Historically, the American public — confident, independent, and undemanding — has not expected much out of Washington. Live your silver lives of limousines, private jets, power, and celebrity, they have said. Just do no permanent damage to the nation.
But in the last two years, our Babylon on the Potomac — with its irrational and unconscionable saddling of our grandchildren with multi-trillion-dollar debt and its bizarre foreign policy of loathing our friends and ourselves and loving our enemies — has vexed the public into a state of deep fear and anguish.
However, Americans don’t stay scared long — we quickly convert fear into anger and anger into action. Now, two years of national panic and fear are being returned to sender in Washington. Now, it is the ruling elite who find their daytime thoughts fretful and their nighttime sleep fitful. Welcome to the troubled mind of Washington in spring 2010.
Democrats look fearfully westward across the Potomac River, wondering how harsh will be the people’s judgment against them for their disgraceful behavior.
Republicans look fearfully inward, wondering whether, given our own inadequate performance in the preceding decade, we are entitled to the public trust. (To the Democrats: It will be very harsh. To the Republicans: No, we are not entitled to that trust.)
These justified moods — Democratic fear of public wrath and Republican indulgence in self-loathing — caused some particularly silly reactions to last week’s elections in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Kentucky.
The 8 percent victory edge won by a former staffer of the late John Murtha in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District drove the Democrats to the manic conclusion that they are almost home and dry in the November elections. That same election depressed the GOP into thinking that they are unworthy and have blown a sure, dominating victory in November.
Likewise, Democrats are thrilled at the philosophically eccentric Rand Paul’s win in Kentucky, thinking that the public will turn against strange outsiders in November. Republicans worry that if tea-party-supported candidates don’t behave like good little housebroken Washington Republicans, all is lost.
In both cases, the two sides’ conclusions are nonsense. Of the Kentucky vote, more in future columns. As for the Pennsylvania 12th election: It was across-the-board anomalous.
It was classified as a swing district only because it is blue collar, went for John Kerry in 2004, and went for McCain in 2008. But this is a two-to-one-Democratic district that voted for Al Gore over George Bush by a staggering 55–44 percent in the 50–50 presidential race of 2000. The anomaly was McCain/Obama. John Murtha did degradingly call his district racist. Thus, perhaps, the McCain vote in 2008.
And, as the beneficiary of more pork and earmarks than almost any other district in the country, it was more likely to vote for continuity — especially as the Democratic candidate was a top Murtha staffer who dispensed much of the pork and who also said he opposed the entire unpopular Democratic/Obama agenda of the last two years.
Also, Democratic turnout was very high because loyal Democratic voters came out in droves to punish the top of the ticket, turncoat Snarlin’ Arlen Specter — thus reversing the intensity factor nationwide, which is anti-Democrat.
For the Washington Republicans to fall to pieces over this result shows just how fragile is the Washington GOP’s self-esteem.
The fundamental fact of the 2010 election is that the public intends to signal with its votes as strongly as it can that Washington must reverse direction across the board. The Washington GOP, rickety and unworthy as it may be, is likely to be the beneficiary of this public wrath. Its day of judgment will come in 2012 if, given the power, it bungles and betrays again.
While Washington may be nerve-wracked, there is a lot of positive energy around the country, and many able conservative candidates ready to charge into the general election. Consider California’s 11th district.
This is a Republican-leaning district (Cook Partisan Voting index of plus-three; median income $61,000; strongly anti-tax) that was held by the conservative Richard Pombo for many years until his defeat in 2006. The tea party is active in the district.
It is the most competitive congressional district in California. The seat is currently held by Democrat Jerry McNerney, a down-the-line Democrat who has supported the Pelosi legislative position 97 percent of the time, including voting for health-care reform, cap-and-trade, and the stimulus.
The likely Republican candidate coming out of the June primary is David Harmer, who combines strong support from established Republican conservatives, such as Ed Meese, John Herrington (former California Republican-party chairman and Reagan cabinet official), and Mitt Romney, with enthusiastic support from the tea party. This is the irresistible electoral combination that has Democrats up at 2 a.m. drinking more than they should. But I don’t blame them.
Harmer was the featured speaker in an April 15th tea-party event attended by over 10,000 activists. For those Democrats who hope to negatively caricature tea-party candidates this fall, Harmer will be a difficult target. He is a very smart, principled conservative who — along with a successful career in the private sector — has pulled off the trifecta of having worked as a constitutional scholar at both the Heritage and Cato think tanks and having done pro bono litigation for the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation.
I interviewed him last week. Although very genial, he obviously has a powerful mind and a deep commitment to the fundamental values that are driving the public’s reaction to Washington’s recent excesses. I hope C-Span covers the Cal-11 candidate debate this fall. It should be fun to watch.
With Harmer on the ticket, I would bet considerably more than a steak dinner that election night will have California at least plus one for the GOP. In future columns — in the interest of reducing Washington GOP handwringing — I will point out other winning, principled conservative candidates.