Yesterday, “Democratic” Senator Arlen Specter lost in his state’s primary to a Tea-Party-affiliated (the line between Tea Party and anti-establishment is blurry, IMO, especially when you consider that it was founded on opposition to the ARRA stimulus package, specifically). This is a bit of a tough situation to really assess, but is nonetheless important.
First, Specter has annoyed the bejesus out of me for a while. First a Republican, then claims that he doesn’t like where his party is going but really just doesn’t like where his numbers are going and switches to the other party, then everyone loves him for “crossing the aisle” and being “bipartisan.” Just because someone votes against party lines once (then changes parties entirely) doesn’t make that person a messiah. Yes, party lines have been as rigid as they have been…since I started following politics (a whopping 10 years, maybe), but that doesn’t mean we should start putting people on pedestals. I mean, the whole rage over Snowe from Maine? She really only cast that one vote in support of the health care bill to put it before the Senate and is praised for her courage from Democrats, but really didn’t show a consistent bipartisan spirit otherwise.
But just because Specter was a useful ally because he crossed party lines and helped give Democrats a strong(er) majority in a ridiculously partisan Congress doesn’t make him a savior of any kind. From what I’ve read of his track record (which isn’t extensive, by the way – I follow Pelosi more, for instance, at least partially because she’s from my district in CA), he doesn’t deserve that kind of estimation.
But enough of that rant. What is perhaps more disconcerting is that the whole Tea Party movement does nothing to stop this partisan mess that is going on in Congress. Yes, it sends a message to both parties. I would argue, however, that mid-term elections always send a message to the President as there is almost always disillusionment following the election (how many presidents really deliver on every campaign promise within the first 1.5 years? How many aren’t attacked left and right by the opposition, even if they are the incumbent, much less the force of change that Obama represents? People pick up on this, and vote accordingly). But while the message of massive, rather organized (though if you watch even a couple episodes of the Daily Show you will likely see how illogical some of their platform arguments are) discontent and anger over the “established” ways of “government as usual” is important, the formation of a highly ideological movement that has developed legitimate political and popular backing just creates more partisanship.
Does anyone really think that putting Tea Party-oriented candidates in Congress will decrease partisanship? Or that somehow bills that have been stuck here or there will suddenly move forward? Or that government as usual will in fact stop operating as government as usual?
The obvious truth, as one reads this post, is that I’m more of a “work from within” kind of guy. I do believe that it’s possible to make change from within. Some of the most influential senators have been the least visible ones, the ones that have been deal-makers, ones that help find compromises and get the job done. These aren’t the ones that kill off public options (and I don’t think that such people would have made any difference at all in the electrical storm that was the health care reform bill and is the still existent overall debate) or that even make it onto Sunday morning shows. And I’m not sure they even exist anymore (I do wonder if Clinton or Obama, in another 12 or so years, might have become those kind of people in the Senate had they not run for higher office).
This post, as are many of mine, is all over the place, and is indicative more of how torn I am over the political landscape than anything else. I’m more of a centrist than anything else, and many nowadays would probably even call me slightly conservative (though definitely not on health care reform or economics – I’ve already been called a socialist on the latter topic). But overall I’m just a pragmatist. And it’s becoming just flat-out hard to be a pragmatist in today’s climate.