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May. 19 2010 - 2:19 pm | 1,020 views | 2 recommendations | 22 comments

The death of machine politics in America

Rand Paul

Image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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.

Until now.

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.


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  1. collapse expand

    I agree. I just don’t see the GOP making the huge gains this fall that the MSM is gleefully predicting, even in this bad economy.

    There is a lot of anger and noise on the right but they don’t have the numbers to win in a general election. Not only that but I think the voters are beginning to realize that the Democrats are serious about fixing our economic system while the GOP resists any change.

  2. collapse expand

    Obama endorsed Specter and Lincoln.

    after the Sestak win and Blanche Lincoln now having to do a run-off with Halter, my feeling is that the Dem voters are telling Obama to stop with the bipartisanship.

  3. collapse expand

    The reason McCain beat Obama in the US 12th was because the district is racist, period. Murtha attested to it. Critz won because his lunatic candidate ran on a VAT and Critz wisely ran against that. The people of Johnstown have been economic losers since the fall of steel. Unlike Pittsburgh, where the local leaders met the challenges head on, the dummass USW voters of Johnstown hung onto the federal tit Murtha kept them addicted to. Johnstown is an pathetic anemic economic backwater as a result. Projecting Johnstown politics across the rest of America is a logical stretch, boss.

    • collapse expand

      Well, the GOP there sought to run against Obama. So, if the district is racist – not that I doubt you as it sounds like you know the area pretty well – wouldn’t that have tilted the race to the Repubs???

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        My guess is the “running against Obama” tact was a minor issue because the race was between 2 middle-aged white males. The USW mentality is to vote straight ticket democrat. Critz depicted his hapless opponent as a big-shot business man that ship jobs overseas. The sad reality in Johnstown is that heavy manufacturing will never return. Even if it were to return (purely hypothetical) the young folk would turn their collective noses up at working shifts and being around hot metal in motion. The Buick pilots still vote like are they punching the clock at the local mills. Critz ran as Mutha’s protege’ and touted his credentials in “economic development” which is code for pork. It’s depressing.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    As you said, 3 weeks ago nobody knew who Joe Sestak was. (I still don’t) And yet you want to generalize these results to an election in 5 months?
    I realize the pundits have to prognosticate, but if there’s any lesson out of yesterday, it’s that prognostication is dead.

  5. collapse expand

    I wrote about this before anything actually happened: http://www.kyle-brady.com/2010/05/18/voting-strategies-for-2010/

    My prediction, essentially, is that any “gains” made by conservatives are going to be through Tea Partiers or GOP-as-Tea-Party candidates, which essentially renders them useless. And if, by some chance, an anti-government TP makes it into Congress, they’re going to embarrass themselves so bad that the “movement” will be over almost immediately.

    Ultimately, my bets are on Democrats gaining power, even if the numbers of seats held changes a bit.


  6. collapse expand

    enhances the opportunity to have a government composed of people serving their constituents

    Kinda funny thing there, a lot of bloggers have been saying this is exactly what they intended to do — vote out everyone who had been part of the political machine; looks like maybe this was more than an empty threat. At this point I only hope that Obama takes note of what happened and tacks sharply to the left, but … I don’t hold out much hope of that happening since I wrote something eerily similar after the Kennedy seat election.

  7. collapse expand

    Dem establishment may have been behind Specter, but their hearts clearly weren’t in it. Union money and effort went to Halter in AR. Obama time and effort went to stumping for financial reform.

    By contrast, McConnell poured effort and money into Grayson’s campaign, because McConnell isn’t dumb, and knows that Paul is going to blow it before the general.

    PA-12 looked like a tossup, but for Critz to win with the margin he did means, I feel, exactly what you said.

  8. collapse expand

    This is very welcome news. They may have different stances on issues, but the Democrats and the Republicans are very similar in that they are both out of touch with the voters that they claim to represent; they remind me, in all honesty, of two rival Mafia families fighting for control over the same territory. Now, people are fighting back against gang rule and taking matters into their own hands.

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    I am an attorney in Southern California, and a frequent writer, speaker and consultant on health care policy and politics. To that end, I am active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists. Based in beautiful Santa Monica, California, I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to be a contributing editor to True/Slant. I've recently finished a book designed to make the health care debate understandable to the average reader, and expect it to be out in the next five months or earlier. In my 'spare time', I continue to write for television and, occasionally, for comic books.

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