In 2010, anti-Obama rage manifesting itself in the mid-term elections, with beleaguered health care reform set up as bete noire, delivered a message which eerily suggested that an overall American appetite for extremism was very much alive in the country. Tea Party successes in Congressional races, spectacularly so in the House, gave heart to those of the view that “our way or the highway” was okay, that political minds meeting somewhere in the middle was at all costs something to avoid. It is encouraging, even as we await the people’s verdict come November, that signs point to perhaps a bit of a pullback from that undesirable place.
The calculus of right-side elements was that 2010 perfectly positioned this year’s election as an unmistakable affirmation of a Tea Party-friendly shift in public sentiment. Even through some primary contests earlier this year on the Republican side, there was evidence of the Tea Party force coming on strong (the Tea Party element’s hijacking of the GOP being almost, if not already, a fait accompli). The opened floodgates on campaign financing, courtesy the high court, only seemed to make the playing field more advantageous for this renegade action. A banner example of this was in Indiana, where six-term Republican incumbent in the Senate, Richard Lugar, dared to signal a willingness to compromise with the other side or to vote for Supreme Court nominees put up by the president, or to support other administration measures. For this, Lugar was deemed Tea Party prey and was bested in the primary by the Tea Party‘s guy. Polls are indicating Republicans may very well lose this seat held by Lugar for decades. If they do, it would be as classic a tale of poetic justice as one could conjure.
Then there’s the infamous Todd Akin, another Tea Party stalwart, trying to unseat Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill in Missouri. Supposedly this was going to be a near-impossible seat for McCaskill to retain. That equation was substantially changed with Akin’s celebrated hoof-in-mouth episode about “legitimate” rape and the female body’s ability to naturally prevent pregnancy – a pathetic, incredulous attempt at rationalization for his uncompromising stand against abortion under any circumstances. Akin, having stubbornly refused to quit the race after such an outrage drew fire from fellow Republicans, has seen the party machinery eventually resume its support for the most part after, with time, he began to make the race more competitive. But this Missouri Senate seat is one Republicans figured to be winning – a forecast that, again, may wind up upended.
That as an elected representative of the people one gets marked for political extinction for doing the right thing – trying wherever possible to find consensus among legislative decision makers – is searing commentary on what plagues the political landscape. Sadly, the movers and shakers responsible for shaping public service by elected officials into a no-holds-barred blood sport seem not the least bothered that people are the ultimate victims. It becomes obvious that it’s a step in the right direction whenever those wedded to ideological rigidity or any other harbinger of governmental paralysis are kept at bay.
In the northeast, there are Senate seats up for grabs that don’t necessarily underscore the hard-right ideological fervor but could possibly be scrambling those Republican prognostication numbers. Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts is viewed as something of a moderate, but in that contest the heart of the matter is hardly Brown’s philosophical bent. There’s something almost sacrilegious about the late Ted Kennedy’s seat having been originally contested by a Democrat who was evidently a choice that didn’t quite measure up. In Elizabeth Warren, Democrats seem to have the kind of challenger to Brown who would likely gain an immediate assent from that Senate Seat’s legendary occupant.
In Maine, Olympia Snowe, one of that shrinking circle of Republican moderates in the Senate, apparently decided she had had enough of the hard-line mentality that had become Capitol Hill ritual. Her decision to retire has opened the way for her seat to be filled, as is widely expected, by an Independent who would caucus with Democrats. It’s left to be seen whether in Connecticut, retiring former Democrat-turned-Independent Senator Joe Lieberman’s Senate seat will be taken over by an obviously determined, one might even say obsessed, Republican. Linda McMahon, who reportedly made bushels of money in wrestling promotion, is making yet another attempt to spend her way into the Senate – a perfect poster girl for what’s wrong with the electioneering process. Some of McMahon’s campaign advertising seems straight out of the Romney Ryan playbook, which gives pause as to whether her election would be a boost for gridlock, rather than a voice against it. But Connecticut has rejected her moneybags campaign before and could do so again.
Some of us are firmly of the persuasion that when called upon to make a declarative statement for the good of the Republic, the electorate invariably does the responsible thing. In the midst of some folks in high places unabashedly advocating regressive practices and policies of yesteryear; in the midst of the Supreme Court’s awful Citizens United decision that looked to derail any chance of a level playing field; in the midst of strident voices for whom a government gripped by stasis is nothing to squawk about; in the midst of all that come the people in 2012, hopefully aspiring to a loftier place.