The Election of Rage Republicans Deal Heavy Blow to Obama
America is demoralized, divided and angry. This mood has propelled the Republicans to victory in the House of Representatives, fueled by the support of the rightwing Tea Party movement. Now they'll have to prove they have more to say than just "no".
The very first result, the first victory, set a precedent for the rest of the night. Late in the evening in the state of Kentucky on Tuesday, Tea Party darling and soon-to-be Senator Rand Paul took to the stage cheered on by his fans. "I have a message," he exclaimed. "A message that is loud and clear: We've come to take our government back!" The crowd went wild.
Paul, 47, is an opthamologist. This is his very first foray into the world of politics. The son of the quirky former presidential candidate Ron Paul refers to America as "exceptional" and to himself as a "constitutional conservative." He has strange views about race, opposes abortion, doesn't trust the Federal Reserve Bank, hates deficits, promotes gun ownership, wants to keep the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in operation and to do away with the US Department of Education.
And now he wants to lead the Tea Party faction within the Republican Party in the US Senate. It will be the first of its kind in history.
Paul's election victory is demonstrative of what is happening in America. Only two years after Barack Obama's hopeful victory, the nation is demoralized, divided and angry. Now the angriest have cried out and have wrangled themselves a place at the table of power. The congressional election of 2010 will go down in history as the election of rage.
As expected, the Republicans -- the big losers of 2008 -- swept the board in probably the most contested midterm election in generations. They regained the majority in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, the Democrats got off relatively lightly, retaining a slim majority.
Prominent Tea Party favorites pulled through in places all across the country. Marc Rubio in Florida. Dan Coats in Indiana. Nikki Haley in South Carolina.
All of them were quick to use big words. They spoke of "the hand of God," of "revenge" for Washington, of the new power of the common man. "The people have spoken!" cried Kelly Ayotte, a protegé of Tea Party patron Sarah Palin and the newly appointed Senator for New Hampshire.
Incumbents Lose Power En Masse
This is first and foremost Barack Obama's punishment. A majority of Americans saw the election as a referendum on the president, and as a protest against the escalating national debt and mega-billion rescue package for the economy. That's why some Democrats like Bobby Bright in Alabama and Gene Taylor in Mississippi were quick to distance themselves from the president. Both men lost their seats anyway.
Others availed themselves of the Obama's campaign assistance -- and were also defeated. Take for example Blanche Lincoln, the long-serving senator from Arkansas: The moderate Democrat had reluctantly brought herself to support Obama's healthcare reform and was beaten hands down during the election by Congressman John Boozman, an avowed opponent of the reforms.
The Republicans knew precisely how to focus voter anger against Obama. The stated aim of Sen. Mitch McConnell, the chief Republican in the Senate, is to "make Obama a one-term president."
"We've tried it Obama's way," said John Boehner, the former House minority leader and soon to be Speaker of the House. "We've tried it Washington's way. It hasn't worked. It's time to put the people back in charge." That Boehner himself has sat in Congress -- the epitome of the hated Washington establishment -- for the past 20 years, is just one of the many paradoxes in this election.
Another is that this was an election in which voters registered a knee-jerk reaction to the economic crisis and high unemployment, and they have helped to bring about a renaissance for the very party which presided over the crash at the end of 2008.
The Americans are unsentimental about such things. Obama just inherited the recession, but the consequences have long been his own problem. For leaders, that can be fatal -- especially in a society where political patience doesn't count among its current virtues.
It has long since been forgotten that Obama averted the collapse of the entire financial industry. Many Americans no longer remember why Wall Street was helped out in the first place. Then came the controversy over healthcare reform, with which Obama sealed the fate of his friends in the party.
And so there's a long list of Democrats whose careers came to an end Tuesday night. Tom Perriello of Virginia, who made a campaign appearance last week in support of Obama. John Spratt of South Carolina, who has served in Congress since 1983. Jim Marshall of Georgia -- who lost despite decisive attempts to distance himself from Nancy Pelosi, the now deposed Speaker of the House. Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, who since 1993 has been one of the most independent minds in the Senate.
Lessons from California
But there were also isolated gleams of hope for the Democrats. In Connecticut, Dick Blumenthal, state attorney general since 1991, beat wrestling-queen Linda McMahon. In New York, voters re-elected Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, while Andrew Cuomo defeated Tea Party candidate Carl Paladino to secure the governorship, once held by his father.
Barney Frank managed to hang on in Massachusetts, but lost his powerful position as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. In Ohio, governor Ted Strickland also held his ground, albeit with difficulty. In a symbolic victory, Obama rushed to his side on Sunday to help with the campaign.
In California, the Democrats celebrated a double victory. Senator Barbara Boxer survived and helped her party maintain its majority in the Senate. Jerry Brown, who served as governor from 1975 to 1983, was once again re-elected to the post. Both defeated millionaire opponents from the business world: Carly Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard, and Meg Whitman, the former head of eBay. Whitman spent $175 million out of her own pocket on her campaign. The moral: Money only doesn't guarantee victory.
In Nevada, in one of the most exciting races of the night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid headed off Tea Party challenger Sharron Angle. The 61-year-old Demorat had distinguished himself during the election campaign with crude remarks, which some people claimed were racist.
Still, the night belonged to the Tea Party. Still ridiculed, scorned and unappreciated only a year ago, the loose movement had backed more than 130 candidates on the ballots. Dozens have now managed the leap into Congress.
These dissidents have turned out to be more powerful than even the Republicans had expected. Above all, this election proves that the Tea Party is more than a conspiracy of madmen, clowns, racists, gun nuts and homophobes.
Of course, all of these traits have been picked over in the campaign and have made many headlines. And the worst slapstick candidates lost: Christine O'Donnell in Delaware ("I'm not a witch") was defeated, as was Angle in Nevada and McMahon in Connecticut.
Instead, alongside novices like Rand Paul, a number of relatively established politicians are now moving to Washington under the banner of the Tea Party. Dan Coats has already spent a term as a senator and was later appointed US ambassador to Berlin. Todd Rokita is secretary of state of Indiana. Mark Kirk, who secured Obama's old Senate seat in Illinois, has served for 10 years already in the House of Representatives and Marco Rubio has been in the Florida House of Representatives since 2000. These are no amateurs.
They must now show that they have more to say than "no." Anger can win elections, but it can't govern a country.