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May 10, 2010

Up is Down, and Down is Up

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Musing about traditional party politics is becoming a habit. The tidbits are just too juicy to ignore, especially for the political junkies of the world.


The world’s most exclusive political club, the United State Senate, is on the verge of an electoral sea change. A tide of discontent unlike any in modern times seems poised to flush the good old boys and girls out on their fannies.


Wise incumbents read the tea leaves (pun intended) and facilitated their own departures. Indiana’s Evan Bayh, a popular Democrat, bailed out early, citing the poisonous and destructive effect of partisanship. Sound familiar?


Bryon Dorgan (D., ND), one of the stalwarts of the Democrat caucus, tossed in his towel early. He tired of the grind, you know, that four-and-a-half month long work year, flush with perks and bennies most people would die for.


Christopher Dodd (D., CT), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, also took the early train out of town. A springtime retirement announcement seemed much preferable to a bad electoral outcome in November.


Republicans are in much the same shape on the incumbent retirement front, taken on its face. The growing roster of soon-to-be out-to-pasture Republican senators is a Who’s Who of the last three decades.


Jim Bunning of Kentucky, George Voinovich of Ohio, Kit Bond of Missouri, Mel Martinez of Florida, and Sam Brownback of Kansas have already cleared the path for challengers to start raising money.


There is one unmistakable component to all of these early retirements. Each one of these senators faced an uphill re-election battle, either from within their own party or from the growing incumbent unrest boiling across the country.


Some incumbent senators are either too narrow-minded – or blinded by incumbency – to see the jeopardy evident to anyone else. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., NV) leads the pack of power-blind incumbents stumbling head-long into a potential electoral embarrassment. He is trailing both Democrat AND Republican challengers in his home state.


Two influential Republicans, Bob Bennett of Utah and Charles Grassley of Iowa, are fighting for their political lives. Both were supporters of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which in this environment is like saying you support the extermination of every first born male child. [Senator Bennett was ousted from the Republican primary in Utah on Saturday.]


Party-switchers don’t appear to be faring any better. Arlen Spector (D., PA), a former Republican, held a narrow lead over Rep. Joe Sestak (D., PA 7th). Congressman Sestak, a retired Navy Admiral, knocked off a long-term incumbent, Curt Weldon, several years ago. Mr. Sestak has been steadily gaining on Mr. Spector in state polls. It’s now a dead-heat, with Congressman Sestak having all the momentum. Best case scenario: Mr. Sestak continues to beat Senator Spector up over loyalty to party, wins the primary, then loses to conservative GOP candidate Pat Toomey in November.


The magic number for the GOP to take control of the Senate is narrowing and becoming a real possibility in our new political reality. A year ago, certainly prior to the health reform debate, this seemed an unlikely outcome.


The House of Representatives has a number of similarly interesting stories, although the likelihood of a GOP takeover is far less certain.


The great unknown falls to the hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of voices that make up the movement commonly referred to as the TEA Party. Or, in the Obama/MSNBC vernacular, “those people.”


“Those people” are disenfranchised, disaffected, and angry. To them, Capitol Hill is a seething cesspool of valueless money-grabbers, who have lost any sense of responsibility for stewardship. They have replaced their oath with cash, and the heartfelt promises made to voters with back-slapping handshakes with high paid lobbyists.


Term limits always seemed like the easy way out, having the Constitution dictate the removal of a skunk, charlatan, or snake instead of an informed electorate. In light of quality of our federal representation, and the difficulty in removing incumbents once elected, term limits now seem to be a logical answer.


Here’s a syllogism for you: The U.S. Congress is pure evil. Pure evil must be excised at all costs. Term limits are the best way to get rid of longtime incumbents. Hence, we need term limits.


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