I’d like to tell you about a time six years ago when a stranger knocked on my door — an incident that taught me a crucial lesson to remember for this election.
Even before the 2002 midterm elections, I was already tuned in to the 2004 presidential election. From the day Howard Dean first announced his candidacy for president in the summer of 2002 to the re-election of George Bush more than two years later, I excitedly followed every step of the campaign. However, looking back to the summer of 2002, I’m reminded of another campaign upon which my time and energy would have been better spent.
It’s impossible to know the exact day, but I remember it was late afternoon. I was frustrated by the knock on the door; it interrupted whatever it was I was doing. I recognized the man at the door — he was a stranger, but I had seen him on TV. He was one of the candidates running for the congressional seat in Michigan’s 11th district — a new, Republican-friendly district carved out by state lawmakers — which included my hometown of Canton.
David Hagerty smiled and told me he was running for Congress. Before he could say more, I accepted his flyer, mumbled something about giving it to my parents and slammed the door. The flyer went straight into the garbage.
Over the next two years, I obsessed over the campaigns of all the Democrats vying for the presidential nomination. Little did I know that I had already ignored the one race that I actually had the power to influence.
In the 2002 general election, Thaddeus McCotter was elected to Congress from my district. He beat Hagerty in the Republican primary before trouncing Democrat Kevin Kelley in November. Several years later, I realized what a tragedy that was.
McCotter is easily the most embarrassing thing to ever come out of my home district. Once called a “maverick conservative,” by 2006, McCotter couldn’t even be credited with having enough brain cells to string together a political philosophy. He was the worst of the Republican Party — a blind, aggressive supporter of Bush’s disastrous policies and a player in three of the biggest congressional scandals of our time (those involving Tom Delay, Bob Ney and Duke Cunningham).
By this election cycle, McCotter has become more noxious than ever. This summer he took a few minutes on the House floor to sarcastically mock Democrats in a little presentation called “Speaking Democrat” (feel free to pull it up on YouTube). In it, McCotter delivered with astounding passive aggressiveness the most venomously partisan tirade I’ve ever heard (claiming when Democrats say “change,” they mean “the 1970s”; when they say “diplomacy,” they mean “magic”; “green collar jobs” means “unemployment”; etc.).
Though McCotter no longer has the decency to feel even a twinge of embarrassment for wasting time and effort on mindless, divisive partisan attacks, any Michigander who watches that charade will feel enough embarrassment for all 10 million of us. How can Thad be so recklessly partisan and idiotic? He must know what political scientists have always known: It’s very hard for congressional incumbents to be defeated.
I know all about that. A friend and I volunteered for McCotter’s opponent in 2004. Though the race ended up closer than 2002, McCotter was re-elected. Then in 2006, I wrote a column about my hopes for his defeat. With a Democratic tidal wave in order, some safe Republican seats would have to fall, and McCotter’s could have been among them. The election was closer than 2004, but still not close.
And now in 2008, with University alum Joe Larkin challenging Thad, I can once again lay out the ways in which McCotter may lose. I can say that the excitement around Barack Obama will be intense enough to garner many straight-ticket votes, which will sweep McCotter away. That could happen, but it’s a longshot.
And so I return to David Hagerty and 2002. That was when the evil of Thaddeus McCotter needed to be fought, because that was the only election in which he was vulnerable. Hagerty was a Republican too, and maybe I would have disliked his platform. But in all likelihood, he was the only electable alternative to the McCotter Menace in my conservative district. What a shame that I never gave him a chance.
And that’s a mistake no one should repeat. As excited as you might be for Obama or John McCain, please put some thought into your local races — the ones that can be turned by just a handful of votes.
Believe me, you don’t want a McCotter on your conscience.
Imran Syed was the Daily’s editorial page editor in 2007. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.