My first reaction to last night’s results with Lieberman, McKinney, and Schwarz all defeated was that there was an anti-incumbency movement at work. But on reconsideration I’ve decided that, as James Joyner notes, the results are more clearly explained by issues specific to each individual campaign than some general movement against incumbents.
The Lieberman primary defeat is without doubt due to Lieberman’s failure to be more partisan and, as such, it’s yet another movement in the direction we’ve seen over the last 30 years. Once upon a time there were right-leaning Democrats and left-leaning Republicans holding higher office but those are becoming increasingly scarce. That tends to leave those, like me, who are less interested in partisanship and ideology without a comfortable home.
Look, I have no specific beef with the unitarian jihad. Most of the time my perspective and theirs overlaps and I really sympathize with the urge to keep apart from the partisan hordes. But why the passive voice? You don’t need a history degree to know that bloodsport politics did not just evolve incrementally by the gentle, gradual forces of nature and chance. As much as anybody two individuals consciously drove our current state of affairs – Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay. Even Tom DeLay initially recoiled from Newt’s nasty approach to politics, not out of any principled objections but because he thought it wouldn’t work. DeLay was wrong, of course, and Newt neither forgot nor forgave.
For a nutshell view of the Newt revolution’s amoral nastiness read through his 1998 memo on language. Rather than acknowledge your opponent’s right to have an opinion, which obliges you to answer, Newt correctly observed that it is a thousand times easier to smear him as sick, demented, pacifist and therefore unfit to have any opinion at all. Viva McCarthy.
Newt largely dismissed bipartisanship but his spiritual successor, Tom DeLay, plainly loathed it. In fact most recognize that Tom DeLay’s most important accomplishment had nothing to do with Democratic adversaries but came from his ability to intimidate moderate/left-leaning Republicans into hiding or primary them out of the party altogether. Refer to the Nick Smith bribery/blackmail scandal for DeLayism in action. This totalitarian approach to party doctrine is plainly anathema to independent-minded moderates like Joe Gandelman but as I pointed out a long time back, it works. The party with discipline usually wins, even if keeping the cats in line takes a very big and slightly illegal stick. Even rightwing commenters on this site acknowledge that Gingrich hit on an ugly but winning formula and as long as the Dems pass on Newt’s memo the GOP comes out ahead.
Nice-guy politics didn’t just wither up and die, someone made it dead. Maybe this is all academic footsie at this point and I’m just being a semantic pedant for arguing the case. Then I recall that Newt still thinks he can be president. Does this matter anymore? Feel free to pass judgment in the comments.