Elections Make for Bad Governing

6 Mar

I’m going to start this off by saying unequivocally that I am obviously for elections happening, but elections have unintended (or sometimes intended) consequences.  Despite money’s influence in our elections, I think we are lucky to have a country which has regularly scheduled and usually fair elections.  That’s not to say that there aren’t side effects to our elections.

We have had intense gridlock either constant or periodically for the past 20 years.  One of the most divisive issues over that time has been health care reform.  In 1994 it led to the Republicans taking control of Congress and in 2010 it led to the Republicans taking over the House of Representatives.  It has also been a dangerous issue for Republicans.  The Paul Ryan Budget which privatizes Medicare cost Republicans a house seat in New York, and left several of their members running scared.  Governor Rick Scott of Florida recently decided to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act because he is facing a tough re-election.  Health care isn’t the only contentious issue or the only reason our government has had to deal with gridlock.

Elections aren’t just dominated by arguing between the two parties, the arguing has been even more so about in party fighting.  I believe it has dominated the Republican Party more than the Democratic Party.  However, Democrats have had instances with in party fighting.  In 2010, U.S. Senator from Arkansas Blanche Lincoln faced a tough re-election.  Even before the general election, she faced a tough primary challenge from then Lieutenant Gov Bill Halter who was more liberal.  She still won the primary, but it cost the party (and possibly her) vital resources for the 2010 fall campaign.  I have no doubt that the Republican Party has been far more damaged by in party fighting then the Democratic Party.

Both during and since the 2008 election Republicans have gone through an identity crisis.  During the 2008 election most of the Republicans running for president would constantly tell everyone that they were “the” consistent conservative.  During this election, the Tea Party was being born.  Sarah Palin’s selection as McCain’s VP pick energized Conservatives and started a movement which became the Tea Party.  Sarah Palin started going off on her own in the campaign, frustrating some Republicans.  She used ugly rhetoric, calling into question Barack Obama’s patriotism and even suggested that he is a terrorist.  The extreme part of the Republican Party reveled in it.  McCain and Palin may have lost the election, but it propelled Sarah Palin into the leadership of a new movement.

After the 2008 elections the Republicans were lost.  It happens with any party that loses an election.  Instead of moving to the center and choosing moderate candidates in elections, the Republicans chose to move farther to the right.  It may have worked in some races, but I think it has ultimately damaged their party.  I have no doubt that it cost them any chance of winning back the United States Senate in the last two cycles.  In 2010 their nominees for senate in Nevada (Sharron Angle) and Delaware (Christine O’Donnell) cost them very winnable seats.  In 2012 Senate nominees in Missouri (Akin), Indiana (Mourdock), and North Dakota (Berg) cost them seats they easily could have won had they nominated better candidates.  Their quest for a “perfect party” has cost them dearly and will continue to if they don’t learn their mistakes of the past two elections.

Utah is one example of the most conservative candidate succeeding.  In 2010, incumbent senator Bill Bennett was defeated in a primary by Mike Lee.  Mike Lee went on to win the general election.  The reason why he was able to win is because Utah is one of the most conservative states in the union.  This strategy of looking for the ideologically perfect Republican hasn’t and won’t work everywhere.  Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich see that but many in their party don’t.  Richard Lugar lost his senate primary to Richard Mourdock in Indiana.  Lugar was targeted by the Tea Party because he worked with Democrats on several issues including the START treaty.  Lindsay Graham of South Carolina may face a challenge in the Republican primary next year because he has worked with Democrats.

I have always believed (with both parties), that it is a bad idea to always look for the candidate that perfectly fit their party.  The Democrats got the senate back in 2006 because they found a coalition of moderate, conservative, and liberal Democrats.  What incentive does any Republican have to work with Democrats if they are constantly under the threat of a primary challenge?  The main reason that we have had such intense gridlock recently is because many Republicans are afraid to stand up to their party.  It may make for good politics, but it makes for really bad governing.


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