Opinionated @ CFE

Seniority is a Liability


Whenever an incumbent is running for office, they will almost invariably turn to talk about how the length of time they have spent in that office as a means of proving that they know how to work things. You’ll see that same claim made at the federal, state, and local levels. Just as certainly, challengers will point to the length of service as a bad thing, a sign that they have made a comfortable career of what should be public service. Both of these sides have been going at it for years, but it looks like the pro-seniority side is starting to lose out.

One of the few positive things of the Tea Party crowd (and the members they are electing) is a vehement opposition to political elitism, including the practices associated with seniority. Instead of accepting that you have to outlast your peers to get your desired committee assignments, they have pushed for significantly more technocratic ways of committee selection based on ability. Senators like Rand Paul and Mike Lee (the latter of whom I have significant disagreements with) have managed to wield significant influence in the “deliberative” body of Congress despite being the new kids on the block.

So now that the influence of seniority isn’t as solid of an indicator of influence in the body, does it still have value? Not likely. Now that good ideas and ability are the currency of influence, being in office for a significant period of time without a significant list of accomplishments is a huge negative. Guys like Bennett, who seemingly accomplish little of what the general electorate cares for, get replaced by the brash go-getters who make things happen in short order.

Former State Sen. Dan Liljenquist accomplished two major reforms, state employee pensions and Medicaid, in just three years in office. Doesn’t this seem like the kind of guy who’d get things done in Washington? And, more importantly, don’t those seem like the right things to get done?

Occupy Wall Street and Missed Opportunities


Right now, large protests are going on in New York City and are starting to spread to other cities. People fed up with being out of work, with losing their homes, and with the powerful interests who caused the problem getting all kinds of favors have hit their breaking point. After a few years of changing out the bums in Congress (I won’t go so far as to say they were thrown out), they have no faith left in the political system to resolve their problems. And yet, somehow, the reform-minded economic right has completely blown the opportunity to sell their solutions.

What are many of them doing? For the most part, they’re busy insulting the protesters. The endless barrage of jokes about worthless liberal arts degrees, living in mom’s basement, and not showering are a sophomoric and demeaning way to reply to anyone who is suffering. In contrast, the left is out there standing in solidarity selling the illogical idea that the government that caused and perpetuates the problem can somehow fix it. If you were one of those people, who would you be listening to?

This is a missed opportunity to push for the destruction of crony capitalism and the decentralization of public and private power that creates and reinforces it. People are angry for the right reasons. Banks got trillions of dollars for destroying the economy so that they can now foreclose on the people to whom they fraudulently sold bad mortgages. Colleges are calling loans on degrees they’ve been hyping, overselling, and over-pricing for decades, a collusion across an entire industry. Congress is continually passing laws with no relevance to the problems of the common man despite having been significantly turned over in the last several elections. It’s the perfect storm to finally dismantle the systems that are killing the country.

By blowing this opportunity and engaging in tone-deaf messaging, you can almost bet that the solutions will be more of the same. More regulation that will be manipulated to create winners and losers. More ruinous over-spending on programs that promote dependency instead of independence. More members of Congress who say they feel our pain but simply create it. I suppose I shouldn’t expect any better from the guys who have been promoting the low-information tea party.

The Rise and Fall of the Tea Party


I’m not a fan of the Tea Party and haven’t been for some time. As Jon Stewart put it, most of them are moral majoritarians in tri-tipped hats. It’s hard to see how they differ from the Ralph Reed disciples that stormed into the Republican Party in 1994. That said, it seems like what has become just a mouthpiece for the more outrageous elements of the GOP had some roots in something worthwhile. It’s just been thoroughly co-opted by the establishment for their own purposes.

So how did it all start? Way back in mid-2008, Ron Paul’s campaign for president was winding down and the newly energized campaign volunteers were still all kinds of riled up. They were sick of the constant centralization of both government and economic power, and sickened by the power structure of the parties that only allows “annointed” candidates to advance to elections. A coalition of libertarians, fiscal conservatives, and reformers were ready to challenge any and all party structures that did business as usual. So what happened?

Well, those in power in the parties didn’t get there by being stupid. They saw the wave coming and knew they had to nip that sucker in the bud, and what better way than pulling a reverse infiltration? Almost immediately, the same people who had been a part of the problem started loudly singing the praises of the Tea Party, carefully steering it into an attack dog of the Republican Party, not a near-partyless populist mob demanding more from everyone. In Utah, the problem was particularly bad as the organizers chose to invite elected officials to come speak to crowds, hardly the kind of thing a reform movement should want. It only took weeks or months to quell the uprising and get the media to label the newly-formed beast as a group of angry zealots  whose rage was fueled by racism, misogyny, xenophobia, or whatever ugly thing could be attached to it.

What got botched was a trans-partisan populist movement to fight against centralization of power, public and private, that has lead to rampant crony capitalism, impenetrable political party power structures that exclude any kind of insurgent candidates from the process, and the reigning in of an out-of-control pattern of federal spending perpetuated by both parties. All of these are laudable and arguably popular goals. Unfortunately, they’ve been buried under a mountain of far-right social neo-conservatism with a very narrow appeal, obviously explaining the precipitous drop in popularity among the general populace.

Is there any hope for these much needed reforms to happen anytime in the near future? Maybe. It depends on if the lightning in a bottle during the first few weeks can be recreated, or if the original reformers have stuck around now that the real work begins.. Otherwise, I expect the same old story.

When Anger Trumps Reason


Apparently the tea party movement in Nevada has gotten to a point where they want to register as a third party and run a candidate of their own for US Senate. Given the anger at establishment Republicans, I can’t say that I’m too surprised. That is, until you consider that a third party, the Independent American Party, already exists in Nevada with ballot access, over 4% of total active registered voters, and a platform not too terribly far from where the tea party crowd stands.

It seems like rather bad strategy to forge ahead down the path of a new party when you could simply build on the momentum of a party that already has the same goal no baggage, and a large number of registered voters. (The IAP also has a lot of street cred since they lead initiative petitions to overturn a record tax increase and stop public employee double-dipping.) Anger has trumped reason in Nevada tea party activists.

Populism and Opportunism


One inevitable side effect of any wave of populism is that you’re going to have opportunists looking to latch onto that wave as quickly as they can. With the recent wave of anti-federal sentiment courtesy of the tea party movement, the hollow rings of opportunism have reached a similar crescendo. They range from the somewhat plausible to the laughably transparent (I’m looking at you, Orrin Hatch). To those of us with a track record of opposing the never-ending reach of federal power, it’s galling to find a bunch of wannabes and hypocrites attaching themselves to these ideals while simultaneously stoking the bonfire of crazy that seems to accompany it. It doesn’t just insult our intelligence, it makes us look bad.


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