Tag Archives: election 2010

An Optimistic Take on the Election

CEI President and Founder Fred Smith and I have an article in The Daily Caller expressing cautious optimism about yesterday’s election results. Our main points:

-We are (cautiously) optimistic because voters turned out in droves to make a statement against big government, not to endorse GOP policies. But no reforms will happen unless people keep fighting for them.

-Activists have a lesson to learn from the Bush-era anti-war movement. Anti-Iraq War protestors vanished into thin air almost the moment President Obama was elected. They gave up. That’s one reason there are still 50,000 troops in Iraq and America’s presence in Afghanistan has doubled. The next few years will be the true test of the tea party movement. Will it grow complacent in victory?

-GOP politicians have a lesson to learn from their 1994 victory and subsequent fall from grace. The 1994 Republicans gave up as reformers after about six months. Voters kept them around because they did a tolerable job of checking Clintonian excesses. But six years of one-party rule under Bush were more than enough to show that Republicans were far more concerned with staying in power than with shrinking government. Federal spending roughly doubled under Bush, and that was enough to give them the boot.

It will be interesting to see what happens. The 2010 election might be nothing more than a blip on the radar. Or it could be the start of a genuine reform movement that will take on the coming entitlement crisis. We’re hoping for the latter.

Alan Grayson, We Hardly Knew Ye

Most incumbents running for re-election deserve defeat. That more than 50 of them lost last night is an unabashed good. But one of those defeated incumbents, Florida Democrat Alan Grayson, I will miss.

This is not because he is a serious voice on policy; he isn’t. Rep. Grayson is a walking, talking reminder that Congress is not to be taken seriously, whatever lofty airs its members may exude. Washington could use more like him. Some of his career highlights:

-He blamed his defeat on the weather.

-Grayson characterized the GOP’s health care plan as “Don’t get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.”

-He used the word “Holocaust” to describe the current health care system. The Holocaust was an attempt to systematically murder all Jews.

-He referred to attendees of Glenn Beck’s political rally as “people who were wearing sheets over their heads 25 years ago.” Not as Halloween costumes, one presumes.

-He ran a political ad featuring audio of his opponent, Daniel Webster, quoting a Bible verse imploring women to submit to their husbands. The problem is that Grayson’s ad left out the part immediately after that where Webster told his audience to reject that advice, and take a more modern approach to marital relations.

-The same ad referred to Webster as “Taliban Dan.” The Taliban is a radical Muslim group that embraces sharia law, shelters terrorists, and throws acid in women’s faces for going to school.

-Grayson ran another ad calling Webster a draft-dodger. Webster received a student deferment, then was declared medically unfit to serve.

And so on. One expects politicians to be dishonest; one does not expect them to be so blatant about it as Grayson is. He was a breath of fresh air compared to the stale stuff pouring from most of his colleagues.

Why I Didn’t Vote This Year

Over at The Daily Caller, I tally up the arguments for and against voting. This year, the minuses outweighed the plusses — at least for me. But different people will come to different conclusions, and that’s fine. Consider this a list of arguments to consider, and an invitation to think for yourself.

I’m rather sick of moralizing do-gooders preaching that voting is your civic duty. “If you forfeit your right to vote, you forfeit your right to complain,” they say. Hogwash. Tell that to blacks before the 15th Amendment and women before the 19th Amendment and see where that gets you.

My main points:

-The mathematics come out against voting. Average turnout in my Congressional district is about 200,000 voters. I have one vote.

-Expressive voting, however, is perfectly legitimate. People place a high value participating in democracy. They value having their say. Exercising their rights. Those are wonderful reasons in favor of taking the time to vote.

-But voting takes time. The time I spend voting is time I can’t spend on activities that have more impact, such as writing articles for publication. I do, after all, make a living expressing my opinions on policy issues.

-To vote or not is a personal decision with no right or wrong answer. Think it through. Do what’s right for you. And don’t look down on people who decide differently than you do.

The Rise of Negative Campaigning?

A lot of people think this year’s election is historically nasty. Then again, people said much the same thing in 2008. And in 2006. And in 2004, 2002… every year, actually.

Pundit hyperbole is nothing new. Neither are attack ads. Negative campaigning is at least as old as the campaign itself. Politics is an inherently nasty business. The pursuit of public office causes people to do and say things they would never dream of if they didn’t have that signature powerlust that separates politicians from decent human beings.

This short video from Reason.tv shows some highlights from the not-so-friendly 1800 presidential race between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. I think the glowing red eyes are my favorite part.

2010’s Record Election Spending Is Surprisingly Small

The Washington Post has a breathless write-up of this year’s midterm election spending:

In the latest sign of this year’s record-breaking election season, an independent research group estimated Wednesday that candidates, parties and outside interest groups together could spend up to $4 billion on the campaign.

$4 billion is a lot of money. The Post’s opinion staff writer thinks that’s frightening. $4 billion, of course, comes to $12.90 per person in a nation of 310 million people. So maybe not.

A bit more context: federal spending costs $11,290.32 per person. Regulation costs another $5,645.16 per person. That’s a total burden of $16,935.48 per person. American democracy is a very expensive form of government with surprisingly inexpensive elections.

Spending $12.90 to influence $3.5 trillion in spending and another $1.75 trillion in regulating seems like too little election spending, not too much. Total election spending is about the same as it was in 2000, when the federal budget was under $2 trillion.

Still, for a midterm, this year’s election spending is historically high. And a lot of people think there is too much money in politics. Fortunately, there is a surefire way for them to fix the problem: get politics out of our money.

Republicans and Democrats alike have made it clear that they have little interest in fundamental economic reform. So maybe the Post is right that they aren’t worth spending $12.90 on.

Unfortunately, as long as the Bush-Obama spending and regulating binge continues, people will be spending a lot more than $12.90 to get a piece of the action.

Voting the Bums Back In

Many people think change is in the air. Voters are angry. And they want to throw the bums out. That’s the dominant narrative this election cycle. But at least during primary season, that narrative is fitting poorly with actual election results. Politico reports:

Six incumbents have lost this season: Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Reps. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) and Parker Griffith (R-Ala.). Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, pointed out in Arena that factoring for those losses translated into a 98.3 percent win rate for incumbents so far in 2010.

That 98.3 percent win rate will drop on Election Day. But probably not by much. Not even if one or both chambers switch parties. In 2008, incumbents running for re-election had a 94.9 percent success rate. In 2006, when Congress changed parties, the re-election rate was still right around 94 percent. The last time re-election rates went as low as 90 percent was in 1992 — nearly two decades ago.

The sad truth is that incumbents are safe. It doesn’t matter that Congress’ approval ratings are in the low teens. Voters just aren’t going to throw out very many bums. Voters may despise Congress as an institution, but most people have positive opinions of their own representative.

That’s why the average tenure in the House is more than 14 years, or seven terms. And most turnover isn’t from losing elections. It’s from retirement or running for other office, or death; for many, politics is literally a lifelong career.

So expect a lot of familiar faces to be sworn in when the 112th Congress convenes in January, even if power changes hands.

Though I will, of course, be very happy if events prove me wrong.

Making a Difference – A Very Small Difference

The House passed a budget enforcement resolution yesterday. It sets 2011’s discretionary spending $7 billion below what President Obama has requested.

Next year’s discretionary spending target is $1.12 trillion for next year. The $7 billion difference represents savings of 0.625 percent. Barely a rounding error. If total spending (including mandatory and defense spending) ends up at $3.5 trillion next year, the savings becomes 0.2 percent.

Of course, 2010 discretionary spending was $1.39 trillion. 2011 spending will very likely end up much closer to that than the targeted $1.12 trillion. The appropriations process is not kind to non-binding resolutions, however well-intentioned. Especially when the resolution “doesn’t detail how Congress should reach that [deficit reduction] goal.”

Congress lacks the will to cut $270 billion of spending. The interests benefitting from that spending will scream bloody murder the second their programs are put on the chopping block. In an election year when incumbents are more fearful than usual, no politician worth his salt wants to cause an uproar.

Congress need not worry too much, though. Even in anti-incumbent years, re-election are almost always above 90 percent. The vast majority of congressional turnover happens through retirement, running for other office, or death.

The pattern is holding this year, so far. The University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato recently pointed out that 5 incumbents have lost their state primary elections this year, while 240 were re-nominated. That’s a 98 percent success rate. There will be a few more casualties, especially in the November general elections.

Most members are safe. They can, and should, rock the boat by cutting unnecessary spending. If anything, the most aggressive cutters might become folk heroes like Chris Christie in New Jersey. They just don’t have the guts.

I will be more than happy if Congress proves me wrong. We’ll find out over the next few months.

Do Incumbents Deserve Reelection?

A stunning 8 percent of Americans believe members of Congress should be reelected, a staggering indictment of the legislative branch as Democrats prepare to defend their majority in the midterm elections.”

Not sure what those 8 percent are thinking. They probably aren’t.

Of course, talk is cheap. The very same people who so loudly disapprove of Congress have re-elected 94 percent of its incumbents the last two election cycles. The last time it was as low as 90 percent was 1992.

People do seem to want change. They just rarely vote for it.

NY Times Endorses Andrew Cuomo for Governor?

The New York Times apparently has a juicy profile on New York Gov. David Paterson in the works. It should run sometime this week. The Hill reports that ‘There has been speculation the piece will contain details about Paterson’s personal life that would result in his resignation.”

Paterson’s rival in the Democratic primaries, Andrew Cuomo, stands to benefit. Resignation or no, Paterson is already unpopular. And Cuomo has $16 million in campaign funds and counting.

Paterson’s resignation would also likely hurt the Republican candidate, Rick Lazio. Political junkies might remember him as the sacrificial lamb in Hillary Clinton’s 2000 senate race. By possibly sparing Mr. Cuomo a bruising Democratic primary, the Times may be assigning Mr. Lazio a similar role in this year’s gubernatorial race.

Sen. Shelby Lifts Holds

Sen. Richard Shelby, who placed holds on over 70 of President Obama’s nominees, has lifted all but three of them. Politico reports:

A spokesman for the senator said Monday that with attention brought to these two concerns, the political maneuver had “accomplished” its goal and was no longer necessary.

Translation: “We were getting too much bad publicity.”

The three holds that Sen. Shelby is keeping in place have directly to do with the Alabama-based pork projects that he believes will make him look good to the Alabama voters he will be facing in November. So, in a way, nothing has changed.

This brings up a legitimate question: can earmarking abuse sometimes be an agent for smaller government?

Few, if any, of President Obama’s appointees will work to decrease the size and scope of government. Now that their path is cleared, they will probably do net harm to taxpayers. This is the nature of government workers, whether Republican or Democratic.

Sen. Shelby’s motive for blocking them is despicable: stealing from taxpayers to improve his re-election prospects. But one wonders if those same taxpayers would have been better off if Sen. Shelby had stuck to his guns.