Thursday, August 10, 2006

On finding things new

There's a quite sweet example of this in response to the defeat of Senator Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary election in CiF:
"[M]any incumbents who blindly supported George Bush will find their careers in peril come November. But there is another, far more important implication to Tuesday's results. The rules have changed. The power center of American politics is shifting back towards the people.

How it is fueled - by technology, by candidates like Ned Lamont, by a growing community of citizenship, or by a combination of all of these - does not matter. The rise in people-powered politics, which began in the 2004 presidential campaign, continues to gather steam.

It is something that endorsements and money cannot control, and if that makes incumbents who count on such things uncomfortable - good. Democracy and the nation will be better for it. May the people win." [Emphasis mine]
It's an epoch-making event, a grassroots cyber revolution making all things new. Which it isn't, of course. For the Democrats, as Oliver Kamm has pointed out, it's a traditional default position they fall into from time to time whenever they forget that elections are never won when political parties make the mistake of thinking that the electorate is as animated by partisan oppositionism as they are.

More generally, it is rather naive to assume that being the incumbent is something that always confers an advantage. It ignores, as someone pointed out in the comments below the piece, the long tradition of populist campaigns in American political history. But more generally it ignores the way the mythos of American democracy has been woven into the political culture. Christopher Hitchens coined the term "plebian elitism" to describe the way in which Congressional and Presidential candidates adopt the mantle of the Ordinary Joe, the outsider uncorrupted by the money and patronage of the Washington establishment - almost without regard to how wealthy and blue-blooded they may in reality be.

Incumbency and money obviously doesn't guarantee re-election but the idea that the challenger in this case has done a 'new thing' and escaped the influence of the latter is completely fanciful, as is the idea that someone as obviously ambitious as Mr Lamont would be indifferent to these endorsements.

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