MEDIA METAPHYSICS AND MID-TERMnRESULTS by Irving Louis HorowitznAmerican elections are difficult enough to interpret innPresidential years. In by-election years, like 1986,npolitical analyses assume the proportions of tea-leafnreadings—or so television network analyses would seem tonsuggest. Faced with complex nonreductionistic information,nthe media resorted to metaphysical quick-fixes tonexplain complicated events. The U.S. Senate was recapturednby the Democratic Party, giving it control of bothnhouses of Congress; and in sharp contrast, substantial gainsnwere registered by the Republican Party at the state levels,nwhere in the roughly three-quarters of the gubernatorialncontests, it pulled to a rough parity with the Democrats.nNetwork pundits saw these results in a variety of ways,nbut all were one-sided. The simplest “interpretation” wasnthat the results showed a battle of personalities, andnAmericans voted for the “moral” candidate in each case. Ifnthis were the case, of course, one would have to concludenthat the Democratic Party loaded its moralists for the Senatenraces and the Republican Party for the governors’ races—anclearly preposterous position. Another frequentiy heardnremark was that the results are simply part of a by-electionnsyndrome in which the party out of the White House makesngains over the party in the White House. But if this is so,nthen how does one account for sweeping Republican gainsnat the state capitol levels and the virtual stasis in Housenelections? Clearly, arguments about mysterious, long-termntrends fall to earth upon inspection.nTelevision reporting on election night tended to emphasizenthe importance of senatorial races over gubernatorialnraces. Since President Reagan spent most of his time andnenergy campaigning for Republican Senate candidates—nwho lost—analysts presumed that the results were a flatnrepudiation of the President and forecast a lame-duck finalntwo years in office. This interpretation ignores the closenPresidential identification with Republican candidates forngovernor who were victorious in such pivotal mega-states asnCalifornia and Texas. It further dangerously underestimatesnthe ability of Presidents, especially the current incumbent,nto work with party leaders of the opposing party. What wasntrue of Eisenhower and Nixon in their “lame-duck” periodsnis certainly no less likely to be the case in the final Reagannyears.nA final interpretation of the mid-term elections is thatnthey serve notice on the Reagan philosophy, specifically, andemand that judicial conservatism, i.e., “strict Constitutionalism,”nbe brought up short. This view holds that thenpromotion of Justice William Rehnquist to the ChiefnJustice position and the appointment of Justice AntoninnScalia both constitute a departure from older activist CourtnIrving Louis Horowitz is Hannah Arendt Professor ofnSociology and Political Science at Rutgers University andneditor in chief of Transaction/Society. His most recentnbook is Winners and Losers: Polarities in AmericannPolitics.nnorms based on compassion and equity. But Court appointmentsnwere remote from any specific campaign strategies,nmuch less valuational themes. The fact is that when givennan opportunity, as in the California recall petition of ChiefnJudge Rose E. Bird and her fellow “judicial radicals”n(Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso), voters gave an overwhelmingnmandate for the enforcement of the deathnpenalty. The same broad spectrum of California voters whonsupported Alan Cranston, a liberal Democrat for Senate,nopted for precisely the type of judicial conservatism innCalifornia that President Reagan and his Federal judicialnappointees stand for.nWhat, then, is the larger meaning of these by-electionnresults? Taking into consideration voter caprice, personality,nand ideology, we are left with the rather obvious fact thatnthe American electorate, or the 38.5 percent of them whonvoted, expressed discontent with American foreign policynand in equal measure expressed content with Americanndomestic social policy. Aside from the President, the Senatenis the body uniquely involved with the manufacture andnnnFEBRUARY 1987 /17n