Election 2018: 501 Stories — All Different

Oregonians will be getting less political news about Congressional races this election season, and more of what they do receive will be unhelpful. None of Oregon’s five incumbent Representatives looks especially vulnerable this year, and neither of our Senators has a race to run this cycle.

We’ll make up for this political dearth with plenty of attention on five statewide ballot initiatives and what promises to be a spirited campaign for governor. But for those who are fixated the Oval Office and the Supreme Court, only changes on Capitol Hill will make any difference. Nationalized stories about U.S. Congressional campaigns will be entertaining and wrong — always a dangerous combination.

National media outlets are determined to find — or concoct — unifying storylines that can engage a nationwide audience. Any trend that allows them to tell a single story will do. But our republic was not designed to make it easy for any national news organization. We don’t have a parliament, where legislative majority and executive power are synonymous. Our system is built around local races for local audiences.

Broad themes emerge naturally during presidential election years, but campaign season in 2018 requires 501 different stories, describing the peculiarities of each individual race.

Leaders for both parties work hard to recruit candidates who “fit their district.” That might be a telegenic socialist in Brooklyn, and a boring white businessman in Wyoming. Following any single model that will be used across the country is a recipe for certain disaster.

Party leaders, candidates, and fundraisers all agree that each race should be responsive to its particular voters. The only people not on the same page are President Trump and the national news media. Trump desperately wants every race to be about him. He’s always loved loyalty tests, so that will unify the political right, whether they like it or not.

Monitoring the prospects among the Democrats will be more complicated. Or should be.

Are the Democrats shifting leftward and belatedly embracing Bernie Sanders? Or have Nancy Pelosi and the old guard tightened their grip? At moments when neither is true, it must be a “civil war” between factions.

With each new blip on a data screen, new trends are described as “worth watching.” In other words, “Don’t touch that dial!”

National media could have a universal storyline about the Democratic party, but they’d have to flip the script. Instead of working overtime to find what any two dots have in common, they could tell the story of a party finding new ways to attract more and different voters, a widening berth that shows momentum in its complexity.

A party that is more responsive to conditions on the ground will be more resilient to whatever surprises lie ahead. Candidates that are not beholden to a strict ideology are better equipped to do the only thing that matters to them between now and November 6 — winning.

Yes, diversity — but not the diversity you’ve heard too much about. This diversity is not about virtue. It’s about surviving and thriving in all sorts of different political environments. It has nothing to do with identity politics or group entitlements.

Johnny Appleseed became a folk hero because apple trees planted from seed are amazingly resilient. No single pest or storm can wipe out an entire orchard, because every tree planted is different from the rest.

Plant an apple seed and you have no way of knowing what sort of apple tree will grow from it. Plant five seeds from a single apple, and they will likely grow into five different sorts of apple trees. Every seed carries a limitless possibility of applehood. Scientists call it heterozygosity.

Apply the same strategy to politics and you plant a wild orchard of lush and laden lawmakers. Candidates who are different from one another will make the healthiest, heartiest voting bloc.

There will be plenty of time to explore how well they’ll work together after the election. If they don’t win with voters first, it won’t matter at all. The Big Tent was never about the canvas overhead. It was always about all the individual stories that could be told safely inside.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.