This is an odd election year, with primaries, run-offs, and special elections appearing on a monthly basis. Today voters in California and Arkansas will make important decisions.
In California, voters will determine the fate of Proposition 14, which would replace the Primary system with a new system that would allow the top two vote getters to face off in November, in both California and Congressional races. If that proposed system were in place in Kentucky, where the May Senate primary was known nationally as Rand Paul’s decisive victory, in fact the two Democratic Senate candidates, Jack Conroy and Daniel Mongiardo, would face each other again in a rematch, leaving Paul, who received less votes than both Democrats, out of the November election altogether.
In California, both political parties oppose Proposition 14, because it threatens their power. California is crippled financially, with Democrats and Republicans unwilling to agree on a path forward, and with voter-driven financial restrictions on tax increases. Voters, of course, can at the same time demand spending increases through the Proposition system.
In Arkansas, Senator Blanche Lincoln is fighting for her political life in a run-off against Lt. Governor Bill Halter. Will we see a Halter-top? Unions committed to this election after Lincoln reversed her position on the Public Option and Card Check. Predictably, this is yet another centrist that will be defeated. David Brooks wrote an excellent column recently about two competing theories of change, founded in the writings of Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke:
“We Americans have never figured out whether we are children of the French or the British Enlightenment…Today, if you look around American politics you see self-described conservative radicals who seek to sweep away 100 years of history and return government to its preindustrial role. You see self-confident Democratic technocrats who have tremendous faith in the power of government officials to use reason to control and reorganize complex systems. You see polemicists of the left and right practicing a highly abstract and ideological Jacobin style of politics. The children of the British Enlightenment are in retreat. Yet there is the stubborn fact of human nature. The Scots were right, and the French were wrong. And out of that truth grows a style of change, a style that emphasizes modesty, gradualism and balance.”
Is a Halter victory a victory for the French Enlightenment? Not quite, but it is a sign that centrists, as Brooks eloquently writes, lack a clear identity. Too often, we just see what they are against, and not what they are for. Lincoln, in a desperate bid to save her political seat, took a bold step with an amendment to reform derivatives. Unfortunately, the amendment will die in committee. Lincoln only played that card when she was desperate; that was obvious to everyone.