Crisis of Legitimacy

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TPM Reader MM says it’s a crisis of legitimacy, a deep doubt in our core political institutions. I’ve tended to flip by the emails that say that all the pols are corrupt and govern by a system of institutionalized bribery and so forth. Not that that’s wrong necessarily. But what’s different about this election cycle. And most of these ‘we just want to throw the bums out’ emails don’t provide a satisfying explanation of why now. MM points to the pervasive after effects of the financial bailouts.

I think “anti-incumbent” is the kind of polite and understated way of putting it and that people on the left and right are legitimately questioning many of our institutions right now. Two years ago “auditing the Federal Reserve” was not a topic for serious people to discuss. Now it’s arguably not even a fringe notion. Whatever you might think of the bailouts I think you have to admit that they were unfair. Certain industries (banking and domestic auto) were favored over others. The government stepped in to help some but not all suffering citizens. I think this woke some people up. They now want to be part of the discussion.

Sadly, the system, or at least the leaders of both parties, are not welcoming these new voices. A progressive challenger emerges against Blanche Lincoln and Obama helps her? What? Meanwhile Republicans are told that voting for Rand Paul is akin to holding some sort of insurgency. I don’t know many politicians at the national level but from the outside it really seems like they expect us in the rabble to play a certain very subservient role. We’re not supposed to be up in their business auditing their Federal Reserve.

I think there’s really a sense that, as AH wrote, the powers that be consider this sudden interest in politics a fad and they hope it passes quickly. Most people are too busy to be much concerned with the political process. I think that’s how our leaders like it. There’s a “shut up and go to work” attitude that comes through quite clearly sometimes.

The Tea Partiers make this into a messy argument – they have to be the only group around that can twist what looks like a grass roots craving for more democracy and accountability into “let’s let the state legislature pick our senator” but I think that ultimately people have realized that our political system has cut them out of the conversation and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking it’s about “special interests” this is completely about large businesses, mostly multinational and our politicians. It’s so sad that the Tear Partiers have been misled about causes – they would otherwise be useful to a genuine democratic uprising.

Meanwhile TPM Reader BV looks to structural explanations — which, at least in a very general sense, I agree with.

It’s not anti-incumbency. It’s a swing in favor of a more responsive, more agile, more networked politics. Incumbents who have shown a propensity for lobbyist-friendly, anti-labor, anti-populist, secretive or mercenery politics are failing.
Specter is an anomaly – his party switch is comparable only to Parker Griffiths in Alabama, who jumped ship after running as a Dem in 2008 and getting frustrated with the House Democratic leadership.

Lincoln v. Halter is unique in that Halter has national-level attention from the netroots, labor groups, and others who feel spurned by Lincoln’s position on sustainable farming, buy-local campaigns, and health reform.

Ultimately, Republicans are hoping for “regression to the mean” and also hope that enough Americans won’t pay attention to their epic political failure and lack of focus on government of, by, and for the people. Rand Paul’s rise in Kentucky is building off the Obama/Scott Brown model, with some huge sums of money being given by private equity managers, shadow groups, etc., but a real and legitimate populist movement as well. Paul, like Halter, has national support from a group of web-based organizers (Tea Party and other quasi-libertarian groups in Paul’s case) who are using anti-incumbency and a call for change (return to democracy as envisioned by the founders, yada yada yada) to rally support.

The biggest wild card here is the ability of organizes to mobilize late in a campaign, surge support late in the race, and take traditional politicans by surprise. Everyone has learned the lessons of Obama versus Clinton in Iowa. Some candidates have the money to pull it off. Others do not. Money creates a level of viability for your political organization, but it cannot create trust, love, or legitimacy.

From a generational perspective, it’s worth noting that the conventional wisdom about young v. old voters no longer holds true with the “tune in turn on drop out” Boomers, who are aging very differently from the “Greatest Generation” of World War II, Depression-era voters.

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