statewide office-holders:
As she emphasized in her television advertisements, Ms. McCaskill ranked 50 out of 100 U.S. senators on The National Journal’s liberal-to-conservative ratings. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican, bracketed the middle, too, ranking 61 on the liberal scale, 42 on the conservative one.
On the other hand, the Republican who took the biggest beating statewide on Tuesday was attorney general candidate Ed Martin, who ran the most extreme, cynical campaign of all.
In statewide elections, when politicians can’t control the outcome by drawing boundaries that ignore their opponents, voters see through the fog. Most of them, as Mr. Nixon so adeptly pointed at Lindenwood, don’t participate in, or appreciate, the partisan divide.
For all the attention negative advertising gets, it’s telling that Mr. Nixon ran more positive spots than negative ones. His big bankroll and an inexperienced opponent in Dave Spence, allowed him this luxury. But still, in every market in which Mr. Nixon was advertising, he constantly had at least one positive ad on the air.
That is the record of the 2012 election. And it is not meaningless.
The Missouri that had been a national bellwether showed itself in its statewide election results, the presidential race aside. Moderation won over extremism. Messages that brought people together prevailed over those that divided.
For more than three decades now, Missouri has served as the mean population center of the U.S. We are the fulcrum on a perfectly balanced population see-saw. In 1980, that center-point was Mr. Nixon’s hometown of DeSoto; no wonder he enjoys the middle.
Now, that center-point has moved south, and west, to the Texas County town of Plato, named after the Greek philosopher, just south of Fort Leonard Wood.
For all the divisiveness of our political discussion, the evidence is in.
Missouri likes the middle.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.