SUMMERTIME... AND THE PUNDITRY IS EASY
(IF ONLY BECAUSE IT'S AN "OFF-YEAR", ALREADY!)
Surveying the American political landscape as
burgers, hot dogs and brats sizzle on the grill
Sunday, July 19, 2009
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
Hi, there... welcome to my humble little patio here in cyberspace... take a seat in one of the cyber-Adirondack chairs or, if you wish, you can-- well-- lounge about in a cyber-chaise lounge... beverages ("adult" or, if you would prefer, soft drinks) are available in the cyber-cooler and the food is comin' up... just about ready, in fact...
jes' "set a spell" and we'll talk (well-- OK-- *I* will do all the "talking": after all, a Commentary ain't nothin' but a Monologue!) a little Politics on this warm, sunny Summer's day here somewhere in cyber-America:
Lets' start off by taking a look at the Grand Old Party- the Republicans, still licking their wounds now more than half a year after the 2008 General Elections which elected Barack Obama President and more firmly sealed the Democrats' control of both houses of the Congress of the United States won by that Party two years before:
First of all, pay little- if any- heed to what happens here in my own State of New Jersey this coming November: at least if you're looking for "political tea leaves" from which to begin to read 2010 or, for that matter, even 2012. Yes, Republican gubernatorial nominee Chris Christie can beat incumbent Governor Jon Corzine but it will mean little, if anything at all, when it comes to then applying any such victory gained by a GOP Statewide campaign beyond the 2009 Election here in the Garden State itself.
Partially because Governor Corzine's problems are the very essence of the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill's famous dictum Politics is local (and, in the Garden State, even more so: New Jersey may have its 21 Counties, but it is the Home Rule claimed by the State's 530-some odd "municipalities"- a veritable hodgepodge of Cities, Boroughs, incorporated Towns and sub-County Townships, not to mention even a handful of self-governing Villages- that fuels the most vociferous battles over State and Local Taxation and the rather dicey relationship between same) and, at the same time, said problems for the incumbent actually well predate the results of the 2008 Elections (thus, nothing that transpired in those elections at all hurt Corzine, neither did it particularly help him).
But, even more so, because of the-- ahem!-- relationship (as in "strained, where not downright hostile") between the national Republican Party US and the State and local Republican Parties here in the Northeastern USofA.
Put most bluntly, the role of these Republican Parties- as institutions- in most, if not all, of New England and the Mid-Atlantic region is to, at least in this day and age, be the ever-wagging "tail" of the national Republican "dog";
perhaps an even better analogy would be the then-still-young actor Kevin Bacon's most memorable line from the late 1970s frat house/party flick Animal House (after he was first ordered to "assume the Position"):
"Thank you, sir: I'll have another!"
Don't get me wrong, now! If Chris Christie happens to become New Jersey's Governor-elect (a likely scenario, given the most recent, and best, polling data), then- by the ensuing weekend after this coming General Election Day 2009, if not sooner that same week- there will be a photo-op moment with Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele and other Republicans from all over the country shaking hands, where not also wrapping their arms, around Mr. Christie along with speeches extolling how "this victory proves that the Republicans are back and ready for 2010"- or some similar drivel.
However, other than such propaganda-laden events, Northeastern Republicans, like the ornery children they are treated as by the national GOP, are- except for such times- much more expected to be seen and not heard: for such Republicans as are generally found hereabouts (with, perhaps, only a few proverbial "exceptions which prove the rule") are- to most of their fellow Republicans from the South, Midwest, Intermountain West and up into Sarah Palin's Alaska- not at all considered to be "real" Republicans. Just witness the overall disdain that seems to inhabit the very words "the two ladies from Maine" when spoken as referring to Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both R-Maine; likewise, witness the abject lack of any real remorse, not to also mention lack of surprise, when Senator Arlen Specter recently went from being R-Pennsylvania to D-Pennsylvania ("Don't let the door hit you too hard on the way out", saith today's Grand Old Party hierarchy).
Indeed, the Republican Party US seems to be doing its level best in 2009 to drive away- where not drive out- its own moderates, not to also mention many of its more moderately- as opposed to hardcore- conservative, members. The GOP's current vision (though I, for one, would hesitate to call it anything remotely approaching "vision") is, as a result, far more eschatological (bordering on the apocalyptic) than at all politically rational, based on a faith in Providence to see them (and, by extension [if only as seen through GOP-colored glasses], the Nation) through- but this is not, at its heart, the faith of due religiosity, rather it is the faith of entitlement bordering- where it has not already managed to get through Customs at that very border!- on abject hubris.
Fact is: the Republicans of nowadays are merely acting pretty much like the Democrats of 28 years ago in the wake of Ronald Reagan's having defeated then-incumbent President Jimmy Carter (as well as the Republicans gaining, for the first time in 26 years, control of the United States Senate). The Democratic Party US of 1981 honestly believed that Reagan's original election to the Presidency was something of an aberration- an election which Carter had the more lost than Reagan had won (how many Democrats I can now remember saying, at the time, "well, at least Reagan will only be a one-term President"... now, how'd that prediction work out?); the Democrats, thus, felt that there was no real reason to change: yet, at the same time, the Party so defeated thereafter moved more towards its own base (thus the oxymoronic political behavior that, as the country was evidencing itself as being more conservative, the Democrats themselves were- as a Party- becoming more liberal).
Similarly, we now see the Republicans moving more to the right, even as the most recent election well suggests that those Americans within the political "bell curve" at least want to give the Democratic progressivism of the Obama Administration at least a chance (if only for the time being). Truth be told, there are quite a lot of ticked-off, and frightened, Bible-readin' 'n' Gun-totin' White people out there in "Middle America" (indeed, conservative pundit, and former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Pat Buchanan has recently suggested that the GOP should utilize Racial Politics more, not less, in their efforts to rebuild the Party in the wake of 2008)-- just as there were once ticked-off, and frightened, urban liberals in the wake of 1980 (anger and fear that the Democrats of Ronald Reagan's first term were not at all above openly seeking to exploit for political purpose at the time)...
it is not so beyond the realm of understanding to see why what we might term "the Buchanan option" may so prove attractive to at least some within today's Republican Party US (the current GOP chair being an African-American notwithstanding).
What this also means, however, is that Republican Parties in what I myself once termed a "new 'Confederacy'" (that is, the Northeastern section of the United States) are, however inadvertently, now being left to fend for themselves as proverbial "strangers in a strange land" (as I myself wrote, while addressing that "new 'Confederacy'" now more than 4 1/2 years back:
The once-Democratic "Solid South" may well still be solid, albeit solidly Republican now, but surely there is now evidence of a "Solid Northeast" as solidly Democratic as the "Solid South" for a century after the Civil War... Different region, same potential political isolation!!
but the "political isolation" about which I opined seems, if only for the near duration, to be more adversely affecting local Republicans than the Democrats for whom the Northeast USofA has now become so "solid")...
truth be told, said "fending" has not gone all that well so far:
in New York State, for example, we- for starters- had that Special Election, back in April, in what should otherwise have been a strongly Republican Congressional District (regardless of what silly "spin" the GOP would try and have us all believe [sorry... but I, for one, can read election statistics and I can also do math, including averages!]), one in which the Republican leader in the lower house of the State legislature- fer Gawdsake!- was the GOP candidate and still couldn't win.
Then, even more recently, we had the Republicans in the other house of the New York State legislature make a deal with two disgruntled Democrats (each of whom is under investigation- one for an alleged domestic dispute, the other for alleged campaign finance- and other related- irregularities; these legal problems had the Democratic leadership in that chamber considering some sort of sanctions against them, so they bolted) in order to allow the GOP to, once again, become the Majority in the New York State Senate...
ok, fine: that alone would merely be seen as basest Politics, not much different from the usual pattern, for both Major Parties, in the New York state capital of Albany...
but, to make things worse, the Republicans had organized their "coup" with the help of a perennial independent candidate for Governor (who himself has no real love for either Major Party and, evidently, just wanted to see State Government grind to a rather screeching halt) and, further, agreed to make one of these disgruntled Democrats State Senate President pro Tempore (which, with David Paterson having vacated the Lieutenant Governorship in order to become Governor in the wake of Eliot Spitzer's resignation last year, also made this person- someone who could very well face criminal charges- acting Lieutenant Governor of the State and, thereby, the proverbial "one heartbeat away" from the State Governor's chair!-- the Republicans had carried out their "coup" in the name of "reform", yet how "reformist" could this be?!)...
a month of stalemate followed (one in which, admittedly, neither Party looked particularly good: about the only one who benefited from all of this was Governor Paterson himself, whose own political fortunes were- at best- on life support before this "coup", but who at least showed leadership by calling the State Senate into "extraordinary session" each day after the regular Annual Session had come to an end until the crisis was resolved and even moreso with his admittedly constitutionally questionable attempt to fill the vacancy in the Lieutenant Governor's chair by appointment)...
in the end, the two disgruntled Democrats- first one and then the other (who is now Democratic leader)- returned to the fold... the Democrats resumed their control of the State Senate (the Party breakdown that was the result of the 2008 General Elections in the first place)... all one has to do is take a good, close look at all of this and the New York Republicans still have the unmitigated gall to suggest that they are a Party on the way back up?!
All of this is simply a long way- through the utilization of one rather obvious example- of saying that any victory by a Republican in a Statewide race held within the "new 'Confederacy'" of the Northeast USA is going to ring hollow, where not also more than a bit pyrrhic, if only for the time being (only in 2009? or will this continue into 2010? that, gentle reader, will just have to wait for some future Commentary for this website!)...
thus, the Governor's race in New Jersey is not the place, in 2009, to best watch for signs of a resurgent national Republican Party this early in the current four year Presidential Election "cycle" which will culminate with the "appointment" (to here use the proper constitutional language descriptive of the procedure) of Presidential Electors by the voters in the several States and the District of Columbia come Tuesday 6 November 2012.
Instead, all eyes this coming November- a good three years before the next Presidential Election- should focus on the Gubernatorial election in Virginia:
There, in the "Old Dominion", the Republican candidate for Governor is a former Attorney General of that Commonwealth, one in which the County (and the equivalent Independent City) is the paramount Civil Division of the State (and it is no accident, by the way, that, as regards States where the County is- outside of incorporated municipalities- the local governmental entity, a condition that prevails throughout the South and on into the Intermountain West [States where, interestingly, Republicans have tended to do better than Democrats over the previous generation], this form of local sub-State governance is often known by the name "Virginia-type County") and, therefore, the quintessential County Sheriff is local Law Enforcement. In a State with such a "Virginia-type" County system of local government, the Attorney General is often, in essence, a "Super-sheriff"- or at least a kind of 'Sheriff-in-Chief'.
Simply put, then: Bob McDonnell is- by virtue of that office of Virginia Attorney General to which he was elected four years ago- the very kind of "Law and Order" conservative that has long been one of the underpinnings of the modern Republican Party US. (By contrast, New Jersey's GOP gubernatorial candidate, Chris Christie, is a former United States Attorney- that is, a Federal prosecutor [much more the Fed equivalent of a District Attorney or County Attorney than that of a State's Attorney General; Christie's Federal "District of New Jersey" might be geographically coterminous with the State of New Jersey but Christie's duties in his office were quite distinct from those of New Jersey's Attorney General]; besides the Federal government ever being perceived, by the average American, as- somehow- being more distant- in a sense, more "foreign"- than that of his own State, there is also the fact that, being in the Metropolitan New York/Tri-State region, Christie's bailiwick consisted, at least in part, of dealing far more with such things as the more arcane aspects related to regulation of, say, Corporate and Institutional Finance, stuff that- as the rather bewildered looks on the faces of many Americans during the course of this recent Economic Meltdown so clearly have shown- tends to be beyond the ken of the ordinary "Person in the Street" here in the United States).
Again, simply put (and largely because of all that I have noted so far): should Bob McDonnell be elected Governor of Virginia- a State whose Democrats have worked rather hard, over the past decade to "turn and keep blue"- in this coming General Election, it will be much more a sign that the Republican Party, as a whole, is already beginning to rise from the ashes going into the 2010 Midterms than a Chris Christie victory up here in New Jersey would be!
Yet, even here, there is something of a caveat: for McDonnell's Democratic opponent happens to be State Senator Creigh Deeds, the man McDonnell beat (just barely, in fact!) in order to become Virginia's Attorney General in the first place: indeed, one can- if one is willing to listen closely enough- just about hear a disembodied, stentorian voice- as if it were one promoting an upcoming Title Bout in Boxing- intoning "This time it's personal!"
But I'll have more to say about the current political landscape soon... enjoy your hot dog... make sure you try some of the homemade macaroni salad... I'm getting up right now in order to go over to the fridge in the kitchen and get myself another beer...
to be continued...