Yesterday’s primary (and some general) elections across the nation confirmed that we live in interesting times. Although there is often a temptation to see such events as more significant than they really are,actions do spring from motivations, and it’s possible for astute observers to discern those underlying thoughts and extrapolate what they mean about people’s future behavior.
So the question to ask about yesterday’s elections is clear, in the context of the aggressive advance of the progressive political (and cultural) agenda since the 2008 elections and the rise of intense public opposition to it. Are the victories yesterday by Rand Paul, Art Robinson, and others, on top of the many other such political results this year, evidence of political effects of a real and possibly lasting cultural change as reflected in the Tea Party movement, public dissatisfaction with Hollywood and other elite culture (expressed strongly in poll numbers and the flight away from network television), and the like?
Some of our American Culture contributors consider the $64 trillion question:
Rand Paul’s victory in Kentucky’s Republican primary election for U.S. Senate is a partial vindication of his father’s presidential campaign and the movement that emerged from it. It will be a full vindication if Paul goes on to win the general election in November.
But how far he’s come! Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential bid—at turns quixotic, inspiring, maddening, and ingenious—helped galvanize the Tea Party phenomenon and the anti-incumbent fervor now swelling across the land. Paul’s supporters never tire of pointing out that the first 21st century “tea party” event wasn’t in Seattle or Washington, DC in February of 2010, but December 16, 2007 in Boston, where Paul’s campaign helped stage a rally that raised $4.5 million for the candidate.
Heady stuff, yes. But Ron Paul was never cut out to be president. He doesn’t have the temperament. Paul is, as David Ramsey wrote in an essay for Liberty magazine in April 2008, “a radical in a non-radical nation.”
But if a radical of Paul’s pedigree isn’t a good fit for the White House, he is ideal for Congress. Here’s what I wrote about Paul’s prospects two years ago:
Ron Paul could leverage his organization and his supporters to get like-minded libertarian-Republicans elected to state and federal office. Paul’s message might not have caught fire nationally, but it isn’t crazy to imagine that message winning legislative districts in states like Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Alaska, Nevada and perhaps even parts of California.
Although I wish I had the presence of mind to include Kentucky in my list, it appears Paul is doing just that. It has become easier to find more classical liberal-leaning Republicans in the House of Representatives, but they’re far more difficult to locate in the Senate. A victory for Rand Paul in November would change the landscape, adding a crucial vote for liberty and constitutionalism in a body bloated with rent-seekers, meddlers, centralizers, and statists.
In short, this may not be the “Revolution” Ron Paul’s supporters imagined when they were raising record-shattering sums for a long-shot presidential run, but it may be more enduring . . . and far more consequential.
Bruce Edward Walker:
My view on politicians can best be summed up by quoting Pete Townshend: “Meet the new boss/same as the old boss.” I’m happy when the worst actors of the bunch are tossed out on their ears and am gladdened when the best of a sorry pack of narcissists rise above the iron law of oligarchy and actually stand aside and allow their constituency room to pursue their respective bliss.
So I won’t shout from the rooftops that Son of Paul is the answer to anyone’s prayers, or that the unseating of Specter is somehow the prognostication of a Republican resurgence in November and beyond. I remember the spendthrift and war-mongering Republican years very well, thank you very much.
If the tea leaves of Tuesday’s primaries reveal anything to your humble correspondent, it’s that the nation’s citizenry is fed up with the increasingly bloated nature of government at all levels, and that a rising majority wishes to run their own lives rather than follow the social engineering of bureaucrats, politicians and regulators.
Bailouts amounting to trillions of dollars, mandatory health insurance, and impending cap-and-trade legislation on the home front combined with billions of dollars and thousands of human lives sacrificed for no clear purpose on foreign soil have created a strange brew of irritated voters.
If nothing else, this week’s elections vindicate the Tea Party movement as something more than the angry troglodytes depicted by the media. From the sniggering pundits who believed the Tea Partier moniker was a real knee-slapper because it could be easily converted to another phrase denoting a homosexual practice to their chronic labeling as kooks, racists, and knuckle draggers by the MSM, tea partiers have endured thousands of brickbats hurled by intellectual snobs. It could be that the snobbishness masked a real fear that the tea partiers might gain real political and social traction.
The tea party movement displayed that they are a force with which to be reckoned. And if the politicians the tea partiers helped to elect disappoint, don’t be surprised if they throw those bums out of office as well. And so on until perhaps one day we get it right. Who knows?
Maybe, just maybe, we won’t get fooled again.
By far the biggest surprise of yesterday’s electios is Rand Paul’s victory in the Kentucky Republican Primary for the U.S. Senate. I think going in, a Paul victory would have been a moderate surprise in itself. But no onepredicted he’d win in a landslide (23 percentage points) over Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson.
I thought the “Paul” name from Ron’s presidential run would help make this race competitive, not make it a blowout where the iconoclastic Congressman’s son grabs 59 percent of the vote.
And let’s be careful not to brush Rand Paul with the paint in his father’s can. Rand Paul is much more of a mainline conservative with libertarian leanings than a strict libertarian like his old man. Paul was pretty much drafted into this race because of the grassroots support he cultivated the old-fashioned way by starting Kentucky Taxpayers United in 1994 and building it into a formidable presence in the Bluegrass State.
Paul’s years of articulating arguments for smaller government are what animated his campaign—including the abolition of the Department of Education (which few conservatives have had the courage to breathe aloud since Reagan), the abolition of the federal income tax, and opposition to the Wall Street bailouts and the creeping erosion of basic civil liberties. If he makes it to the Senate, Paul’s opposition to the Iraq War and the Patriot Act are among just a few things that will set him apart from mainline conservative positions in Congress, but not too much.
What’s interesting is that Paul is among the most “pure” Tea Party candidates, but unlike others it was not by design. He’d probably have run anyway, pushing against “establishment” Republicans like Grayson who give lip service to fiscal conservatism and small-government principles but don’t deliver even ceremonial votes once in office. Paul has been doing that since getting involved in politics and policy in 1994.
So, in a way, Paul was a Tea Party candidate before the movement even began. He is not so much a son of the Tea Party movement but a brother—and proof that the ideological underpinnings of the Tea Party have a pedigree that long predates its explosion on the scene a little more than just one year ago.
As for Art Robinson, his victory in the Republican primary for a House seat in Oregon is even more unusual. A complete unknown nationally, and (I’m guessing) locally, Robinson probably wouldn’t even have run for the seat if not for the relentless drive by Obama, Pelosi, and Reid to push their party and the country off the far-left cliff. He had far less resources than Rand Paul—who benefited from many massive, Tea Party-driven “money bombs” online—yet voters in left-leaning Oregon found his small-government message compelling.
This is proof, I think, that the Tea Party movement is not some fringe phenomenon but instead reflects a real desire by a long-silent majority to finally put a stop to an out-of-control federal government that sees no barriers whatsoever to its power.
Robinson will be a huge underdog against incumbent Democratic Rep. Pete DeFazio, so even making the race close in that liberal enclave will be an incredible accomplishment. I’ll be interested to see how much support (read: money) Robinson receives from the national Republican Party.
Both of these races point to how radical the Obama agenda is, and to the growing desire of at least Republican voters to install individuals of principle who will not compromise but instead will fight to put a stop to it.
S. T. Karnick:
I think that what we saw in yesterday’s elections was not a mere anti-incumbency sentiment, as the mainstream (i.e., progressivist) media wish to characterize it. On the contrary, I think that it and other recent political events are manifestations of a much broader phenomenon, the political effects of which been impeded by the excessive power of political incumbency and big campaign contributors: the increasing distance between the two political parties and indeed between the two cultures that overwhelmingly make up the American people today.
These I refer to as progressivism and liberalism.
As I noted in the article cited immediately above, progressivism derives from the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and tends to blame all human problems on imperfect social institutions. The perfecting of institutions requires the development of an aristocracy of political, economic, social, and cultural elites who are qualified to implement the proper management of society.
The other worldview, classical liberalism, acknowledges that although social and personal conditions circumscribe individuals’ choices, people nonetheless can and should have freedom of choice within those natural limits. Thus classical liberals argue for political liberty and allowance of social mobility, an essential element of which is the acceptance of personal responsibility, the willingness of society to allow people to reap the consequences of their actions, both good and bad.
These two worldviews are irreconcilable and lead to very different political positions, as should be rather obvious. Anyone who remembers the Reagan years—in which the president’s fairly timid steps toward economic liberalization were treated as the onset of a new Nazism—knows exactly what I’m referring to.
Yet there was a serious rapprochement between the two during the first George W. Bush administration. Due in some part to exhaustion after the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the controversy over the extremely close 2000 presidential election, the truce was forged after 9/11. The agreement was rather simple: Democrats would agree to accept an allegedly Republican position (support for a foreign war), and Republicans would accept an allegedly Democrat position (huge increases in domestic spending).
Thus up through the 2004 reelection of George W. Bush, there was much truth to the oft-repeated claim that there was not much difference between the two major American political parties. They nearly unanimously supported entering the Iraq War, added billions of dollars of discretionary spending to bloated federal, state, and local government coffers, neglected core areas of government competency such as schools and crime control, and generally acted as elite mandarins in control of a multitude of ignorant peasants good only for laboring, paying taxes, raising additional taxpayers, and shutting the hell up.
That all changed after 2004, as the left became increasingly fierce in its hostility toward President Bush and Republicans in general. From Michael Moore to James Carville to George Clooney to the Dixie Chicks to CNN, the tone was of open hostility, contempt, and indeed hatred. Bush and his evil hordes, particularly evangelical Christians, were destroying the nation and had to be driven from power by any means necessary.
Although their politicians had seen the trade with the Bush administration as a good deal, the progressive elites outside of politics were furious at the result.
Even the politically progressive dragon lady par excellence, Hillary Clinton, proved insufficiently contemptuous and arrogant to carry their flag, and when Sen. Barack Obama won the election and took office, the narrative was clear, with heroes and villains outlined in vivid cartoon strokes.
But something went wrong. While sustaining their rhetorical Fanfare for the Common Man (and Woman and LGBT and All Other Life Forms on Earth and Elsewhere), the progressive heroes extended and embellished on the worst of what Bush and Congress had done in the years before.
Obama and the overwhelmingly Democrat-controlled Congress pushed through additional big- business bailouts on top of those Bush had implemented, along with a grotesque pork-barrel atrocity under the guise of an economic stimulus bill. Obama intensified the war in Afghanistan while doing little to accelerate the already planned withdrawal from Iraq (which the press no longer found to be of interest, for the obvious reason that it was now Obama’s responsibility, and hence not a good-news story for progressivism).
It is important to remember that the tea parties began in response to the bailouts and economic stimulus bill. What this makes clear is that the narrative the progressives and their satraps in the MSM had promulgated was being supplanted by a very different story, one that actually resembled the facts.
The myth of valiant progressives defending the common people from the depredations of marauding businessmen and Christian busybodies was waning.
On the rise was a far different story, one in which politicians of both parties and their allies among other elites (media, academia, etc.) robbed and raped the public repeatedly and amused themselves in vile pleasures with the bounty stolen from the hardworking commoners.
Instead of seeing this and tapping the brakes a little, the progressives (meaning, of course, the Democrats, in political terms), slammed down on the accelerator. They pressed to pass a cap-and-trade carbon-dioxide emissions-limiting bill. Whereas the rhetoric of the proponents of the legislation suggested that Big Business would pay for stopping global warming, it quickly became evident that the scheme would really be an enormous tax on all consumers of energy, meaning everybody.
Cap and trade was defeated last year, but it is back again. The Democrats’ health care bill did pass, even after a widespread public outcry against it which characterized the secretive and ever-changing legislation as a brazen, gigantic government power grab and, like cap and trade, a punishing tax on the vast majority of Americans.
Passing the health care bill over such protests was clearly the defining moment. The progressives’ narrative had become so obviously false as to be risible, and the tea partiers’ story had been amply confirmed by events. The two cultures are now brilliantly evident in their consequences, and their proponents strikingly etched in vivid strokes.
Could another rapprochement be forged, as in 2001? Possibly, but it would undoubtedly require a similarly galvanizing crisis, and one not evidently formed by either culture or political movement. We must surely hope such a thing does not arise.
Barring a massive catastrophe, then, it appears that this divide between the two cultures shall only intensify over the coming years, and that political consequences should inevitably follow. One of the political parties, the Republicans, is better poised to benefit from that increasing division. It will only do so, however, to the extent that it repudiates the former rapprochement with the progressive elites and forges policies that characterize real liberalism.
I believe that recent political events such as yesterday’s election results manifest these truths.