If This Is Going to be A Republican Year Why Do Democrats Keep Winning?

Here’s some friendly advice for those who can’t resist trying to predict the political future by reading political tea leaves: this year use more than one cup.

If, from the scent of Scott Brown’s win in Massachusetts, you whiffed a November Republican landslide, check out the cups served the other day in Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

The news from Kentucky in most press accounts was the rise of Rand Paul as a Tea Party candidate. Most of those same stories neglected to mention that Paul was only the third highest vote getter in that U.S. Senate race. Both Democrats running for the Senate won more votes than Paul. In fact, 60% of those who voted in the Kentucky primary voted for Democrats.

What do those tea leaves tell you? That come November Rand and the Tea Party will sweep Kentucky? Sniff again.

Then there were the results from Pennsylvania’s special congressional election to replace the late Rep. John Murtha. Murtha was a Democrat, true enough. But his district was anything but reliably Democratic. In fact, while Barack Obama was winning what amounted to a presidential landslide victory in 2008, Murtha’s district was voting for John McCain.

Encouraged by the district’s Republican leanings, and by their own rhetoric promising a Republican victory march come November, the GOP poured millions into the race to replace Murtha. But the Democratic candidate won, and won with a surprising margin approaching 10%.

Let’s put that Democratic victory in context. During the 2009-2010 cycle there have been 7 special elections to fill vacant congressional seats. The Democrats so far have won them all. That’s right. So far the score is 7-0 in the Democrats’ favor.

So there’s a reasonable chance that the tea leaves that fell into place after Massachusetts, portending a Republican November sweep were merely a mutant variety.

The correct cup may have been the one poured a few weeks earlier in upstate New York, in a district the Democrats had not won for 100 or more years. There, last November, Democrat Bill Owens was elected after Tea Party types took over the Republican party and nominated someone so right wing the local Republican majority couldn’t support him.

It’s not all that apparent from media coverage, but there are a lot of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who don’t think the U.S. should abolish the U.S. Department of Education, or withdraw from the UN Treaty on the Rights of the Child, or should go back to the “Austrian School of Economics” which counsels that the free market is more or less a perfect regulator and doesn’t need much, if any, government regulation.

All of the above, and a lot more, is now the Republican party platform in Maine, a document written after Tea Party delegates hijacked the Maine GOP at the party’s convention a few weeks ago. Maine’s Republican candidates will run this year either buying into this extreme platform, or straddling support or outright rejecting it. Any of these options are certain to lose them support either from moderates or the party’s right wingers.

You see the effects of this right wing pressure in Washington, DC today where Republicans in the Senate and House are flirting dangerously with arm-lock opposition to banking reform, opposition that could well translate into the wrong side of the political argument come the November elections.

You will certainly see right wing pressure keep Republicans in Congress from doing anything reasonable and sensible about immigration—ensuring that the nation’s Hispanic voters will drift even further away from them this year and for years to come.

I’m not dismissing the level of anger voters are expressing in polls, public forums and elections. Voters are angry, and should be.

The cozy relationship between those with economic and political power has given us disastrous and costly policies over the past few decades. The failure to adequately monitor BP, a notorious serial polluter and safety scofflaw and its activities in the Gulf, is just the latest calamity.

Add that to the incomprehensible behavior of those who have run and regulated banking, financing, housing policy, mortgage companies and their accounting and legal enablers over the past decade. Stir in our hugely expensive misadventure in Iraq. And let’s not overlook international trade policy that has cost the U.S. millions of high paying jobs and communities their tax revenue while those who shipped themselves off to China or elsewhere prospered and skipped paying U.S. taxes on that prosperity.

Angry? Why shouldn’t we be angry? This is an anger that crosses party lines and crosses the demographic spectrum.

In a democratic society it’s the obligation of the people—the voters—to do something about it. To let their representatives know they are not happy with the state of affairs and demand change. And I expect that come November, and before in many state primaries, voters will.

But does that mean voters will opt for new leaders like Rand Paul, who advocates giving those in business and finance who took down capitalism even fewer restraints? It could happen.

But not if the Democrats stiffen their backbones, break old cozy alliances with Wall Street and other narrow interests and fit themselves into a much bolder leadership role on behalf of all those angry people out there.

How will all of this turn out? So far the tea leaves aren’t much help. Like the water in the Gulf of Mexico these days, what we see at the bottom of the cup is, at best, murky.

(Joe Rothstein can be contacted at joe@einnews.com)

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