About that controversial Bynum/McLeod-Skinner Race (CD#5)

By William MacKenzie,

I’m a political junkie. Have been forever. When I was a kid, i went with my father to drop off Eisenhower/Nixon campaign material at homes in our neighborhood, in the 8th grade a local paper printed my first letter to the editor on a national policy dispute, and my career included serving on the staff of a committee of the House of Representatives. Even now, Lord knows how many political news sites I monitor.

But I’m a peculiar outlier. Face it, most folks could care less about politics most of the time. They ignore day-to-day political drama. A recent Gallup poll found that only 32% of Americans pay close attention to politics.  I think it’s less.

I bring this up because some may think the current dust-up over campaign contributions in the Jamie McLeod-Skinner/Janelle Bynum Democratic primary race in Oregon’s 5th District is going to influence a lot of voters.

I doubt it.

The Democratic establishment, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Gov. Tina Kotek (D) are backing Bynum. But now a new super PAC, Health Equity Now, has reserved about $352,000 in advertising with spots supporting McLeod-Skinner, according to the media tracking firm AdImpact. The ads began running in the Portland market on Wednesday.

The PAC didn’t register with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) until May 3, allowing it to avoid filing information on its donors before the election occurs next Tuesday, May 21.

News media have jumped on the story. OPB said the whole affair is “raising questions about whether Republicans are trying to tilt the scales in the contest.” The Oregon Capital Chronicle Outside reported the outside money money “…spurred accusations from Democrats that Republicans are meddling to ensure incumbent GOP Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer faces a weaker opponent in November. “

ABC News reported a Bynum spokesperson said the ad buys “certainly looks like there are ties to Republicans.”

“Let us be crystal clear, Jamie McLeod-Skinner is House Republicans’ dream opponent because they know they can beat her — making this shady GOP election meddling in a Democratic primary all the more alarming,” said Blakely Wall, a spokesperson for the Bynum campaign.

So why do I think this tempest won’t much matter?

Sure, there are incessant polls on political opinions, but that doesn’t mean people are constantly paying attention to politics in general or political shenanigans in particular.

Most Americans think the country is in deeply polarized times, but sixty-five per cent of respondents to a Pew survey last year said that they were “exhausted”, not absorbed,  when thinking about politics. It’s probably worse now.

Even if some of our population have some interest in public policy, it’s hard to find it. A recent New Yorker article referred to when the late Neil Postman, an education scholar at New York University, wrote of the distinction between George Orwell and Alduous Huxley’s visions of the future. “Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us, Postman wrote. “Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

In the Internet/AI age, meaningful political information is “drowned in a sea of irrelevance.” And what does get through is more likely to be disinformation or to stir cynicism. A recent University of Michigan study shows that people regularly on social media were exposed to more political attacks and came away more cynical and distrustful of politic. Instead of becoming more involved, that can make them frustrated, disgruntled and disengaged.

Then there’s the diminishing availability of real political news. Newspapers, once the main source of such news for everybody from business leaders to rural smalltown farmers, are a dying breed. And many of the ones that survive are on a resources diet. The Oregonian, once a powerful force with statewide coverage, is a shell of its former self.

And if you are reading this, you are a tiny, and shrinking, part of politically engaged Oregonians.

So don’t be surprised if the hullabaloo about McLeod-Skinner’s fundraising causes barely a ripple in the general public’s views on the campaign. That’s just the way things go.