Nicholas Goldberg: Between ‘kitchen table issues’ and the fate of democracy, which side won?

As the nation holds its breath and the votes trickle in, I keep coming back to the campaign-ending words of Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a two-term Democrat who ran for re-election in a close race in southeast Michigan.

“I think our democracy is the ultimate kitchen table issue,” she told the crowd at a stop in East Lansing during the final week of the race. “Actually, it’s not the kitchen table. Our democracy is the foundation of the house where the kitchen table is.”

The metaphor was slightly tortured, but I got her point.

Stipple style portrait illustration by Nicholas Goldberg

opinion columnist

Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg was the editorial page editor for 11 years and is a former editor of the Op-Ed page and the Sunday Opinion column.

For months, Americans have eagerly awaited to learn (among other things) whether the election would address the big, far-reaching, fundamental problems facing the country — the fragility of our democracy and institutions, the bitter partisanship turning into meanness, the pulsing violence just below the surface. Or would voters make their decisions based on so-called kitchen-table issues: everyday matters like Social Security, jobs, inflation, the economy, crime, healthcare, and schools.

The experts warned, with years of data to back it up, that most people are more concerned with the problems around the kitchen table and don’t have time in their crowded, run-down lives for abstract, seminar-worthy topics like “Where does democracy go?” as they struggle to make ends meet.

However, Slotkin’s point (or at least my reading of it) was that the two are inseparable and that you cannot count on the day-to-day benefits of American prosperity, jobs and stability if you allow the underlying pillars of democracy and the rule of law on which society rests to collapse.

That’s my opinion too.

So what was the result? Well, I’m afraid it’s too early to fully assess this chaotic election. But it’s worth noting that Slotkin, a moderate Democrat and former CIA officer who made preserving democracy and the dangers of electoral conspiracies her central themes at the end of her race, won her election by a hair’s breadth.

And the huge “red wave” of Republican victories failed to materialize, although it remains uncertain which party will control the House and Senate.

Slotkin ran against a Republican draft evader named Tom Barrett in a swing district. In the run-up to Election Day, she received endorsement from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who spoke at a campaign rally on “ensuring the survival of the republic.”

And Michigan voters seem to have heeded that warning.

A nationwide poll of 94,000 voters by the Associated Press found that, as Republicans had hoped, inflation was voters’ top concern. But nearly half of voters also said the future of democracy weighed heavily on them. In preliminary results of an ABC News exit poll, two-thirds of voters said democracy in the United States was “under threat.”

All I can say is I’m glad they noticed.

@Nick_Goldberg Nicholas Goldberg: Between ‘kitchen table issues’ and the fate of democracy, which side won?

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