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.
If there is one thing that both Democrats and Republicans can agree on, many were happy on Tuesday to see Republican turned Democrat ousted by former Navy Admiral Joe Sestak in the Pennsylvania Senate Primary. Folks of Generation Y vintage may be too young to remember Specter’s grilling of Anita Hill during the Confirmation Hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Well, the video above only gets more disgusting with age. Good riddance, Arlen.
However, that was not the only surprise during the Tuesday elections. In PA-12, the Democrats surprisingly held on to the seat of stalwart John Murtha, who died earlier this year. The race between (D) Rep. Mark Critz and Tim Burns was a precursor to a rematch this fall. The Democrats showed here that they are tactically superior to Republicans, and that they are the big tent party, as Critz opposed health care reform.
In Kentucky, Tea Party darling Rand Paul defeated Secretary of State Tim Grayson, the candidate selected by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to replace Jim Bunning. McConnell favored Grayson, a former Bill Clinton staffer and supporter, because he fit within the box that the GOP would like to paint its candidates to appeal to the great center. Rand Paul, the libertarian financed by supporters of his father, Ron Paul, is beholden to no political hack (at least not a GOP one). His views definitely fit outside the box, however. He favors the elimination of the Department of Education and farm subsidies, for starters. He thinks businesses should be allowed to discriminate those who they serve, and that Medicare’s eligibility and benefits should be diminished. Those positions all appeal to certain segments of society, but more importantly they do not appeal to the constituencies and interests that decide national elections. While he hopes to pull Democrats onto his side in the fall, Joshua Green points out that the Tea Party support was overblown by FOX News, and may not have registered as much to actual Kentucky voters:
“There was certainly activity geared toward the GOP primary. But the Rand Paul rallies I attended in mid-sized cities like Paducah and Bowling Green drew crowds of only a hundred so, and they were far more subdued than the angry Tea Party masses portrayed on cable television. Grayson’s crowds were even smaller. What was most notable about a race that was captivating the national media was how little it seemed to penetrate the consciousness of most Kentuckians. It was a big a deal only to a small group of energized Republicans. But more Democrats voted (about 500,000) than Republicans (350,000).”
Looking closer to home, where I live in the Ocean State, local Tea Party leaders are now at odds with would be-environmentalist Republican Governor Don Carcieri. They oppose the wind farms planned for the coastal waters off of Rhode Island, despite a personal plea in a private meeting. Apparently, they prefer the daily deployment of the fleet of diesel trucks that now light up the generator on Block Island. This conflict is symbolic of the inability of the GOP to harness the wild energy of the Tea Party movement, and the inability of Tea Party members to appeal to moderates.
UPDATE (5/24): Michael Steele, embattered head of the RNC, came out on Sunday against Rand Paul’s libertarian views on Civil Rights:
“I think his philosophy is misplaced in these times,” said Steele during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “I don’t think it’s where the country is right now. The country litigated the issue of separate but equal, the country litigated the rights of minority people in this country to access the enterprise, free enterprise system, and accommodation and all of that. And that was crystallized in the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of ’64. And I think that the party stands very firmly behind its efforts then as we do now, to press forward on new civil rights issues… But I think in this case, Rand Paul’s philosophy got in the way of reality.”
In a separate appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” Steele said: “I think it’s important to understand that Rand Paul has clarified his statement and reiterated his support for…pushing civil rights forward, as opposed to going backwards. Any attempt to look backwards is not in the best interest of our country certainly, and certainly not in the best interest of the party.”
At the same time, Sarah Palin made the point that Rachael Maddow was prejudiced for asking the question of Rand Paul in the first place. I suppose, in Palin’s world, if only pre-scripted FOX News journalists existed, then she would be Vice-President.