Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Change 2010 style

Judging from the results of today's and other special and primary elections, it appears that the theme of this year's mid-term elections will be change, as it was in 2008.  But it may be change of a different sort.  In 2008 at least some of us were attracted to the promise of a less polarized and less partisan type of politics, the idea that people of different views can work together to solve common problems.  In 2010 the change people seem to want is more of the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore" variety.  In Kentucky, Republican voters rejected the Establishment candidate Trey Grayson in favor of Rand Paul, the Tea Party rebel and son of Ron Paul, the most anti-Establishment candidate who ran for President in 2008.  In Pennsylvania, Democratic primary voters retired their distinguished and  long-serving Senator Arlen Specter, a former moderate Republican who changed parties to reflect the shifting political winds, but who still lost to a younger but more traditional liberal Democrat, Joe Sestak.



I suppose we should always celebrate elections as the ultimate expression of the people's will, but I will admit to being a bit concerned about the loss of middle-of-the-road members of both parties.  These people frustrate the base, but they also sometimes bridge gaps in Congress.  I'm not sure it will be beneficial to the process if Democratic primary voters drum people like Arlen Specter and Arkansas's Blanche Lincoln (who now faces a run-off against a more liberal Democrat) out of the party, just as it also seems detrimental that the Republican Party has become more intransigent by rejecting its moderate elements.  Note that I'm not saying everyone should be a moderate.  I don't even understand where these liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats are coming from most of the time, and I agree that they can sometimes embarrass their own parties by acting like grandstanding prima donnas.  But they are a small endangered species, and they represent a very large portion of the electorate (not so much evident in primaries), so perhaps they need to be nurtured.  

When the Republicans cannot tolerate liberals in their party, and the Democrats cannot tolerate conservatives in theirs, we have the formula for more polarization and gridlock in Congress. That was one of the things I thought we voted to change in 2008. Now we are seeing the inevitable backlash, not only against policies and programs that have been criticized from both the Left and Right, but also against the very idea that politics can be a common sense effort to find constructive ways to solve problems.  Instead we are celebrating politics as blood sport again this year.  Let the games begin!

(Reuters photo from New York Times)

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