Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sitting Ducks?

It’s open season on incumbency. In a number of widely anticipated elections, the grassroots dealt a serious blow to the establishment. First, Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) joined Republican Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) as the latest senator to lose a primary battle. Specter, a five-term, thirty-year veteran, was defeated by Joe Sestak, despite (or maybe due to) being endorsed by President Obama. Likewise, Rand Paul won the Republican nomination for Senate in Kentucky. Paul, the son of Ron Paul and self-avowed Tea Partier, beat Trey Grayson, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) hand-selected candidate. Finally, Blanche Lincoln, the incumbent Democrat from Arkansas, was forced into a runoff election.

These three elections, coupled with Bennett’s recent primary loss in Utah and Scott Brown’s senatorial win in Massachusetts, show the growing power of the anti-establishment movements in the U.S. Americans, on both the left and right, are largely fed up with the status quo and looking to replace everyone and anyone that is ‘part of the machine.’

Critics of this argument may point to the closely watched special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District as a counterpoint. The anti-incumbent storyline was supposed to award PA-12 to Republican Tim Burns. Burns was challenged by Democrat Mark Critz to fill the seat held for decades by the late Democrat Congressman John Murtha. Critz, a former aide to Murtha, was the epitome of the establishment. Simultaneously, the district met every characteristic of one that the GOP needs to win in order to take back Congress. Despite this, Critz managed to beat Burns.

However, while Critz won, the manner in which he ran his campaign only furthers the anti-establishment narrative. As Politico writes, “In districts like Critz’s… the lesson appeared to be that Democrats would be better off keeping their national leaders away—or perhaps only bringing in select figures who can still appeal to centrists, such as former President Bill Clinton, who appeared in Johnstown on Sunday with Critz and Murtha’s widow.” Critz not only is a pro-gun, anti-abortion Democrat, but opposed healthcare and fought off attempts to be linked to Pelosi and the administration.

All of this together is stark proof of the new political toxicity of incumbency and the Obama administration. While incumbent status used to offer politicians benefits, it now only seems to offer pains. There are a few lessons to be learned from this new pattern.

First, the Obama administration has squandered the overwhelming popular support that swept it into office less than two years ago. Not only did the Democrats misread the election results as a mandate to push forward a liberal agenda, but they so severely overstepped that they fomented widespread anger. As a result, Obama’s popularity has plummeted to 49% and the ‘national consensus’ behind the Democrats has been squandered. For many Americans, the Democrats have gone from the outsiders who could fix Washington, to the very essence of political hacks.

Second, yesterday’s elections profoundly display the political impotence of the administration. Obama had campaigned vigorously for the Democratic candidates in the Virginia and New Jersey governor races, only to see them won by the GOP. Likewise, the administration allowed Martha Coakley to lose Ted Kennedy’s senate seat in Massachusetts to Republican Scott Brown. After these fiascos, the administration pushed Joe Sestak not to challenge Arlen Specter (Obama was presumably too embarrassed to even stump for Specter in the primaries). Sestak not only did not listen, but defeated the administration’s pick. The administration has shown itself to not just be unable to keep its party members in-line, but as a political liability to those campaigning under the Democratic standard.

Third, while the pattern of anti-incumbency is targeted at both Republicans and Democrats, it will in the short-run work towards the Republican advantage. This is simply due to the fact that the GOP is in opposition. Democrats are in power and will thus be deemed more responsible at the polls. Republicans who portray themselves as outsiders that are committed to the people and are not part of the establishment will benefit immensely come November.

Finally, all candidates should be wary about appearing to be detached from their constituents. Voters seem to want representation that is based on direct responsibility to the individual rather than an elitist and paternal Washington. Populist movements loathe the exclusive and condescending attitude of many of Washington’s finest. While their emotionalism may often override their common sense, politicians – particularly the moderates – must be aware of these sentiments if they want to maintain their positions and prevent America from divisive polarization.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Think Before Protesting

The controversy surrounding the recently passed immigration bill in Arizona is quickly becoming an exercise in protest for no sake other than to protest. The bill, although imperfect, sets out to accomplish a worthy and necessary goal. And in contrast to many criticisms, it has very little downside.

One of the primary aims of the bill is to allow the state of Arizona to enforce federal immigration laws that are not being adequately handled by federal forces. It now makes the federal crime of being in the country illegally a state crime. The law, which has in practice already been implemented in some parts of Arizona, allows local authorities to manage the large numbers of illegal immigrants that are in the state. While, according to Gallup Polls, 51% of those who have heard of the law, support it, its passage has sparked widespread, albeit misguided, controversy.

The major criticism is that the bill opens the doors for racial profiling. Obviously, it would be intolerable to establish a “police state” where the authorities could stop anyone, at any time, to ask for identification. If such a bill was passed (if it even could be passed) it would be a serious breach of individual liberty and a gross power grab by the state.

However, that is not the case in Arizona. The fears, fanned by media sensationalism, of a Nazi-esque state are ill-founded. If one takes a brief peak at the legislation it is plainly obvious that the language precisely prohibits such heinous behavior. The bill states,
A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not solely consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements…
This was further affirmed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, “We must enforce the law evenly, and without regard to skin color, accent or social status.”

It further emphasizes that law enforcement officials are only to act under “reasonable suspicion.” In other words, the police are only able to check for immigration status when some action, other than race, leads them to believe that a person is an illegal immigrant.

The fact of the matter is that despite critics’ attempts to ignore or dismiss this protective language, their inclusion is evidence of an important safeguard against the main fear backing the opposition to the new law. Furthermore, those who choose to dismiss the language fail to realize that this type of protection already, and successfully, exists in regards to a whole slew of current laws. There is, generally, no wanton abuse of police power – and when there is the courts deal with them in an appropriate fashion. As John Lott points out,
Police today already have to deal with the “reasonable suspicion” standard all the time in other areas of law enforcement, and most understand very well how this standard limits what they can do. Police know that they can't pull over drivers for fear that they are smuggling drugs just because they are black.
Being vigilant to prevent abuse of power and arbitrary racial profiling is essential, but that does not negate the underlying correctness of the law. Ultimately, the presence of illegal individuals within the United States cannot be tolerated. It undermines the sovereignty and security of the nation and introduces a whole host of logistical and economic problems.

However, the Arizona bill only goes halfway. As a state bill, it has no power to reform the immigration system, which is badly needed. Strict enforcement of immigration policy – a zero tolerance for illegal presence in the United States – must go hand-in-hand with increased ease for immigrants, whether permanent or temporary, to legally be in the country.

The federal government should seize the opportunity to establish a working immigration system that gives individuals the incentive to utilize legal avenues to sharing the bounty that is America. It is mutually beneficial to have a vast supply of legal immigrants. The nativism and xenophobia that opposes real reform is unfortunate, misguided, and detrimental (and probably smaller than many on the Left believe). It must not be allowed to be a force to hinder real reform; either by the Left to mis-portray the vast majority of the Right, or for the isolated xenophobes on the Right to hijack the agenda.