Sunday, January 31, 2010

Throw Them All Out!

A conventional wisdom is that voters dislike politicians as a whole, but they like their elected officials. They don't trust members of Congress, with the exception of their own. It's a pretty amazing concept, for it helps explain why the make-up of Congress doesn't change in most elections, even though the approval rating for Congress is usually low.

This year is an exception. No one is happy with their elected officials. The anti-incumbent mode is so extreme that it took a finger-bitingly close vote to re-elect Ben Bernake to be chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Bernake studied the causes of the Great Depression while earning his academic credentials at Harvard and M.I.T. It would be tougher to find someone better suited to the economic situation of today; yet even the obscure role Fed Chairman could not survive the rampant desires of the public to "throw the bums out."

It's turned into a year where voters will have to either show their frustration by turning against their elected officials, or hold their noses while they vote for the incumbents. Martha Coakely, the Massachusetts Attorney General who lost to Scott Brown in the recent Massachusetts special election, in many ways ran as an incumbent. The approach backfired.

I certainly have never seen a more populist mood in the minds of voters. Certainly, I share those frustrations, but it worries me when a populist wave obscures the issues and views within a given election. Bad performance is a good enough reason for voting to remove someone from office, however it needs to be balanced with the actual positions of the candidates.

One definite positive effect---Citizens are using their right to vote as a way to channel their outrage. Turnout in Massachusetts was extremely high. Hopefully that interest will carry into November.

No comments: