The death of machine politics in America
While primary night delivered some good news for both progressives and the Tea Party movement, not much to crow about for the traditional GOP, and proof positive that Barack Obama has managed to morph, in less than two short years, from the candidate of change to a beacon of the political establishment, the biggest loser award goes to the old-school party machinery concept that has long stood for the way politics works in this nation.
To nobody’s surprise, Rand Paul, the small government Libertarian and proud representative of the Tea Party movement, pounded the GOP party machine candidate in the Kentucky primary race for U.S. Senate. While this is a notable win for the angriest among us, it is a far more extraordinary defeat for Mitch McConnell, long the Capo de tutti capo of Kentucky politics, and his carefully built political machine. Indeed, it was not long ago that nobody would dare have challenged the GOP machinery in Kentucky and it’s boss let alone beat it.
The race in Pennsylvania while, producing a progressive victory, was remarkably similar to what happened in Kentucky.
Every bit of the Democratic establishment was on the side of Arlen Specter, from the President of the United States to the state’s popular Democratic governor down to the huge organization of foot soldiers who have always delivered on the vaunted Democratic ground game in Pennsylvania.
While it is true that this is a year of anti-incumbency – a serous hurdle to Specter who is a ‘double-incumbent’ having been elected as a Republican and now running as a Democrat – the loss that is likely to ‘stick’ is the failure of the national and state political machinery to deliver a win.
None of this should surprise you. Barack Obama showed us the way when he upended and blew away the Democratic machine that had lined up behind Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election.
We are in a new age of American politics – one that allows politicians with virtually no name recognition to pull off victories that would have been impossible just ten years ago. We saw it with Obama in 2008 and we saw it again last night with Rep. Joe Sestak. Just three short weeks ago, Sestak was a virtual unknown in most areas of his home state. Last night he carried every county in the state but three.
How did he do it? With a brilliant television advertisement that tied Arlen Specter to not only to the a Washington controlled by the Democratic establishment but to the era of Washington recently gone by controlled by a GOP president. By using the technology available to us today, Sestak was able to turn the status-quo on its head and beat one of the best machines in the business.
The good news is that we may be entering a time when the opportunity to serve in government may be far more open than it has been in the past. If the political machines cannot deliver wins, they cannot control the flow of candidates. This opens the door to those who might not be willing to serve as patsies for the power elite in exchange for a title and a government salary.
Will this result in more things getting done in Washington and in state houses around the nation? Hard to say. It is difficult to see Rand Paul and Joe Sestak agreeing on much. However, if it is representative government we are after, the death of the political machines greatly enhances the opportunity to have a government composed of people serving their constituents rather than the party bosses who have run the show and controlled their fates up until now.
One final note – if we’re looking for someone in the political establishment who slept well last night, it has to be Nancy Pelosi who may have pulled off the biggest win of the night.
In Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, Democrat Mark Critz defeated Republican Tim Burns in the special election for the western Pennsylvania seat left vacant by the death of John Murtha.
While the seat has long been in the hands of the Democrats, it is also one of the few districts in Pennsylvania that went for John McCain in the 2008 election. It was a race where the National GOP poured a million bucks into capturing the seat and engaged in a trial run of the anti-Obama and anti-Pelosi messages they intend to use nationwide come November.
The fact that the GOP lost here – in a district that really should have been one of the easier seats to re-acquire – indicates that the huge gains most are projecting for the GOP in Congress in this year’s midterms may not be the slam dunk so many pundits expect. It also proves one axiom of politics that hasn’t changed – all politics is local. If the GOP thinks they are going to retake the House by going after Obama, Pelosi et al., they may be in for a very rude surprise.