It was 86 degrees here in Chapel Hill last Wednesday, shattering a record for that late October day. Some weeks earlier, there had been Kansas-like tornedos in New York City. To say it’s been a strange year would be an understatement. And, of course, it isn’t only the weather, which, unusual as it may be, pales in comparison to the 2010 election cycle. I’ve been looking for a single word that might describe it best and all I could think of was hiding.
Thanks in part to the Supreme Court we’ve witnessed an extraordinary amount of unencumbered corporate (just plain folks like us) money flowing into the national parties and local campaigns. I say in part because of those über-rich candidates who have poured eye-popping amounts into their own races, led by eBay billionaire Meg Whitman who managed to outspend Mike Bloomberg, and that’s an accomplishment. But, as Gail Collins is wont to say, I digress. What has gotten more attention than the super rich spending to promote their personal ambitions are the big pools of money whose donors are, as yet, unknown. They are in hiding.
Far more striking, however, are the large number of candidates on both sides who are hiding in plain sight. These cowardly souls stand as the official nominees of their respective political parties, yet the word Republican or Democrat is nowhere to be found on their literature, campaign signs or TV advertising. It’s reminiscent of those megachurches where no cross or religious iconography is to be found — Christianity hiding in plain sight. In some cases, the nominees, especially Republicans, are Primary victors who ran against the establishment and who prefer to hold on for dear life to their outsider identity, as if their name on the ballot won’t be found under their party’s banner. Others, especially Democrats, who were part of the most legislatively productive Congress in many years, are suddenly pretending that they didn’t take those votes and most certainly don’t know anybody named Pelosi or Obama. They are hiding in plain sight.
When children are very young and still a bit unsure of themselves, we sometimes play a kind of mock hide-and-seek — they or we hide, but remain in plain sight. We engage in this charade, co-conspirators as it were who know exactly what’s afoot, but find some mutual comfort in let’s pretend. But all the players in this election year are adults (even if they don’t always act the part) and know full well that this hiding fools no one. We may not know the names of all those who contributed to this or that patriotic sounding front organization, but we most certainly have a good idea of who they are. Special interests can’t really hide whether they are insurance companies, banks, labor unions, the Koch brothers or George Soros.
Perhaps this hiding in plain sight tells us more about the nature of today’s politics than will be revealed in the vote tally on Tuesday night. It isn’t simply that getting votes seems to be more important than telling the truth, it is that we have a generation of politicians who seem unwilling or, more frighteningly, incapable of taking responsibility. Democrats or Republicans who are delighted to dip into party and contributor coffers are hiding like those two year olds pretending that we won’t know who or what they are. The old adage, you can fool some of the people…is bound to catch up with them and, let’s not forget with their enablers as well — that would be all of us. Perhaps hiding will work in this cycle, but plain sight is plain sight. Some of us may wink this time around, but the hiding isn’t pretty and is bound to have a limited shelf life.