Monday, November 18, 2013

A wave no one can ride? How does that work?

The 2010 election cycle was a watershed moment in American politics. There's no way around this reality. Whether one is pro-Tea Party, ambivalent about the movement, or virulently opposed to it, the consequences of it were felt throughout the nation, as candidates who openly voiced support for the movement--and sometimes accounted themselves members of it--had a profound effect on the elections, at Federal, state, and local levels. Tea Party candidates won seats in the House, the Senate, state houses, and city councils throughout the land. A number of governorships also went to pro-Tea Party candidates, most notably Nikki Haley in South Carolina.

While Tea Party influence can be said to have waned in the 2012 election cycle, many Tea Party-affiliated office-holders were re-elected and some new ones were still victorious, like Senator Ted Cruz in Texas. Despite various  attempts to proclaim the movement dead, it remains a significant force in politics. This reality is borne out in polls assessing how the movement is viewed. As is apparent from the trends in the Pew data, the Tea Party Movement has grown in significance. In 2010, 42% of those polled had no opinion/had never heard of the movement. Now, that number has been cut in half. True enough, there are more people with an unfavorable view of the movement than previously, but still nearly a third of those polled are pro-Tea Party. That's a substantial block of voters, one that must be reckoned with, especially with regard to specific regions where such support is heavily concentrated.

Still, 2010 was the big moment, the wave that swept Tea Party candidates into power. And make no mistake, despite the obvious infighting in the Republican Party brought on by Tea Party successes, those on the other side of the aisle very much want--and are seeking--something to counter the influence of the Tea Party Movement. For a time, there was hope in liberal/progressive land that the Occupy Movement--brought on by Occupy Wall Street--might fill this void on the Left, might represent a counter to the Tea Party Movement that could be exploited by the Democratic Party. But things didn't turn out that way. Despite the attempts by various progressive pundits and activists to turn the Occupy Movement into an electoral force, it's impact on the 2012 elections was negligible, at best. The only real "Occupy candidate" to succeed in the voting booths was faux-Indian Elizabeth Warren. Many other politicians gave lip service to the movement, no doubt, but have never really advanced the pseudo-goals of the Occupy Movement.

With the 2014 election cycle now on the horizon, the question is whether or not the Tea Party Movement will have a significant impact, whether or not it is more or less played out. Remember, the movement is a general one, not linked directly to an all-encompassing platform, but based on some simple standards like having fiscally responsible governments, controlling debt, and not using tax increases as a means of funding unwanted/unnecessary government initiatives. The continuing decline of the President's approval numbers and of the popularity of Obamacare, along with various scandals involving the White House (like Benghazi and the IRS) suggest that the movement may still pack a bit of a punch, may still have a significant impact on the upcoming elections. But we will not know for certain until the elections are upon us.

On the other side of the coin, standing in diametric opposition to the Tea Party Movement, are its most vocal critics: the progressives in the Democratic Party. Just as the Tea Party has carved out a niche for itself in the Republican Party, the progressive movement has done the same in the Democratic Party, though it has managed to be much less divisive for a number of reasons. As of today, the Progressive Caucus has some seventy-one members in Congress, seventy Representatives and one Senator. While this is a large and powerful caucus, it has grown over time, slowly, and obviously has little electoral significance in most of the nation, as over one-third (26) of its membership comes from New York City (8), coastal California (12), and Massachusetts (4), the havens of progressivism in the United States.

But as noted above, progressives had hoped for a wave of sorts in 2012--from the Occupy Movement--that might sweep many more of their ilk into office. That wave never happened. But fear not! When things don't go your way, when a hoped-for event never materializes, you can always manufacture a similar event! Witness this piece by the editors of The Nation, entitled "The Progressive Electoral Wave of 2013," with the subheading "The big story this November is a cross-country rejection of austerity and inequality and support for social justice."

Wait, what? There was an "electoral wave" in the recent minor election cycle, one that swept across the entire country? I must have missed it, probably because I was too busy looking at the actual results from the various elections this year. To be sure, Bill de Blasio's landslide victory in New York City was a significant one for progressives. But come on, it's New York City! It's home base, for all intents and purposes. What else you got?

The article notes another victory by a progressive in NYC (running as a member of the Working Families Party), a victory by one in the Boston mayor's race, and by one in the Minneapolis mayor's race, along with a win for a progressive for a city council seat in Seattle.

That's it? Five victories represent an "electoral wave," with over half in progressive strongholds and all in large cities? The article is of course silent on Christie's landslide victory in New Jersey and on McAuliffe's win in Virginia (he's a Democrat, but he's no progressive). It also makes no mention of the many other mayoral elections throughout the nation, like the one in Atlantic City, where Republican challenger Don Guardian ousted Dem incumbent Lorenzo Langford in what is widely regarded as a huge upset. Or the one in Albuquerque where Republican incumbent Richard Berry--Albuquerque's first Republican mayor in thirty years--easily defeated the Democratic challenger, Pete Dinelli, who was supported by progressives in the region. I could go on, but you get the point. The "progressive wave" cited by the editors of The Nation is non-existent, a figment of their very lively imaginations.

The piece concludes with the following:
If there’s one lesson from the 2013 elections that ought to instruct candidates preparing for 2014, it is this: “Another politics is possible.” It’s bolder. It’s more progressive. And it’s happening.
Yeah, okay. It's happening. It's huge. It's a regular tsunami. Scary.

Cheers, all.

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