Anti-Washington sentiment takes toll

May 20, 2010


— As we approached the Tuesday night with the most significant senatorial primaries of the year so far, I turned for guidance to a man who had already been through the fires that define the incendiary politics of 2010.

Ten days after he was barred from the ballot in the Utah Republican primary because the 3,500 delegates to the GOP state convention preferred to give more votes to his two challengers, three-term incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett was, as I expected, more analytical than angry, more thoughtful than embittered.

Bennett, 76, who followed his father to Washington and Capitol Hill, is the kind of legislator reporters value, because he can speak thoughtfully and dispassionately about his colleagues’ collective mood without subjecting you to gobs of self-serving rhetoric.

Now, I found him equally reflective of what had caused his fellow Republicans, who had elected him for almost 20 years and frequently told pollsters he was their most popular incumbent, to turn against him.

“I’ll tell you what is new,” he said. “There is this thing called the federal government. It’s big and intimidating and it’s out of control. And whoever you are, and whatever your title, or your history, or your individual voting record, if you are part of it, you find yourself having to defend it. And sometimes, it just looks indefensible to them.”

Two days before activist Republican voters in Utah gathered for the county caucuses that chose the delegates to the state convention, they watched on television as Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi forced an unusual Sunday session of the House of Representatives to push through an amended version of the Obama administration’s health care bill. “It was a Sunday, which is a very special day for me and my fellow Mormons,” Bennett said. “And it was really a display of partisan political muscle.”

“We prepared for the county conventions like we never had before. We had every precinct covered, and we set our turnout quotas at twice the level we had ever seen before. We hit or exceeded our quotas almost everywhere, and we were swamped. People came out of the woodwork to vote against anyone they associated with the federal government.”

In Bennett’s view, his fate was sealed by the county conventions, and nothing that happened thereafter could change it. The efforts against him by out-of-state tea party people and other right-wing organizations simply let them claim credit for something they were late in joining, he said. And the efforts by wildly popular Mitt Romney and other establishment Republicans to save his candidacy were equally futile.

At the fringe, the movement to purge him took on aspects of ideological extremism, Bennett said. “I was asked several times about my position on the 17th Amendment, providing for the direct election of senators,” Bennett said. “They viewed that as the opening effort by Washington to usurp the power that the Constitution had placed in the hand of state legislatures.”

But mainly it was a mainstream reaction against the centralization of power in the capital, a combination of bank bailouts, health care guarantees and all the other ways in which Washington has found reasons — or excuses — to intervene and to spend money it does not have.

That reaction is not confined to Utah. And it may not even be representative of the state. If Bennett had made the primary ballot, he claims he would have won renomination easily.

But we saw the anti-Washington sentiment Tuesday in Kentucky, where the physician son of libertarian Rep. Ron Paul easily defeated Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s handpicked candidate for the Republican nomination for a vacant Senate seat — and credited his win to the tea partiers.

The same sentiment carried to Arkansas, where incumbent Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln was forced into a runoff by her labor-backed challenger.

And it claimed its largest victim of the year so far in Pennsylvania’s Sen. Arlen Specter. Run out of the Republican Party last year by a GOP challenger, he fell embarrassingly to a less-known younger congressman in a bid for the Democratic nomination. His failure showed the Obama White House once again to be a toothless tiger — with its endorsements now having failed in Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. No good news for the president there.

— David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. davidbroder@washpost.com


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 6 months ago

The anger isn't against Washington, but rather the rampant corruption there.

For Glenn Greenwald's take--


An excerpt--

"I'm not particularly optimistic about this possibility. The reality is that the American Right is still the movement of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and Sarah Palin, really no different -- despite its "tea party" re-branding -- than what spawned the Bush/Cheney extremism of the last decade. And even Rand Paul, who some are trying to depict as a crusading civil libertarian and anti-war advocate, ran on a platform (as Scott Brown did) of opposing the closing of Guantanamo, the use of civilian trials for accused Terrorists, and the granting of visas to people from numerous Muslim countries. Many of the key ignorant and primitive orthodoxies of modern conservatism are as strong as ever. Other than some (extremely hypocritical and opportunistic) war questioning and some anger over the growing corporate-Government overlap, I have a very hard time looking at the American Right and finding much cause for optimism about any of what's taking place over there.

Still, it's hard not to be encouraged by the disgust which the citizenry clearly has for the political establishment regardless of party, as well as the resulting (and increasing) fear and confusion on the part of the political class. This sort of citizenry anger can re-arrange political alignments and explode political orthodoxies in fundamental and unpredictable ways. There is, to be sure, a risk in that, but there is a far greater risk in simply allowing the destructive political status quo to linger in unchanged form for much longer."

cato_the_elder 7 years, 6 months ago

Broder is undoubtedly aware of, but carefully chooses not even to mention, one thing of which Utah voters were acutely aware and said so: Bennett was the fourth leading recipient of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac money from 1989-2008, behind three Democrats - one of whom was Barack Obama, who was the second leading recipient of Fannie and Freddie money during that period despite having served only one partial term in the U.S. Senate from 2005-08.

Paul R Getto 7 years, 6 months ago

I will be interesting to see how the summer and early fall goes. Clearly the Tea Party types have tapped a rich vein, which stretches back for decades, if not centuries. How this pans out for the major parties remains to be seen. I still recommend the Teabaggers form the American Taliban Party, release the Republicans from their clutches and take their chances as a third party. Now that would be interesting. Ron Paul does not have an unlmited supply of sons, and in the PA race where a D and R actually faced off, the Democratic candidate won. In any event, it should be a long, hot summer.

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