Getting out the vote

In the wake of probable sex offender Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court,

Both Republicans and Democrats insisted that the tumult would motivate their voters to turn out for the Nov. 6 election — with both sides citing the anti-Kavanaugh protests that have roiled Capitol Hill and far beyond as a sign of change to come.”[1]

And indeed, the corresponding campaign, at least on the Democratic Party—the same party whose coronation of Hillary Clinton in 2014 and insistence on her nomination in 2016 led directly to Donald Trump’s election—side fills my Twitter feed.

There is a fairly obvious fallacy here. “Getting out the vote” is, at best, a tactic, not a strategy. It reduces an election to a contest to see who can get out “their” voters.

In a polarized political environment, no matter who wins, the losing side protests its oppression. There is no trust in the other side’s motives or information.

Hence, Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation was—and I think probably in fact was—about overturning Roe v. Wade, and more generally about advancing social conservative and corporate agendas. As Benjamin Wittes asked,

Can anyone seriously entertain the notion that a reasonable pro-choice woman would feel like her position could get a fair shake before a Justice Kavanaugh? Can anyone seriously entertain the notion that a reasonable Democrat, or a reasonable liberal of any kind, would after that performance consider him a fair arbiter in, say, a case about partisan gerrymandering, voter identification, or anything else with a strong partisan valence?”[2]

To the extent that this confirmation indeed motivates Republican voters, it may to some degree indeed be because some men among them fear that not all of their previous sexual “conquests” will agree that their encounters were in fact consensual.[3]

But one has to ask, what is the long game here? When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, the howl from the authoritarian populist right was as intense as that we now see on the Left with Donald Trump. His opponents, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, failed to adequately motivate those voters who now remain faithful to Trump, pretty much no matter what.

Hillary Clinton and her supporters relentlessly blame Bernie Sanders, Susan Sarandon, and Jill Stein, refusing even to consider that Clinton’s flaws were a major factor depressing turnout on the Left, leading to Clinton’s defeat in 2016. The result is the same: Only the names and faces are different.

But what do we hear in response to Kavanaugh’s confirmation? “Get out the vote,” even when it is clear that neither side can reliably do so and indeed that the deficiencies of this tactic have led to our present predicament.

  1. [1]Jennifer Haberkorn, “Senate narrowly approves Brett Kavanaugh to Supreme Court, cementing conservative majority,” Los Angeles Times, October 6, 2018,
  2. [2]Benjamin Wittes, “I Know Brett Kavanaugh, but I Wouldn’t Confirm Him,” Atlantic, October 2, 2018,
  3. [3]Jeet Heer, “The New Face of Men’s Rights,” New Republic, October 3, 2018,

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