Top of the Ticket

Political commentary from the LA Times

« Previous Post | Top of the Ticket Home | Next Post »

What Tuesday's votes really mean: Americans are mad. Incumbents beware

May 19, 2010 |  3:10 am

A metaphor for members of Congress

For days now you're gonna hear both major parties and their media surrogates tout the best-case versions of Tuesday's election outcomes.

Democrats crowing over the special election win to replace John Murtha in PA-12, a heavily Democratic district that Republicans shouldn't have even been competitive in.

And the GOP quietly cackling over the final electoral demise of turncoat Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, despite (or because of?) the support of President Obama, who so famously described Pennsylvanians as bitter, gun-loving, religion-clinging small-towners.

The Democratic president is now 0-4 in major race endorsements since last November. Gee, I'd love to campaign with you, Mr. President, but I'd prefer this root canal appointment.

Yes, Specter's ouster did come at the hands of a real Democrat, Joe Sestak, who defied the White House's wishes.

But here's what Tuesday really means: Both parties took it in the ear. Nationally.

What the Washington Examiner so deftly called "the Twilight of the Establishment."

American voters are, for lack of a polite p-word, mad as hell and they're ...

... gonna dump on any incumbents they can find. (Can you say Harry Reid? Barbara Boxer?)

"It's a wake-up call for any incumbent -- Republican, Democrat or anybody around the country," Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell told our colleague Seema Mehta after watching a shell-shocked Specter concede..

After five terms in the Senate, the specter of Specter is gone. After two terms, Arkansas Democrat Sen. Blanche Lincoln was forced into a humiliating party runoff on June 8.

In Kentucky's Senate primary to replace the wisely retired Jim Bunning, Republicans had no incumbent to knock down. So they rejected the hand-picked choice of senior Sen. Mitch McConnell, Trey Grayson.

And to finish the establishment insult, they brought in Rand Paul, son of the libertarian you-know-who from Texas, and a fervent Tea Party denouncer of big government, big spending, big deficits.

There's no "Attaboy!" message in any of those outcomes. There's nothing but unhappiness with incumbents. 

More than three dozen House members of both parties have suddenly seen the need to spend more time with their families come next January, entering voluntary retirement and their cushy congressional pensions rather than undergo the expensive anti-incumbent wave -- and quite possibly involuntary retirement anyway on Nov. 2. Since Democrats enjoyed the most Washington success in 2006 and 2008, they now have the most to lose.

Watching the trend become more apparent in coming weeks, other incumbents may join the exodus, the kind of painful but productive flushing of old blood that functioning democracies are famous for. Goodbye, Gordon Brown.

In recent decades conventional American political wisdom has held that those seeking higher office must serve a prolonged political apprenticeship, working their way up the jobs ladder or serving several terms somewhere, like George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson.

Then something strange happened. The last three successful presidential candidates -- Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and what's-his-name in the White House this morning -- all achieved victory on their very first try for the big house. Obama after only part of his very first Senate term, most of which he spent running out of town for the next office.

Now comes Tuesday, suggesting that given the economy, unemployment, fear, frustration and a coalescing, not-quite-coherent voter anger at anyone of either party standing nearby, holding an existing office, especially in Congress, may not be helpful to any ambitions for advancement this year. That change-to-believe-in is can be turned on its originators.

Hmmm. So just maybe then, it's a good thing that heading toward 2012, none of the current best-known GOP names for top of the ticket -- Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich -- are holding an elected office. They have the resume but not the burden of daily decisions and responsibilities, allowing them time to run and raise money.

Strangely enough, the familiar one-time officeholders could now be the change agents.

Because this year, elective offices have become dangerous blast zones.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Click here to receive Twitter alerts of each new Ticket item. Follow us @latimestot  Or Like our Facebook page right here.

Photo: Getty Images

Comments 

Advertisement










Video