I’ve been meaning to comment on David Brewster’s post-election analysis over at Crosscut — “A bad election for moderates” — but I just can’t work up the energy necessary to read it through a second time. So rather than a thorough, line-by-line fisking, I’d mostly just like to focus on the first few paragraphs.
I wish this change-election had gone further, empowering another new force: the independent center. Roping in disaffected independents is critical to resolving some of the big issues. But in most cases, the new faces from the vital center had trouble, and the electorate (and media) reverted to partisanship. What went wrong?
Start with Susan Hutchison, who bombed in her run for county executive against Dow Constantine, losing 59-41.
I’m not sure I buy Brewster’s notion that most independents are necessarily disaffected, or even that they are critical to resolving big issues, and I certainly don’t accept the existence of a partisan “electorate (and media)” as evidence that anything “went wrong.” And with Mike McGinn in the mayor’s office, and two newcomers on the city council, I don’t particularly “wish this change-election had gone further,” assuming that’s even what it was.
But the words “centrist,” “independent,” and “vital center” used in close association with the name Susan Hutchison? I mean… what the fuck?
Yeah, sure, Brewster goes on to criticize Hutchison for failing the “candor test,” but more from a strategery perspective than an ethical one.
I think her basic mistake was to rely on Dino Rossi’s aw-shucks strategy of brushing off all questions about divisive social issues, such as abortion (not a local issue, etc.) and her obvious-to-all past Republican leanings. Everyone knows, when you dodge issues like that, that you are probably on the conservative side, the less popular side, of the ledger, so nobody is really fooled.
“Probably on the conservative side”…? “Republican leanings“…? Hey David… could you throw in a few more caveats?
I thought the thesis of Brewster’s post was that this was “a bad election for moderates,” so how exactly is Hutchison’s failure to fool voters into thinking she is one, bad for Brewster’s mythical centrist voter?
But the stonewalling candidate looks inauthentic, untrustworthy, devious.
Hutchison didn’t just look inauthentic, untrustworthy and devious, she was inauthentic, untrustworthy and devious. That’s an important distinction.
It keeps the credibility issue alive in the media, enabling Constantine to win simply by charging that Hutchison was (gasp!) a Republican once.
“A Republican once“…? Yeah, like right up until the minute before she filed for a titularly nonpartisan office.
What kept the credibility issue alive in the media was Hutchison’s stunning lack of credibility. And by the way, what exactly is wrong with Constantine (gasp!) educating voters about Hutchison’s obvious-to-all Republican affiliation? Aren’t voters better served by being more informed, rather than less?
To get the independents’ vote, you have to level with them, avoid political evasions, be your authentic self.
Except, you know, when your authentic self is a far-right-wing, intelligent-design-promoting, climate-change-denying, in-bed-with-the-BIAW, ideologically rigid conservative Republican.
(Query: Can anchorpersons actually retain an authentic self after years on the banquet circuit and on the tube?)
Answer: Yes. And perhaps that helps explain why an aging Jean Enersen still has an anchor job while an aging Susan Hutchison doesn’t.
Too, Hutchison’s past, from what I can tell talking with people who knew her in unguarded moments in recent years, was quite conservative.
Again with the caveats.
She probably wasn’t going to be able to come off as a new version of Jennifer Dunn, the popular Eastside Republican congresswoman with many decidedly moderate views on education and the environment.
Jennifer Dunn wouldn’t be able to come off today as the kind of moderate Republican Brewster wistfully imagines her to be.
Not a good choice if the GOP really wants to capture the independents and the center.
“Capture” the center? And what… hold them hostage? Ship ‘em off to Gitmo? Water-board them into voting Republican? Strikes me as an odd but apt turn of phrase, considering Brewster’s analysis thus far.
I agree that Hutchison was not a good choice if the GOP wants to appeal to independents and the center, but rather than attempting to capture these voters through lies and deceit, perhaps Republicans should attempt to remake their party by running and endorsing moderate, independent-minded candidates?
You can’t wish your past away, and if you don’t put those values out there, saying you’ve changed in some regards and want to build on some other beliefs you consider core, you just look false and unprepared.
Um… but what if, like Hutchison, you haven’t magically “changed in some regards” simply because the office you’re running for has recently been made officially nonpartisan? What if, like Hutchison, you are false and unprepared?
(Congressman Dave Reichert, for instance, hardly denies that he once was a sheriff.)
Huh? I think that parenthetical line is supposed to be a joke. Either that, or a sign of early onset Alzheimer’s.
The Democrats had only to warn that the “real” Hutchison (fill in the blank with whatever fears you may have) would emerge after the election. Who wants to chance that, particularly with someone so totally inexperienced?
Who would want to chance that? At last count, only 40.68% of King County voters… about the same percent that supported David Irons, a man whose mother accused him of beating her.
Which raises the question: how exactly does Brewster define the word “centrist?”
Is Brewster referring to the ideological center, a somewhat vague and fluid fulcrum between left and right, liberal and conservative, that tends to wander slightly over time? Or does he mean the electoral center, a still vague, but somewhat more quantifiable space that, in a given election, in a given jurisdiction, is large enough to hold at least a bare majority of voters?
By either definition I suppose Hutchison could accurately be described as a centrist… in, say, Lewis County, or in Alabama. But here in King County? Not so much.
Indeed in King County, it’s Dow Constantine who is the centrist, as evidenced by his ability to capture nearly 60% of the vote in a hotly contested race.
So who was this election really bad for? Not moderates. Not centrists. Not independents. It was bad for Republicans.
No doubt Brewster longs for some sort of Republican revival, whatever the label, if only to keep the local Democratic majority in check. Hell, I’m no fan of one-party rule either, and I too fear that without viable challengers from without or within, the Democratic leadership will grow fat, lazy and ineffective. But not having lived through the Dan Evans era, my political judgement isn’t clouded by a nostalgia that fails to differentiate between, say, the Bruce Chapman of then and the Bruce Chapman of today.
I’d argue that the center is alive and well in King County politics, and firmly in control of the reins of power. Both Ross Hunter and Fred Jarrett, who Brewster lauds as “highly regarded suburban moderates” would have been Republicans twenty years ago… in fact, just two years ago, Jarrett was. Now Jarrett has become the number two man in King County government, while Hunter will continue to control the House Finance Committee, from which he can effectively block the progressive tax structure reforms the more liberal wing of his caucus is quietly clamoring for. Indeed, as evidenced by their acquiescence on last session’s all-cuts budget, even the supposedly liberal Seattle legislative delegation reliably votes well to the ideological right of their constituents.
If anything, we don’t need any further checks on Seattle liberals, we need them to get up off their collective ass and deliver the economic justice and tax fairness they’ve been promising for decades. Or at least, get off their ass and try to deliver it. Trying would be a good first step.
As for Republicans, it’s not a rigidly partisan Democratic electorate that is denying them victory, even in so-called “nonpartisan” races, but rather the GOP’s own pathological slide to the far right. Had Hutchison won, based on name ID, smiles and lies, it would have done nothing to improve the GOP’s long term prospects, and nothing to serve the interests of the moderates who Brewster implies shared in Hutchison’s loss. Any Republican victory based on strategy alone will only delay the reformation the GOP needs to embrace in order to bring their party closer in line with the values of the majority of King County voters.
So if Brewster really wants to see local Republicans come back to a point of political relevance, my suggestion is that he stop coddling them. It’s not their strategy that is at fault. It’s not their lack of candor. It’s their extremist views.
And I just don’t see how the electoral loss of an extremist like Hutchison supports the thesis that this was a bad election for moderates.