Election 2010: America Turns Reddish
Tuesday evening. Never mind the results for now; let’s all celebrate the fact that the ugliest campaign season in memory will soon be history. Yes, the Republicans will be whooping it up, as expected… they’ll be winning the House of Representatives and presumably adding to President Obama’s woes for the remainder of his first term.
And yes, those victorious Republicans aren’t simply the complacent Rotarians and establishment nabobs of yore: the GOP has been hijacked by raucous, rebellious Tea Partiers who despise moderation. But at least we’ll be taking a breather from the insufferable ads, the name-calling and accusations, the divisive rhetoric, and the growing impression that American politicians are a unique breed of upwardly mobile psychopaths. Let’s be thankful for small favors.
So how definitive is tonight’s Republican Revolution? Can we even think of it accurately as a Republican Revolution, given the dominance of the upstart Tea Party within its ranks? Have the Tea Partiers rendered traditional Republicans as obsolete as fedoras and pipe tobacco? Let’s take a closer look at some of the key Tea Party players and how they fared.
Rand Paul, son of Ron, won a decisive victory in Kentucky. The second-generation libertarian and former Aqua Buddha worshiper will emerge as a highly visible senator with an unmistakable aura of destiny about him — even if it springs from his own inflated ego. Watch for him to emerge as a presidential contender in 2012.
Christine O’Donnell fell short, as expected, in her plucky assault on the Delaware political establishment. The cheerfully eccentric Sarah Palin clone with the spotty resume declared a moral victory, though, for having changed politics in her state forever. Well, at least for a few memorable moments.
Nikki Haley, another of Palin’s high-profile “mama grizzlies,” nabbed the governorship of South Carolina. She’s widely liked by conservatives and can probably look forward to a future beyond the state house.
Pat Toomey, the former Wall Street money man and Tea Party senate candidate from Pennsylvania, is locked in a dead heat with Democrat rival Joe Sestak as I write this. Sestak had taken the early lead based on returns from urban precincts, but Toomey closed the gap as the votes trickled in from the Appalachian counties in the state’s heartland. At this point I wouldn’t put my money on Sestak. Update: Toomey has taken the lead. Flash: Toomey is victorious.
Marco Rubio, the young, charismatic Cuban-American senate candidate in Florida, has won handily in a three-way race. As a powerful conservative Latino, he could shake up the traditional Democratic lock on the Hispanic vote.
Sharron Angle, the controversial Tea Party senate challenger in downtrodden Nevada, is currently trailing old-guard Democrat (and Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid. If she loses, it would be a shock and a downer amid the evening’s Tea Party celebrations. Flash: She lost. We’re shocked.
Three more high-profile (and majorly moneyed) female Republican contenders have already given up the ghost. Connecticut Tea Partier Linda McMahon lost her bid for the Senate seat in the Nutmeg State. Former Hewlett-Packard chieftain Carly Fiorina stumbled in her effort to oust California senator Barbara Boxer (despite the latter’s purportedly substandard coiffure). Further proof that money can’t always buy office: Meg Whitman, the eBay billionaire who lavished over $100 million of her own money to pursue the governorship of California, lost to none other than geriatric wunderkind Jerry Brown, a.k.a. Governor Moonbeam. $100 million up in smoke… think of all the collectibles you could buy on eBay for $100 million.
All right… it’s past midnight, and I have a 6-year-old son to drive to school in the morning. The future of the nation can wait while The New Moderate grabs some sleep.
Wednesday morning: the aftermath. My son is at school, I’ve had a bracing dose of coffee, and now I’ll try to make sense of last night’s electoral extravaganza. Let’s see if we can sift through the obvious conclusions and stumble upon some more intriguing insights.
The obvious conclusions:
Voters were angry with incumbents, and they had reason to be angry. We’re living through a national crisis that affects our finances and our very souls, yet Washington has bungled its chance to provide effective leadership. Obama’s once-bright torch has sputtered, Congress has been a hotbed of partisan bickering and obstructionism… even the Supreme Court shocked us with its boneheaded decision to allow big corporations to buy elections with unlimited (and anonymous) campaign contributions. Americans are mad at their government, which translates to bad news for the party that held the reins: the Democrats.
The economy still stinks. I have to wonder who paid those economic “experts” to announce recently that the Great Recession had ended more than a year ago. I didn’t buy it, and neither did the voting public.
Female candidates made huge inroads but weren’t invincible. Never before in our history have so many women vied for prominent seats in Congress and the state houses. They proved to be able and even brilliant warriors, but that wasn’t enough to usher in a massive women’s ascendancy. Several of the most prominent female players lost their races.
John Boehner replaces Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. We’ve traded in one hyperpartisan huckster for another hyperpartisan huckster. What’s really disturbing is how close these guys are to the presidential succession.
The Rust Belt has gone red. The swath of northern states from Pennsylvania and Ohio to Michigan and Wisconsin has toppled its resident Democrats from power and installed Republicans in their place. These former industrial states, most of them down at the heels, are understandably frustrated with the status quo. They’re ready for a change. But now they’ve voted for politicians who will simply encourage them to pull themselves up… to trust that our free-enterprise system will create the jobs they need. Good luck, friends!
New York and California are true blue. Democrats won the major battles in these two indispensable states, defying the nationwide Republican groundswell. Go figure.
Obstructionism? We ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The Republicans in Congress were a thorn in Obama’s side before they took charge. Now it will be virtually impossible for the president to promote any significant legislation.
The Tea Party is for real. Like it or not, these feisty, fearless, small-government purists (i.e., fanatics) are here to stay. It’s encouraging to witness the success of a genuine anti-establishment grassroots movement — but of course I wish the groundswell had come from the middle instead of the right. I think we can forget about safety nets, federal job creation, and elimination of tax breaks for the rich — at least for the next few years.
The less obvious conclusions:
The Tea Party right is unwittingly empowering the plutocratic right. Not that the plutocrats of Wall Street and corporate America needed empowering. We’re looking at a paradox of enormous and unsettling implications: a successful movement of small-time entrepreneurs and other Main Street Americans to create a small-government climate that favors the super-rich. Do they really believe that the big investment banks and corporations are creating jobs — even with the hundreds of billions in bailout money they’ve received from American taxpayers? Their blind faith in unfettered free-market capitalism is touching but ultimately naive. My conclusion: never underestimate the power of patriotism, religion, gun rights and personal values to convince the “little people” that their interests are identical to those of the power elite.
Ordinary citizens are demanding respect. The American middle class has split into upwardly mobile and downwardly mobile segments. The latter receive no special entitlements. They’re shut out of elite universities and fast-track jobs. They feel ignored, disenfranchised and disrespected (the “great unwashed,” as Katie Couric called them). Their finances are precarious at best, especially in the wake of the 2008 meltdown. They’re angry at Wall Street, Obama, politicians in general, and the whole self-perpetuating elite establishment that continues to prosper while their own prospects wither. How do they show their anger? They don’t riot; they start grassroots populist movements and oust the incumbents.
The culture war is alive and well. The rift between “blue state” progressives and “red state” conservatives has widened to the point of cultural civil war. I’ve been genuinely alarmed by the level of mutual abuse and disrespect I’ve observed on political message boards. Those sniffish upper-middle-class urban-hip liberals and resolutely square Middle American traditionalists genuinely revile each other. Somebody needs to bump their heads together until they show some mutual respect. We’re all Americans on this bus, and nobody has a right to send anyone to the back. Both warring parties need to realize that when it comes to culture and politics, there’s no “right” or “wrong” — just right and left. We can agree to disagree while still respecting the other guy’s right to his opinions and values.
Moderates need to stand up and make some noise. Jon Stewart’s rally was a step in the right direction, even though it was essentially an exercise in self-congratulation for “right-thinking” liberals. Let’s face it: we moderates were a marginalized and totally disorganized tribe during the 2010 campaign. Centrist candidates, discounted by the more fevered elements in their parties, couldn’t win their own primaries. And the sad truth is that many of them didn’t deserve to win. It’s time for passionate moderates to step forward and articulate a coherent vision of a republic that favors neither the welfare state nor big money. What should we favor? How about a government that operates for the benefit of the people who elected it, assuring their security without meddling obtrusively in their lives? Nothing extreme about that, is there? But given our polarized political climate, such a reasonable vision doesn’t seem to be an option.