Advancing a Free Society

Another Way to Score the Debt-Ceiling Outcome

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Such is the nature of American politics that, as we consider the debt-ceiling debate’s effect on the health of the republic, we also insist upon winners and losers.

And such is the nature of today’s media that the choice is made pretty much along partisan lines.

Conservatives have crowed that it’s President Obama with the “L” on his forehead – he didn’t get his tax increase; his inability to drive the process underscored his shaky leadership skills.

Not to be outdone, the left would have you believe that it’s Republicans and Tea Partiers who took it on the chin – they only got half of the spending cuts that were originally on the table (if they ever really were); in the short term, defense takes a bigger hit than underclass entitlements.

One has to travel all the way to Germany, of all places, to conclude that the real loser is“the average American on Main Street” in that the sordid affair at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue illustrated the disconnect between the ruling class and the middle class.

I think there’s a better way to score the outcome: it’s called vox populi.

Let’s suppose a congressional special election were held between now and Thanksgiving – and, indeed, there will be such a creature less than six weeks from now.

What would fuel the debate? My guess: borrowing, spending, Washington’s dysfunctional ways. In other words: two areas that favor Republicans, and a third (fixing Washington) that was the cornerstone of the 2008 Obama campaign – now a millstone around the President’s reelect effort.

If you think this isn’t important, consider what two special elections told us about two landmark elections.

On October 16, 2007 – a little less than 13 months before Barack Obama steamrolled his way into the Oval Office – a special election was held to fill the vacancy inMassachusetts’ 5th Congressional District. The winner: Democrat Niki Tsongas (widow of U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas).

Although the Republican candidate lost, the GOP spun it as a “win” for conservatives in that Tsongas received only 51% of the vote (good for only a 6-point win) in a deep-blue district. The snapshot analysis: hardly a ringing endorsement for the Democratic Congress.

As it turned out, that election was a movie trailer for the more cinematic “Obamamania”. Tsongas emphasized healthcare as her top issue, a theme echoed by the Obama campaign; though a Senate incumbent, Obama cleverly turned the anti-Washington dissatisfaction expressed in the 5th CD to his advantage, vowing to mend the rift.

And we can go further back in recent campaign history – to Nov. 5, 1991, and the U.S. Senate special election in Pennsylvania – for another preview of coming presidential attractions.

In that contest, Democrat Harris Wofford was the upset winner, running under the banner of healthcare reform. A weak economy and an increasing unpopular president hampered the Republican candidate and heavy favorite, former Pennsylvania Gov. and Bush 41 Attorney General Dick Thornburg.

It wasn’t long before Bill Clinton picked up Wofford’s message and his message-ministers: James (“It’s the economy, stupid”) Carville and Paul Begala.

A special election will be held in New York’s 9th Congressional District on Sept. 13 – an odd election in that the seat already is a prime target for elimination as New York must eliminate two members from its 2013 delegation per redistricting.

Keep an eye on this contest – not so much for who wins, because they’ll likely have a short stay in Washington – but for how voters react to a choice between “Mediscare” on the left (Democrat David Weprin’s line of attack) and a wrong-minded economic policycoming from the right (Republican Bob Turner’s message).

In other words, the November 2012 election, a year in advance.