US Elections: The Sky Did Not Fall, Again

By Al Giordano

Tuesday’s elections in the United States of Arkansas, Kentucky and Pennsylvania disproved the slick media pundit conventional wisdom and its clucking Chicken Little believers wrong once again. For weeks we’ve heard it in unison from the teevee talking heads and the mynah bird beaks of mass media consumers-cum-bloggers: that 2010 is an anti-incumbent year, that Democrats are going down, will lose the US House of Representatives in November (Newt Gingrich, yesterday, predicted a November Republican gain of up to 70 seats and possibly control of the US Senate, too, including a defeat of Senator Barbara Boxer of California: Bartender, I’ll have what he’s having.)

Most of the races on the ballot yesterday were primaries and in that context political outsiders out-organized the insiders within both major parties. The only contest to test whether climate change has come to the Democrat-vs.-Republican rivalry happened in Pennsylvania’s Congressional District number 12, in a special election to replace the late US Rep. Jack Murtha, a conservative Democrat. How great was the supposed “anti-establishment” tide that the media has been crowing about? The winner was Murtha’s longtime Congressional aide named Mark Critz.

For the past twelve years Critz worked as the regional director for Murtha. He was the staffer who responded to constituents, wrote letters on their behalf, cut Federal red tape, issued flags flown over the US Capitol, attended local events and solved problems for individuals, families and small businesses in the district. In other words, he did the part of a Congressman’s work that is not ideological, the Representative's representative in the district. In Congress, he’ll likely be a “blue dog” conservative Democrat, like Murtha (and that is fairly representative of that district, which I passed through in 2008 reporting the US presidential campaign). It is a bellwether district, 95 percent white, in Pennsyltuckian Appalachia; the only CD in the country that voted both for Kerry in ’04 and McCain in ’08, a “swing district” extraordinaire.

And yesterday the Democrat got 53 percent of the vote, a comfortable margin of victory, in this supposedly “anti-incumbent” year even though Critz was the closest thing to an incumbent in the contest. His victory underscores that when it comes to US House elections – fantasies of the activists of left and right aside – “the issues” and ideology are secondary criteria for most voters. Most Americans look at their representative in Congress and think “what can he do for me?” They want to know that their US Rep. can "deliver for the locals." Critz was accurately seen as the one who could pull the strings for the district precisely because he had Congressional staff experience. The “anti-incumbent” revolution predicted from all quarters did not materialize in Western Pennsylvania. The proper reading of yesterday's result in fact brings the opposite conclusion: Incumbents who do the grunt work of constituent services will mostly survive in November.

Tuesday’s results screw with the narratives imposed by many players on the political stage, and not just Gingrich’s. White, college educated, progressive activists have invested heavily in a harmonious argument with that of the tea partiers of the right. The portrait they paint is that President Obama isn’t satisfying “the base” enough, not being “progressive” enough, and that therefore ideological voters on the left will stay home and Republicans will conquer the upcoming midterm elections. It is often said as a threat: Do what I say or you will lose because “we” will sit on our hands. It’s tiresome not merely because it is boorish and an act of aspiring bullydom, but also because those who shout it don’t really have enough of a “we” behind them to make good on those threats, and most of that “we” doesn’t knock on doors or volunteer on phone banks or organize communities. They are aspiring generals with blogosphere accounts, but without armies.

Rather, the tea-baggers and fire-baggers alike are merely trying to get out in front of a normal trend in midterm elections: the party in the White House usually loses an average of twenty seats in the House and three in the Senate. They simply want to set up the bowling pins to be able to crow credit if and when the ball knocks some of them down. For careful watchers of US politics, their gambit is superficial and transparent, one aimed only at the most gullible among us.

It is in that light we also now look at the US Senate primary results in three states yesterday. Senate races are typically more about ideology and “issues” than House contests, and that is even truer of party primaries for those 100 seats. An important one happened in Kentucky with interesting results in both parties.

On the Republican side, in which the more ideological Rand Paul defeated the GOP establishment-backed candidate Trey Grayson, who was Senate Republican Leader Bill Mitch McConnell’s – also of Kentucky - handpicked horse. Paul, of course, is the son of US Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. The conservative GOP party ideologues, true, went with an avowed ideological adherent to tea-baggery, but it is also true that they picked a Congressman’s son as their white knight. How “anti-incumbent” or “anti-Washington” is that, really?

But as Alex Pareene (who cut his teeth at Wonkette and Gawker) notes at Salon, the more interesting story out of Kentucky yesterday than the Paultard freak show on the GOP side is that turnout was higher in the Democratic primary contest, where Attorney General Jack Conway is the apparent – pending a possible recount - winner:

Did you know that there's a Democrat in the race for Jim Bunning's Senate seat in Kentucky? He's state Attorney General Jack Conway, and he might actually win.

With 99% of precincts reporting, Conway has received 44% of the vote. That's 226,773 votes. His opponent, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo received 221,269 votes. Rand Paul, the runaway winner of the Republican primary, received a total of 209,159 votes. In other words, both Democrats received more votes than either Republican. Which doesn't make it sound like the GOP base is energized for the Rand Paul rEVOLution.

If Conway remains the Democratic nominee, Kentucky’s “safe red” Senate seat is suddenly in play, and a pebble in the shoe of Newt Gingrich's attempt to party like it's 1994.

In Pennsylvania, the defeat of US Senator Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary by US Rep. Joe Sestak is welcome news, as is that out of Arkansas where challenging Lt. Governor Bill Halter forced corporate Democrat Blanche Lincoln (D-Wal-Mart) into a run-off to take place in three weeks. The “we speak for a base we did not organize” crowd is of course crowing to take credit for both advances by the more progressive candidates after weeks of whining that the Obama White House had backed, at least in name, the two incumbents. Howard Dean's Democracy for America, MoveOn, FDL PAC, etcetera will now fall all over each other trying to push out their credit-taking press releases on both contests, but the real story happened with the ground game in each state. Once again, the Chicken Littles are torn between illusions of their own grandeur and their narrative by which Obama is portrayed as an all-powerful executive who ought to be able to change the course of everybody’s pet issues in a single pen stroke, and all at once!

Rick Hertzberg of The New Yorker lays some rational analysis on it all:

Arlen Specter was not “selected by leaders in Washington.” He selected himself. As one of the last of the moderate Republicans, he was headed for defeat in his own party’s primary. He thought (no doubt correctly) that his chances for survival would be better in the other party, so he switched. The White House promised him support because his vote was an absolute sine qua non for overcoming Republican filibusters, most crucially filibusters against the health-care bill, on which the fate of Obama’s Presidency and the Democratic Congress rested. If this was a “backroom deal,” it was one that the White House and the “Democratic establishment” would have been criminally irresponsible not to cut.

With health care safely passed, however, the interests of the White House and the national Democratic Party are better served by Sestak’s winning the primary. Sestak is an actual Democrat, not a Democrat of opportunity. As such he will be a far more reliable and sincere supporter of the President and the President’s policies than Specter would have been if, at eighty years of age, the cranky ex-Republican had been vouchsafed a sixth (and last) six-year term. Moreover, Sestak is more likely to beat the Republican nominee, the fanatical anti-tax ideologue Pat Toomey. If Sestak wins in November, he'll probably be a senator for a long time. Given actuarial realities, a reëlected Specter might have ended up having to be replaced by a gubernatorial appointee, and there is no guarantee that Pennsylvania’s next governor will be a Democrat.

So I don’t see how this is some sort of defeat for the White House or miscalculation on their part. It looks more like a series of rather brilliant chess moves.

Energized Democratic electorates in the Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Arkansas Senate primaries, plus the comfortable victory of the D over the R in a swing district in Pennsyltucky, once again show that the proclamations of “the sky is falling” by self-promoting blog narrators were not grounded in any reality close to our own.

Many still don’t grasp that in 2008, everything changed in US politics, which is increasingly fought on the ground with the methods of community organizing. That’s what explains the high Democratic turnout yesterday and the bellwether district in Pennsylvania remaining blue. And that – and not ideological tantrums on the Internets – will write the history of November 2010. Seems like the grownups are still at the driver’s wheel and, once again, the Chicken Littles were wrong. And that is of course, old news and history repeating itself again. How many times have I written this story? How many more will I have to pen? Oh well, at least we get to use images of that cute little feathered guy again.

 

Comments

Echo chambers full of sound and fury

The powerful oligarchy that centers on Wall Street and who were George Bush's real constituency - "the haves and the have-mores; some call you the elites, I call you my base" - still wield the tool of the corporate media.

And they use it. Again and again, and all over, there's the Republicans will benefit, Democrats will lose. They say it all the time, in good times and in bad. Like tax cuts, it's what they say, again and again.

Well, the Tea Party is the John Birchers brought up to date, and another avenue for the rhetoric to get more hateful and violent, but a real new base for the part? Hardly.

Ron Paul does have a base; pot-smoking white poor folks and lower-middle class priviliged kids who don't want to face their racism or class privilige (aka 'libertarians'). And neo-fascists like Stormfront.

So the one victory on the right was those guys.

The biggest victor here, imho, is organized labor, which fought hard for Murtha's seat and brought Lincoln to a run-off. Although they were campaigning for Specter, it was half-hearted.

I don't have the same disdain for all of the blog-left that Al does; specifically I think the Kos community helped Halter and in general they can mobilize money, I think MoveOn does have a base.

For me the enemy is the corporate media. And their 'anti-incumbent, anti-DC' narrative translates into 'anti-Obama, anti-Democatic Congress' and it's as empty as Tim Burns's victory celebration.

The sky is falling

The never ending chorus of gloom and doom wears on me. It started the day Rick Warren was announced to do the invocation and it's gotten "progressively" worse.

And then I read things like this and feel better:

 

"They are aspiring generals with blogosphere accounts, but without armies."

You just hit a three pointer drew the foul got the other team a technical and their star player tossed. What are they going to say when Dems win big in November?

Keep those inoculations coming

And as a booster shot, look for signs of panic on the other side hiding in plain sight. Case in point, Newt Gingrich's blustering the-Senate-ought-to-reject-Elena-Kagan-without-a-hearing gambit on one of last Sunday's tevee talk-fests: it doesn't take a shrink to tell the guy's crapped himself a pantload knowing that a smart progressive is about to hold a Supreme Court seat for the next thirty years.

A couple of things

Al,  you accidentally called Mitch McConnell "Bill" in your eighth paragraph (if I can count):

On the Republican side, in which the more ideological Rand Paul defeated the GOP establishment-backed candidate Trey Grayson, who was Senate Republican Leader Bill McConnell’s – also of Kentucky - handpicked

Nitpicking aside, I'm going to take your marvelous essay and shorten it to my POV:  Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader McConnell, and President Palin scare the crap out of me and a whole lot more Democrats so we'll work to improve on the ones we have when possible and re-elect the ones we're stuck with.

@ Elizabeth

Thanks for the correction. Somehow I must have confused him with Bill McCullom, the former GOP US Rep. and senate candidate, now Florida's attorney general.

Question

Did Ron Paul name his son after Ayn Rand, using her last name?  Blech...

Hey Al,   I've asked this

Hey Al,

 

I've asked this question of other people, but I'd really like to know what you think.

Now that Arlen's lost (and I'm glad he did) the question I have is how will this defeat affect his vote for the remainder of his term?  Spector seems like someone who would def hold a grudge. If so, who would he hold a grudge for, Obama, the Dems, or the GOP

Great Post.

What I found especially interesting: the White House flyover of PA  yesterday to the Ohio town hall. Now if THAT wasn't a "We're fine with Joe Sestak" wink to the progressive activists who come out to vote in Philly I don't know what was at all.

I also love how everyone is flabergasted Barack Obama didn't bring Critz down. No one trusts the Republicans; if Democrats run a competenet race, keep their heads, and hustle I truly think they can make a case to expand their seats.

Thanks Al

I was looking forward to reading this! Sanity is a lovely thing.

Janey

Great story, and yes, you're right

For all the sound and fury on the "progressive netroots," in terms of real numbers and effectiveness, they're not. While there may be in some areas of the country enough to be a factor in races, in a great many others most people have no idea of what the "netroots" are. During the Congressional special election in my district last year, I did a quick count of the number of people in my district who were active various progressive blogs. I came up with a figure in single digits. Most of the party officials in the district, and campaign organizers had never even heard of those sites. Yet in reading those sites, you'd have come away with the idea that they were a major force to be reckoned with. It's that disconnection from ground reality that has often irritated me. It's not enough to call yourself "a base." You also have to do all the things a base does, and to date, they haven't been very good at it. But they're willing to take credit for it.

One of the "we" who knocks on doors.

I quit reading a progressive blog because it seemed to me that quite a few members of the "yell louder" crowd were very good typists but not very effective activists.  Thanks for mentioning all the folks who attend phone banks and knock on doors.  Hard work wins elections, it is that simple.

@ kittypat

Thank you for your comment.  I found The Field early in the primary.  I do not watch any news on the MSM.  I barely listen to NPR anymore.  I am too busy "Organizing for America".  Chicken Little Shit isn't even good compost.

Women are the backbone of volunteers with Organizing for America.  Most, if not, all of the Community Organizers with OFA, in my area, are women.  The level of energy and development of Community Organizers and Neighborhood Teams has picked up considerably, due to Camp OFA trainings nation-wide.  New volunteers are showing up and want training immediately.  My entire family is involved.  A Mom and her 16 year old daughter (voter in 2012) came to our House Party this week.  We are assembling our team for the June 5-6 National Day of Action:

http://my.barackobama.com/page/content/2010about?source=nav

Well written Al, but I Have a quibble

Those Kentucky numbers are impressive for Democrats, but it is worth mentioning that registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by something like a 2-1 margin, that was true during the Democratic primary in 2008 and was true in the general election when John McCain beat Barack Obama by 17 points. It's also worth mentioning that Kentucky has closed primaries (as many probably might remember from the 2008 primaries, so long ago). Both of these factors can very easily skew Kentucky voting patterns.

But with that being said, real progressives have a lot to be optimistic about, and depending on how things go, the math of issues such as immigration reform might not be much worse this time next year as it is today.

Politics and more

Question for organizers & Al

Is the higher turn-out & increased engagement patterns folks are seeing residual effects from previous OFAs, or are teams applying their trade to these new elections semi-independently. Our team here has kept rolling pretty steadily.

Also, our group is also overwhelmingly women. Mostly baby boomers. That could be my neighborhood, though.

@ kurt squire

In my community, some geographical areas have developed community organizers and teams, while others are in various stages of growth.  I'm not sure what you mean by the term "previous OFAs".  Obama for America became Organizing for America, which on its own is amazing.  Obama and the People stepping up working together for America, continuing to grow and change.  The staff wants us to step up further.  Figure things out.  Find staging areas for canvassing and phone banking.  I asked for the list of areas we would work.  My Field Director asked back, "Where do you want to go?"  Staff are pushing us to stretch further, together, in our organizing adventure.  The number of staff people with our OFA office is skeletal compared to the campaign.  Developing local volunteer Organizers and Teams is the key.  Supporting President Obama, by supporting candidates for Congress is part of it, but the real deal for me is the autonomy we as a group have from the DNC.  Organizing for America knows the power between Pres. Obama and his supporters.

Everything that has happened on the volunteer front for me is pretty simple:  Show up. Have house meetings. Canvass.  Talk to people.  Stay involved.  Like you and your team:  steady growth.

 

Hi Al. The 'progressive' dkos is going apeshit on Obama's

'katrina' (talk about aping RW framing) in re BP fiasco.

Your take on it ?

Any OFA  people on how it's playing in the real world ?

amk

The Snail and the Gale

 

On Wetlands, on Drylands, in pouring rain, in torrid sunshine, on sleek artificial turf, on spongy grass as green as an English midsummer day-dream, with brothers-in-arms heartily on the toil ... co-signing, with 'Street car named Desire'  lovers border-lining and over-stepping, the mighty Quarterback picks the Defense apart inch by long-winding oily inch, and takes his team, and his whole Sport along, to a new more tolerable level of Imperfection.

Hats off to the Snail for the slaughtering grace of its floundering pace!

 

@ amk re Obama's so called "Katrina"

This is my take on some "progressives" at dkos framing Obama's reaction to the BP disaster as Obama's "Katrina".  I think some of it is lazy unimaginative journalism.  It reminds me of all the news stories on any political scandal having the suffix "gate" attached to some buzz word.  Even foreign countries have used "gate" to describe their scandals.

I also think there's some subtle racism involved in much of the criticism of Obama that goes something like this.  Obama "ought" to realize that as the new political race on the block he "needs" the experienced seasoned guidance of "liberal" white progressives.  I think many are upset that they can't control and don't "own" Obama.

Obama has had 2 stunning political wins in the space of 2 months - the health care bill and the soon to be signed financial regulations.  In both incidents Obama and the democrats took on extremely powerful corporate lobbies & won.

 

 

 

@ Nancy (and two wins)

Nancy says the white liberal progressives can't control and don't own Obama. But Al's point is that the internet class (the new left internet intelligensia) don't own ANYTHING, particularly a base of political strength.

The people who are upset that they don't "own" Obama are the corporate DLC Democrats, who are a front group for the only-mostly-reprehensible wing of the Corporate party.

The Greenwalds and Hamshers that Al keeps calling on the carpet are from the 'beautiful loser' wing of the left, which doesn't care if they lose as long as they do it well. Which means they don't actually care for the people they claim to be repping (poor folk, people of color, etc) because their stylish collapse leaves them with their pride intact.

My sweetie and I are arguing about the bank regulation bill and the health care bill. I find the 'we are moving the ball' argument compelling, but she's on the 'the yards might add up but they leave too much out' kick.

I worry, I do. The police state has been getting worse for a long time - Clinton's anti-terror bill set up the PATRIOT ACT and all the Bush illegality, and that seems to be not turning around quickly. The amount of power and money that corporations wield in politics is bad still. There is a place for supporting the administriation while calling on them to do better, I think. Don't ask, don't tell? Card check? Still no repudiation of offshore oil drilling? (although I think that one is in the works...)

But to get to the central point, whether right (GOP sweep! 140 House seats switching!) or left, the sky is not falling.

@ John Slade

You are correct.  I had forgotten the "Beautiful loser" wing of the left. The dispute you're having with your Sweetie is a difficult one.  One of my senators, Maria Cantwell, Washington State was one of the 2 democrats voting against the financial measure because she wanted to include an amendment on control of derivatives.  Of course, I will vote for Maria and I realize she has something of a reputation in this state for her business and corporate skills but I wish she had voted for the bill.

I am reminded of one of Al's essays a year back about turning the 'drug war' in South America around by carefully snipping the wires that support it.  I've always thought "something is better than nothing".  I can be a terrible procrastinator particularly about tasks that I lack confidence in my abilities.  I have often found the phraze, "Beginning is half done" is quite accurate, as once I start a process it just carries itself forward.  Perhaps political shifts follow the same dynamic.

Not to nitpik, but the Patriot act was a reaction to "911" and signed into law by President Bush, not Clinton.

@kurt squire & Lorie Cavin

Our OFA group is currently working on the the June 5 National Day of Action.  We have targeted specific precincts in our area and are recruiting now for volunteers to conduct the first canvas.  The team I belong to is mostly women, we have been bringing in new members slowly but surely. My family is involved too Lorie and I have made a special effort to include my children, I want them to understand that change doesn't happen without effort and dedication.

 

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About Al Giordano

Biography

Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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