Sinclair, the progressive thinker most famous for authoring The Jungle, once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.”
What we’re hearing from three members of Congress who have fallen out of step with their party’s politics is something quite opposite: It’s difficult to keep a politician from speaking out when he’s lost his seat and has nothing left to gain from his party.
Our first victim is Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah. In May, he was tossed by Utah Republicans upset over his support of the fall 2008 bank bailout. Mind you over three terms Bennett earned an 83.6 rating from the American Conservative Union, a respectable standard for judging conservative ideology.
Following his loss, the senator said, “As I look out at the political landscape now, I find plenty of slogans on the Republican side, but not very many ideas.”
He added, “The concern I have is that ideology and a demand for absolute party purity endangers our ability to govern once we get into office.”
Bob Inglis, a Republican three-term House of Representatives member from South Carolina, was next. Inglis ran afoul of the Tea Party for not endorsing its claims that Barack Obama is a “communist Marxist who wants to destroy the American economy so he can take over as dictator,” Inglis told Mother Jones magazine.
After getting trounced in a June primary runoff, Inglis issued a warning to his party. “It’s a dangerous strategy to build conservatism on information and policies that are not credible,” he said.
The third example comes from Artur Davis, the Alabama congressman who lost to Ron Sparks in June’s Democratic primary for governor. In an interview with the Birmingham News published last week, Davis was unblinking in his assessment of the state Democratic Party. He’s washing his hands of it until “there has been fundamental change in leadership and direction of the Democratic Party in Alabama.”
That was last Sunday. Then came Monday’s indictment of several state senators and others on charges of attempted vote-buying. “The Alabama Democratic Party’s response to yesterday’s indictments is to say the least, embarrassing,” Davis said, in a press release. “Instead of denouncing the overwhelming evidence of corruption, they have denounced the nonpartisan Department of Justice employees who uncovered wrongdoing.”
The nation is practically swimming in anger. Americans who have seen their earning power shrink over the past three decades are now pinned down by a listless economy and frustrated by a political system more concerned with campaigning than governing. The powerful drive for change that vaulted Obama into the White House wasn’t as instant as many supporters wished it to be, and many have tuned out.
The response of many Republicans has been a lurch to the extreme, the angry and fearful rhetoric Inglis described. And so it is that voters have exchanged conservatives like Inglis and Bennett for politicians whose ideology will likely harm the best interests of their constituents and their party.
The response by many Democrats has been something like, The economy is lousy, but those other guys are crazy. Or in Davis’ case, the state Democrats leaned on tried-and-true populism (gambling) and ignored the third-way politics of Davis, who by his own admission was also hurt by a poorly run campaign.
Neither tactic does much to show the way to a brighter future.
As appealing as the throw-the-bums out populism might feel, something tells me politicians like Bennett, Inglis and Davis might be on to something about how both parties are campaigning down to the lowest expectations of the voters.
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at (256) 235-3540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis.