Historically, the American public — confident, independent, and undemanding — has not expected much out of Washington. Live your silver lives of limousines, private jets, power, and celebrity; just do no permanent damage to the nation.
But in the last two years our Babylon on the Potomac — with its irrational and unconscionable saddling of our grandchildren with multitrillion-dollar debt (and its bizarre foreign policy of loathing our friends and ourselves, and loving our enemies) — has vexed the public into a state of deep fear and anguish.
However, Americans don't stay scared long — we quickly convert fear to anger and anger to action. And so, now, two years of national panic and fear are being returned to sender in Washington. Now it is the ruling elite who find their daytime thoughts fretful and their nighttime sleep fitful. Welcome to the troubled mind of Washington in Spring 2010.
Democrats look fearfully westward across the Potomac River, wondering how harsh will be the people's judgment against them for their disgraceful behavior.
Republicans look fearfully inward, wondering whether our own inadequate performance in the preceding decade entitles us to the public trust. (The answers are: To the Democrats: very harsh; and to the Republicans: no we are not entitled to the trust.)
These justified moods of Democratic Party fear of public wrath and Republican Party indulgence in self-loathing caused a particularly silly reaction to last week's elections in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Kentucky.
The 8 percent victory edge of the late John Murtha's staffer in Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district drove the Democrats manically to the conclusion that they are almost home and dry in the November elections. While that same election depressed the GOP into thinking that they are unworthy and have blown a sure, dominating victory in November.
Likewise, Democrats are thrilled that the philosophically eccentric Rand Paul's win in Kentucky means the public will turn against strange outsiders in November. And Republicans worry that if tea party-supported candidates don't behave like good little housebroken Washington Republicans — all is lost.
In both cases: Nonsense. Of the Kentucky vote, more in future columns. In the Pennsylvania 12th election: It was across the board anomalous. It was only classified as a swing district because it is blue collar, went for John Kerry in 2004 and McCain in 2008. But this is the district, John Murtha's own, that he degradingly called racist. Thus, perhaps the McCain vote in 2008 makes sense.
After all, this 2-1 Democratic district voted for Al Gore over George Bush by a staggering 55 percent-44 percent in the 50-50 presidential race of 2001. The anomaly was McCain/Obama.
And, as the beneficiary of more pork and earmarks than almost any district in the country, it doubtlessly was more likely to vote for continuity — especially as the Democratic candidate was a top Murtha staffer who dispensed much of the pork, but nonetheless said he opposed the entire unpopular Democratic/Obama agenda of the last two years.
Also, Democratic turnout was very high because loyal Democratic Party voters came out in droves to punish the top-of-the-ticket turncoat Snarlin' Arlen Specter — thus reversing the intensity factor nationwide which is anti-Democrat.
For the Washington Republicans to fall to pieces over this result shows just how fragile is the Washington GOP self-esteem.
The fundamental fact of the 2010 election is that the public intends to signal with its votes as strongly as it can that Washington must reverse direction across the board. The Washington GOP, rickety and unworthy as it may be, is likely to be the beneficiary of this public wrath. Its day of judgment will come in 2012 if, given the power, it bungles and betrays again.
While Washington may be nerve-wracked, there is a lot of positive energy around the country, and many able, conservative candidates ready to charge into the general election. Consider California's 11th district.
This is a Republican leaning district (Cook Partisan Voting index of plus-3; median income $61,000, strongly anti-tax) held by the conservative Richard Pombo for many years, before his defeat in 2006. The tea party is active in the district.
It is the most competitive California district, currently held by Democrat Jerry McNerney, a down-the-line Democrat who supported Speaker Pelosi's legislative position 97 percent, including voting for healthcare, cap and trade, and stimulus.
The likely Republican candidate coming out of the June primary is David Harmer, who combines the strong support of established Republican conservatives such as Ed Meese, John Herrington (former California Republican Party Chairman and Reagan Cabinet Official), and Mitt Romney, with enthusiastic support from the tea party. This is the irresistible electoral combination that has Democrats up at 2 a.m. drinking more than they should. But I don't blame them.
Harmer was the featured speaker in an April 15 tea party event attended by over 10,000 activists. For those Democrats who hope to negatively caricature tea party candidates this fall, Harmer will be a difficult target.
Harmer is a very smart, principled conservative who — along with a successful career in the private sector — has pulled off the trifecta of working as a constitutional scholar at both the Heritage and Cato think tanks, along with doing pro bono litigation for the conservative Pacific Legal Foundations.
I interviewed Harmer last week. And although very genial, he obviously has a powerful mind and a deep commitment to the fundamental values that are driving the public reaction to Washington's terrible recent excesses. I hope C-SPAN covers the Cal 11 candidate debate this fall. It should be fun to watch.
With Harmer on the ticket, I would bet considerably more than a steak dinner that election night will have California at least plus one for the GOP. In future columns — in the interest of reducing Washington GOP hand-wringing — I will point out other winning, principled conservative candidates.
Tony Blankley is executive vice president of Edelman public relations in Washington. E-mail him at TonyBlankley@gmail.com.
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