A Political Insurrection has Begun
Written By: Gary North | Posted: Tuesday, May 25th, 2010
On Saturday, May 8, an extraordinary event took place. United States Senator Bob Bennett, a 3-term Republican, failed to make the cut for his party's primary. Not only was he not nominated to run, he did not make the cut to get nominated. He was a distant third. Two Tea Party candidates beat him.
Bob Bennett is a legacy Senator. His father served as Senator before him.
This was an insurrection.
Bennett had turned squishy years ago. He had an undeserved reputation as a conservative. He backed the TARP bailout in 2008. Then he backed Obama's health insurance bill. That did it. "No mas!" The folks back home sent him a message: "You're out of here!"
Then, three days later, across the country, it happened again. Congressman Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, was smashed in the Democratic Party's primary, 56% to 44%. He had held that seat for 14 terms -- almost 28 years. He had supported Obama's health care bill. He was one of the Stupak Seven. When Stupak folded, Mollohan folded. That ended his political career.
This is a bipartisan insurrection. It indicates that the voters have finally had enough. It may represent a turning point in American politics.
Think about what these two votes mean. In American politics, voters decide between two parties. Politicians' campaign strategies are targeted at the 80% of the voters who are in play. The 10% at each end of the political spectrum are either true believers or staunch enemies. They are ignored. They get platitudes from the candidates, but that's all. A politician who campaigns on a straight ideological platform is extremely rare. Ron Paul is such a politician, but how representative is he of politics in general?
As soon as a person is elected to Congress, his party supports him thereafter, no matter what. Local politics is seen as "our man in Washington vs. their would-be interloper." The faithful party member now overlooks every deviant vote by the incumbent. The incumbent is always seen as better than the other party's candidate, no matter who that candidate is.
At the level of the Presidency, there are enough independents and enough marginal voters to enable a popular candidate to win votes from members of the other party. Think of Jimmy Carter in 1980. Reagan overwhelmed him. Carter lost votes from his own party.
The nation is really divided. We have never seen before what happened under Clinton and Bush II: a pair of two-term Presidents from rival parties. There is now ebb and flow at the national level. No party has a lock on the Presidency.
This ebb and flow has not existed locally within a party. Once elected, a Congressman or a Senator who decides to run again is going to get the nomination of his party at the next election. The faithful conclude, "Our man, right or wrong." Bob Bennett and Alan Mollohan discovered that this tradition has ended.
It ended without warning. Bennett did not figure out what was about to happen to him until the last minute. To save his candidacy, he invited Mitt Romney to introduce him at the convention. How out of touch can a politician be? Mitt Romney represents the Eastern Republican Establishment. He was governor of Massachusetts. He passed a health care law similar to Obama's. That Bennett thought Romney could help him with the Republicans back home indicates how completely out of touch he had become.
Yes, Romney is a Mormon. Yes, Utah is Mormon. In the good old days, the folks back home would have thought, "It's us vs. them." But with his voting record, Bennett had moved into the camp of "them." He did not perceive this until it was too late.
In a CNN interview with a man identified as the founder of the Tea Party movement in Utah, the interviewer with the flowing hair tried to identify Bennett as a conservative. She reeled off names of supporting right-wing Beltway groups. The man being interviewed shrugged this off. "It isn't a matter of conservatism, " he said. "It's a matter of responsibility." Bennett should not have voted to bail out failing companies, he said. But, she hastened to ask, "should a man's career end because of one vote?" His answer was perfect: "His career WILL end with that vote." And it did. CNN then switched to Bennett, who defended that vote. He is gone. The video is worth watching.
The incumbents are facing an insurrection. A fundamental assumption of all Congressional politics is being called into question: guaranteed re-nomination of incumbents. This means that the folks back home are going to nominate newcomers who are dependent on swing voters in a way unseen before in American politics. There will be no more of "our man, right or wrong."
This means that voters back home are so angry that they would prefer to lose the November election with a candidate who reflects their views rather than win with an incumbent who doesn't. It means that the politics of the Capitol Hill club is no longer secure. It means that the Old Boy Network of incumbents on the Hill can no longer secure automatic re-nomination.
If this continues, the nation's political system will change. Incumbents will have to pay attention to the opinions of the voters in their parties in their districts. This places power in the hands of dedicated minorities back home who are willing to send a message to their men in Washington: "You will remain our man for only as long as you vote our way on the issues that matter to us." There will be no more free rides at the nomination level.
This is a positive development. It introduces an element of uncertainty into national politics. The informal alliances on Capitol Hill will be undermined as never before. The ever popular game of logrolling will get more risky. Logrolling is this: "I'll vote for your pork-filled bill if you'll vote for mine." Incumbents play this game for pork's sake. But if voters back home are angrier about pork-for-all than they are about insufficient-pork-for-us, the political structure will begin to shift rightward. This will fundamentally change the rules of the game.
TARP AND THE MAIN STREAM MEDIA
I find it hard to believe that voters are finally willing to throw out an incumbent in their party because he voted the wrong way on some pork-filled law. But TARP really infuriated voters. In October 2008, voters were opposed to the bailouts. As one North Carolina Congressmen put it, his district was divided 50-50 between "no" and "hell no." But Paulson's warning of imminent collapse carried the day. It also carried Obama to victory a month later.
The general rule is this: voters forget in six months. They do not bear political grudges. The general rule got broken with TARP.
It will get broken with Obama's health insurance law, too. As the costs rise, the public will be reminded. When I say "the public, " I mean the swing voters in both parties who are hopping mad about the law and willing to exact revenge.
Political revenge has been rare in American politics. That is because voters did forget. They moved on. They could be manipulated by the media to get them all in a dither about the latest political issue. But the Web is changing all this. The Web lets hopping mad people stay hopping mad. The mainstream media no longer control the flow of information. They no longer determine what issues will get attention by the public. With respect to the swing voters who can withhold the nomination from incumbents, the Web has become the crucial factor. The mainstream media no longer call the shots.
These is another factor to consider: single-issue voting. The single-issue voter is the bane of a politician's career. This voter will vote against anyone who votes against his issue. He also keeps informed about how politicians have been voting.
Congress has fought against this by concealing votes whenever possible. The language of bills to consider an issue is confusing. Sometimes, Congressmen vote by voice rather than by having their votes recorded. This policy has been facilitated by the local press, which could always choose not to write about a Congressman's unpopular vote.
Today, because of the Web, it is difficult for politicians to conceal their votes from special-interest groups and single-issue voters. They must therefore make choices regarding which groups to alienate. This in turn makes politics more divisive.
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