By David Loomis
INDIANA — Tonight, candidates seeking to represent Indiana County (and the rest of the sprawling 15th Congressional District) in Washington may appear on the same stage in Centre County. This could be a rare moment in the election campaign.
Joint appearances between novice Democrat Susan Boser, an IUP sociology professor, and incumbent Republican Rep. Glenn Thompson have been limited to one Chamber of Commerce midday event at Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer last month, according to a Boser aide in an Oct. 21 email.
For Thompson, avoidance may be a smart political move. In 2016, he won re-election to a fifth term in a district where Donald Trump thumped Hillary Clinton by about 30 points. In February, when the gerrymandered district was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court, voters in the redrawn district had supported Trump by an even larger margin – more than 40 points.
Most forecasters call the seat safe Republican this year. Why would the incumbent risk that by inviting public criticism?
Boser has run a largely positive campaign, emphasizing such positions as high-speed internet as a key to economic development in a largely rural district. In an election in which President Trump has invited voters to make it a referendum on his him, Boser has not taken the bait.
Thompson, on the other hand, has embraced Trump, if not in the campaign, then in Congress. The incumbent has supported the president’s position on issues 98.9 percent of the time.
THE PRESIDENT’S CALL to make the election all about him is politically risky, given the electorate’s tendency to punish first-term presidents in midterm elections. It’s especially risky, given this president’s reverse Midas touch.
For example, Trump’s approach to the American intellect and expertise that have produced a cure for polio, interstate highways, space exploration, the internet, etc., (the AR-15) is to “drain the swamp.” Like much of what the president says, the notion is self-defeating, as journalist Michael Lewis (“Moneyball,” “The Big Short,” etc.) documents in his new best-seller “The Fifth Risk” (defined as a tendency to respond to long-term risks with short-term fixes).
Swamps are wetlands, among the most productive ecosystems on earth, like coral reefs and tropical rain forests. Trump has the swamp metaphor exactly backward.
So, the president’s personalization of the midterms provides an opportunity for voters everywhere to push congressional candidates off their talking points and stump speeches (Democrats: health care; Republicans: tax cuts) and onto “the vision thing.”
As former President George H.W. Bush learned the hard way, vision means articulating the here and now with a view of the future and the means to realize it, as his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, managed skillfully. In Reagan’s day, the nation’s existential threat was the Soviet Union. By the end of his term, the country was history.
TODAY’S EXISTENTIAL THREAT is climate change. On Oct. 8, a breath-taking report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to advise world leaders, described climate-driven catastrophes within the life spans of much of the world population alive today. The time remaining to respond to the looming calamity – a combination of Thomas Malthus and WALL-E — is very short.
Two days after the report’s release, Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle and re-drenched the Southeast, persuading denialists where scientists could not. Even the climate science denier-in-chief shifted his stance, although he predicted the changing climate will “change back again.”
DO OUR LOCAL CANDIDATES for Congress have a different vision thing? They certainly differ.
“[I]t’s not so much based on real science as political science or even, to some degree, science fiction,” Thompson said.
Last year, he told constituents, “I think humans contribute” to climate change, but he added Trumpian uncertainty about how much humans contribute.
The United Nations climate-change scientists are categorical in their conclusion: “Climate change is real and human activities are the main cause.”
Ms. Boser says, “Human activity is a major source of this current wave of climate change.” She advocates “job creation in renewable energy while not forgetting about those who have risked their health and their lives in the coal mines.”
Boser also refuses donations from corporate PACs, which can be generous here in Coal Country.
Thompson has accepted corporate donations, including from oil and gas industries, according to VoteSmart.org.
This has helped give the incumbent a more than 10-to-1 fundraising advantage, according to figures released yesterday by the Federal Elections Commission.
IF THE CANDIDATES appear in public together at tonight’s event in Centre County, voters have a rare opportunity to ask them to elaborate on what may be the most important “vision thing” in human history. They could take a cue from President George H.W. Bush, who signed the first climate treaty to reduce heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions in 1992, when he promised to take “concrete steps” to prevent disruptive climate change.
David Loomis, Ph.D., retired associate professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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