Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Reax on the election, from Politico's "Arena" section this morning:

So now we are seeing the limits of centrifugal politics. It takes Republicans to win big elections that stop Barack Obama in his tracks, not third-partiers.

As I wrote here at “Arena” last week, this year we have been going through a phase of “centrifugal politics”--things flying out from the core, toward the periphery. The core is the two party system, and the establishment in general. The periphery is anti-establishmentarian activists, empowered by the internet and an animating sense of free- radical rambunctiousness. Without a doubt, conservative and libertarian peripherals played a country-saving role this year, stopping Democratic momentum toward more spending, “cap-and-tax” legislation, and Obamacare.

But American politics, at its structural heart, is centripetal-- pulling things back toward the center. And at that center is a two- party system that has dominated American politics since the Civil War. Indeed, human nature is ultimately centripetal; after episodic flirtations with centrifugalism, people return to systems of order and stability.

The elections last night confirm this centripetal trope: The Conservative candidate in New York 23 lost, and the independent gubernatorial candidate in New Jersey fell down into single digits. So much for centrifugalism when and where it counts the most--on Election Day. Meanwhile, the Grand Old Party, centripetal beast that it is, scored huge wins, not only in New Jersey and Virginia, but also in secondary races--in Westchester, NY, for example, a Republican challenger landslided the three-term Democratic county executive out of office.

Obviously, for Republicans, there will inevitably be a night-of-the- long-knives-type score-settling after the NY 23 fiasco, as activists confront establishmentarians with the question, “What were you thinking when you gave a left-wing Republican nearly a million dollars in cash, and millions more in earned media, only to see her turn around and endorse the Democrat?”

But in the end, if conservatives and teapartiers want to win, they will have to restrain their centrifugal impulses and find their place within the stolidly centripetalist Republican Party. Activists can fight within the party, even take the party over, but they need to stay within it. Otherwise, they will win nothing.

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