Lustgarten had a lot to say about politics and the election and I was eager to hear a candidate’s point of view. He told me the major newspaper in the state, the Omaha World-Herald, “would not admit I was running. They wouldn’t acknowledge anyone was running against Kerrey. Some of the TV stations were more helpful,” but he had a dim view of some reporters. He told me about one young TV reporter who interviewed him did not understand why there was a primary election. He said to Lustgarten, “’I thought the election was in November, why are we having it now?’”
“People are completely disconnected. I ran into aggressive apathy. It was sort of like ‘I don’t care,’” he said. One woman he met didn’t know what the Democratic Party was. “Their lives are constrained and they don’t have a serious news source any more,” Lustgarten said. “A lot of them watch Fox and get their news from Facebook. Their basic attitude about Social Security and Medicare is that if it ain’t broke, don’t mess with it. The younger people will have to deal with it.”
I asked the former candidate the same question I had been asking others. Were the presidential candidates speaking to their concerns? “That would be stupid” strategy, Lustgarten shot back. “They are trying to persuade only eight percent of the swing state voters and skew their messages to bring them in.” As a result, he said said, the candidates shout platitudes rather than alienate one group of voters or another. “There’s no reason to discuss other issues,” he said. “The special interests control the dialogue.”
Lustgarten said he was disappointed with Obama. “I don’t like GITMO, the predatory drones. It seems like Bush 2.0 to me. I’m disappointed with his foreign policy.” Nevertheless, Lustgarten said he would probably vote for him.
What’s really bothering voters? “They are very angry,” Lustgarten said, and “They believe that if you throw out the people you are unhappy with, someone else will come in and change things. But it never happens. Their frustration becomes anger. They don’t vote as an active way of expressing their frustrations. If they do vote, it’s like they sold out.”
Correction: In the section about Carl Burrows, he did not have to cross the Missouri to get to Omaha. His hometown of Carter Lake, IA, is on the same side of the river. CJR regrets the error.