Op-Ed

Kentucky voices: Martin Cothran says, 'Mandate? what mandate?'

The number of editorialists now declaring that Gov. Steve Beshear has an electoral mandate or that Senate President David Williams received a vote of no confidence may just exceed the number of people who actually voted in the election. The polls last week were very lonely places, but the media house is now packed with pundits announcing confidently what it all meant.

A Herald-Leader editorial intoned that Williams' agenda had been rejected and that Beshear had come closer to the "public pulse."

Public pulse? The Herald-Leader might want to check its political stethoscope: If the election showed anything about a pulse, it was that, at least on the first Tuesday of November this year, the voting public didn't have one. It was democracy on life support.

The editorial goes on to a litany of policy initiatives that voters, in an election they largely ignored, supposedly endorsed, a list that bears a striking resemblance to the paper's own liberal positions.

The problem with David Williams, it says, was that his ideas were "unpopular and outside the mainstream." I'm trying to comprehend the irony involved in the Herald-Leader lecturing someone else on being "outside the mainstream" in a state like Kentucky with a conservative electorate.

That the media would argue what voters were saying about issues in an election in which the chief issue was the governor's refusal to debate them with his opponent is ironic, if not simply laughable.

If a sitting Republican governor had followed the strategy Beshear followed this year and refused to debate his Democratic opponent on the issues, reporters would have been forming the journalistic equivalent of lynch mobs. But since it was their boy doing the dodging, they simply looked the other way. In fact, the paper has placed itself in the preposterous position of Beshear himself, who thinks he has a mandate on the very issues he didn't think important enough to discuss in public with his opponent.

And speaking of Republicans, Mitch McConnell biographer John David Dyche got in on the action, declaring at the Kentucky Hospital Association convention that the election "marks the end of the era of David Williams." That analysis, too, is dead on arrival.

Only 28.6 percent of Kentuckians even bothered to come out and vote, and there is little evidence that they had anything particular on their minds. Editorialists who make grandiose claims about what voters were saying in an election in which the vast majority of registered voters didn't bother to make their voices heard should at least have some proof that the voters were saying what they now declare they were saying.

The people who say that the election was a mandate for Beshear apparently didn't notice that he received the votes of only 15.3 percent of registered voters. And those who argue that there was some kind of endorsement of Beshear's first term need to contend with the fact that he received 155,307 fewer votes than he received in 2007.

This election contained no mandates. It didn't even amount to a pat on the back. In fact, it seems to have been one big, collective, electoral yawn.

If the Herald-Leader and others in the Kentucky media are serious about engaging in political analysis, they should at least be able to tell the difference between voter decisiveness and voter despondency.

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