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Election 2010: America Turns Reddish

November 2, 2010

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.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. R.H. permalink
    November 3, 2010 12:19 am

    Hi Rick,

    I have been reading your blog for some time now and I thoroughly appreciate reading your moderate viewpoint because I’m a moderate myself. Or in some circles, we’re moderates in search of an island!

    I’ve noticed something interesting tonight here in Iowa with our elections. Outside of the governor’s race, where incumbent Chet Culver will lose to former governor Terry Branstad, the Congressional races went chalk, with all 5 House seats and Senate seat staying put.

    What is intriguing to me is that the Tea Party faction, for whatever reason, didn’t affect Iowa as it has across the country. All of the incumbents were re-elected.

    As someone outside of Iowa, is this an anomaly that the Tea Party had no effect on the results here?

    Take care and thanks!

    R.H.
    Des Moines IA

    • November 4, 2010 10:05 am

      R.H.: Iowans are probably too stable and sensible to fall for Tea Party hysteria. It might also be that unlike, say, Michigan, Iowa hasn’t suffered severely during the recession and the voters aren’t quite as angry. Just guessing, of course.

  2. Bill Kern permalink
    November 3, 2010 1:41 pm

    I echo your assessments and agree totally, Rick. It’s too bad we can’t elect candidates using the bell curve – if they’re too far to the right or left, throw them out, as they must be aberrations and too unstable to govern…

    I’ll repeat one comment I posted elsewhere – Obama and co. should concentrate on foreign relations, which won’t require as much congressional involvement – so that perhaps we’ll gain a few foreign government folk who don’t hate us. That will definitely change when whoever takes over from Obama (a Bush or a Palin?)is inaugurated – I anticipate that new administration to alienate more than coerce.

    • November 4, 2010 10:12 am

      Bill: It’s funny… right now we have a kind of inverse bell curve for electing candidates: if they’re in the middle, their party throws them out!

      We have such serious domestic problems that Obama can’t really afford to focus on foreign affairs during the upcoming “gridlock” years. Instead, I think he’ll have to compromise with the Republicans and promote milder domestic legislation (which is better than none at all). I guess we can forget about New Deal-style federal job programs. (And Obama wasn’t even proposing these when he had a majority.) Unfortunately, I think the Republicans live for the goal of making Obama’s presidency a failure.

  3. November 3, 2010 7:05 pm

    For the life of me I do not understand why you folks have no sense of the movement of modern history. Lets go back 75 years and take a look. Two ideologies, fascism and communism, were vying for power. In the process, they murdered vast numbers of people. THOSE were “extreme.” In the United States, we had the New Deal to ameliorate the Great Depression, though of course – and ironically – it was WWII that actually ended same. What did the New Deal and WWII have in common? The government set the parameters of economic activity with the idea that people must not be allowed to fall beyond a certain point, and with the Keynesian understanding that the “rising tide” that would lift all boats was a huge and vibrant middle class. More people with more bucks means everybody gets nominally rich. How did the government do this? By setting wage and price controls (up with the former, down with the latter), and by telling a company like Proctor and Gamble that, no, you WON’T be manufacturing cologne and perfume – you’re going to manufacture gun powder, because that’s what’s needed.

    Most of the wealthiest people in this country saw that this was a good thing, especially for their bottom lines. But of course there was a hard-core right-wing coterie who despised Roosevelt and the New Dealers on basic principals. These people honestly believed that if a person was unable or unwilling to work hard they should starve. The utter moral depravity of that viewpoint, its brutality, was self-evident to most other people in this country throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s. During the 1960s that began to change, and it was the old curse of racism that was the lever. The spanking new middle class, forgetting that if the likes of Hoover and Coolidge had stayed in the White House and Congress for the previous 30 years most of them would be dead of starvation, decided that blacks, latinos and hispanics, homosexuals, and women were displaying outrageous arrogance and ingratitude, and started yanking up the floor beneath which they themselves had not been allowed to fall. Of course, their children and grandchildren, even their great-grandchildren, would eventually fall as well.

    Ronald Reagan’s political ascendancy tracks this trend very precisely. Reagan had no problem with the New Deal when it was saving his ass from starvation in the early 30s. No, it was only once left-liberalism was helping those other people that he began having a problem with it. And his elevation was no accident. He was part of a large group of right-wing extremists from Orange County, California (including such slave-driving hash magnates as the McDonalds brothers, Ray Kroc, Karl Karcher, George Bell, etc.) who decided that the problem with the poor was that they “had too much money.” Starting in 1980, with Reagan’s election, and with the assistance of the appropriately named Arthur Laffer and other earnest supply-siders, the social Darwinists of the modern age began to work their black magic across the land.

    And 30 years later, here we are: another Great Depression. For those of you who doubt that, the real unemployment rate – when factoring in all those who, since the Carter years, have not been officially counted, is 22%. In 1933 it was 25%. And the other shoe – the countless local, county and state governments who will go flat broke at the end of Q1 2011 – has yet to drop.

    Wage, housing and health guarantees are not extremism, they are humane interventions with an otherwise grossly inhumane system.

    Here’s another way of looking at it: everyone points to the “failure” of communism and Marxist ideology more generally, in the sense that we should never again make such a “mistake.” And yet we have repeated the most hideous mistakes of capitalism over and over and over (1890s, 1930s, ’00s). Why is that? Could it be that those capitalist mistakes have enriched people, and that people in a given era know that, and hope that, this time around, they will be the ones enriched? If I’m right, their hopes and ambitions are wholly illegitimate.

  4. November 4, 2010 10:46 am

    Rob: See, you’re a moderate after all: you hate both the communists and the fascists. 😉
    Actually, conservatives consider fascists to be leftists, too, since fascism subordinates the individual to the state (and conservatives are all about the individual).

    You give an interesting history of the push and pull between social responsibility and social darwinism. But you cite the ’60s as the time when we pulled the floor out from under the poor. If anything, I thought it was the opposite: the ’60s were the decade of LBJ’s Great Society, when we actually installed unprecedented safety nets in the form of medicare and a very liberal welfare system. (I’d say too liberal, because it rewarded people for staying home, having innumerable kids, and maintaining single-parent families.)

    But I agree with you about the depredations of extreme capitalism, and we’re living in an age of extreme capitalism. I don’t know why Obama didn’t propose federal job programs the way FDR did. Everyone argues that they didn’t end the Great Depression, but at least they put people to work and kept them from ruin. That’s more than our bailed-out corporations are doing; apparently they’re just sitting on the money and not hiring. My opinion: as long as they received taxpayer money, they should be held accountable and be forced to hire.

    And finally, I have no objection to public-option health care, a decent minimum wage and other essential safety nets — within reason. (We’re moderates here, after all.)

  5. Priscilla permalink
    November 4, 2010 1:55 pm

    The stimulus package was never intended to create jobs – it was intended to bail out unions (i.e. save existing federal and state jobs, as well as propping up failing auto companies for the UAW) and, in particular, union pension plans. The “shovel-ready job” BS was just that….BS.

    I am no Keynesian, but I can understand the value of federal spending in an economic collapse, because it would, as you say, keep some from ruin. The problem, as I see it, is that this was never the goal of the trillion dollar spending package. The goal was to support and reward the special interest groups and industries that helped to elect Democrats. For example, “green” state organizations and industries favored by the Obama administration have received billions in stimulus money for projects that will result in very few jobs, at least not for at least 20 years. This was payback to the environmental lobby, pure and simple.

    We may be in an age of extreme capitalism (not exactly sure what that means), but we sure as hell are NOT in an age of free enterprise. I think most people can agree that the fat cats and politicos are strangling us economically…..the question is: who exactly are the fat cats? If I listen to Obama, it is anyone making over $250,000 a year – two income couples and small businesses included. And that those “rich folk” should be “soaked” to pay for government services to the “poor”… the poor being relatively undefined as everyone else? This crap simply does not resonate with most Americans.

    I think that the lesson of this election is that people want some fiscal sanity and responsibility on the part of government. They haven’t seen it from either party for almost 20 years.

    • November 5, 2010 12:25 pm

      Priscilla: I was wondering when you’d jump into the fray. Astute observations, as usual. I hadn’t really thought about the relationship between the bailout and the unions; that might explain why a Democratic president would press for “corporate welfare” instead of direct job creation.

      One of the reasons I voted for Obama was that he seemed to oppose government-by-lobby. I should have known better; I was amazed at how chummy he is with certain big-money special interests. The ones who paid for his campaign, of course. Ugh.

      As for “extreme capitalism,” what I meant was the reckless casino mentality: the default credit swaps, hedge funds, obscene bonuses, naked shorting, downsizing to jiggle the bottom line, Ponzi schemes, creative accounting and all the other amoral and immoral behavior we’ve seen over the past decade. I’ve said before (and I agree with you) that we don’t really have a pure free enterprise system at this point; it’s more a combination of corporatism and gaming the system for the benefit of a well-entrenched elite.

      I don’t think we should soak the more affluent among us, but I’m in favor of boosting the tax rate to pre-Bush (not Eisenhower) levels to reduce the deficit. It’s a matter of a few percentage points; nobody’s advocating a return to the days of 90% tax rates.

      As for fiscal sanity and responsibility — hell, yes!

  6. valdobiade permalink
    November 4, 2010 4:13 pm

    Rick, I agree with Priscilla that the stimulus package was never intended to create jobs. It was intended to save the asses of “too big to fall” corporations.
    However, the fact that federal spending is toward “greens” with the sole purpose of environmental lobby to get paybacks, as Priscilla says, should not alarm anybody. Oil lobby got got their paybacks under Bush W administration when the price of gas was targeting $5.00 per gallon. Remember the profit oil corporations had? WOW!! Did they use the profits to create jobs? NO!!
    At least oil corporation should help automakers, not the government. Maybe now environmentalists will help automakers by designing better electric/solar cars.

    • November 5, 2010 12:36 pm

      Valdo: The core of the problem is that lobbies shouldn’t be in a position to influence policy through generous contributions. We need major campaign reform in this country; I’d criminalize the flow of money from lobbyists (and corporations) to politicians. I’d also reduce the NEED for contributions by banning all campaign advertising (good luck to me!). Nearly everyone agrees that campaign ads are ridiculously distorted, unhelpful and divisive. We need to restore some sense of objectivity to campaigning. How? Have the candidates issue position statements and debate their rivals in public forums; have the media display objective summaries of candidates’ backgrounds and platforms. Anyway, it’s a start.

  7. Priscilla permalink
    November 4, 2010 4:56 pm

    Well, valdo, I think we are actually agreeing, at least as far as both parties selling out to big money special interests. I disagree that the environmental lobby is any “better” than the big oil lobby, but that is a topic for another day……

    I also think that this election was all about throwing the Democrats out of power (not just incumbents, but Democrat incumbents) and rejecting the Obama agenda, just as the 2006 midterms were about throwing the Republicans out and expressing opposition to the war….

    It will be interesting to see if Obama will oppose the tax cut extensions, now that the GOP House will certainly vote to extend them for all. My sense is that he has to, in order to save his political life, but will have to find some other way to pay for all of his spending programs. My fear is that his answer to this dilemma will be to drive inflation by increasing the money supply……..

  8. valdobiade permalink
    November 4, 2010 5:44 pm

    Well Priscilla, was there any other kind of US government than sold to big money special interests? If the government won’t sell itself as a whore, then we will be in Communism.

    In Communism there is one government as the Big Pimp and companies are whoring to please the Big Pimp. In Capitalism there is one government as a Big Whore but corporations are like Pimps wanting to get pleasures from the Big Whore, some Pimps lose, some Pimps become Big Pimps and control the Big Whore…well, it’s free market after all.

    We have Big Oil, Big Pharma, etc. why not have a Big Green? I work in solar/wind field and I would gladly support my Big Green Pimp representative to get money from the Big Whore. Are you supporting the Big Oil Pimp or the big Pharma Pimp?

  9. November 4, 2010 9:45 pm

    Hi Rick,

    I hope you are wrong about the Tea Party empower the “plutocratic right.” Here is a more hopeful point of view: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/politics/GOPs-K-Street-wing-ready-for-insurgent-challenge-1436766-106633968.html I think the Tea Party may be open to election reform. We know they like term limits, I bet they hate gerrymandering, and maybe they’d consider public campaign financing, given the alternative.

    I disagree that the GOP was a “thorn” in Obama’s side before the election. The Republican’s in Congress were barely a speed bump. The Congressional Democrats sometimes lingered a moment to see if they could peel off one of the Senators from Maine, then plowed ahead, with their 1000 plus pages unread bills, the contents of which we are still learning. The Democrats complete lack of bipartisanship will now lead to the same from the Republicans, and while I prefer bipartisanship, its hard for me to blame the Republicans if they obstruct Democratic spending in every way they possibly can. That is what they were sent to Washington to do. We are in a vicious partisan cycle now with no way out in sight.

    The only bright side I see is that we folks in the middle – especially Independents – are in the drivers seat. We are the margin of victory for either side., which is what I wrote about in my post today: http://www.centermovement.org/topics-issues/politics/independents-made-the-difference-on-tuesday-and-will-again-in-2012/

    Thanks for the good work, Rick. I look forward to seeing you soon.

    Stephen

  10. November 8, 2010 1:52 pm

    Stephen: I have to suspect that the plutocrats view the Tea Partiers as “useful idiots” who will unwittingly reinforce their power by demanding smaller government and less regulation of private enterprise. But you’re probably right that the anti-incumbent sentiments within the Tea Party would work against entrenched interests in Washington.

    As for those Republican “thorns” in Obama’s side… yes, we definitely need conservatives as a counterbalance to liberal spending, but it often struck me that the Republicans were more intent on thwarting Obama than acting in the best interest of the American people. We’re living in hyperpartisan times, of course. All the more need for folks like us to succeed!

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