As anti-incumbent fervor continues to shape the election landscape, the 24 hours after Tuesday’s primaries reminded us that there is something to be said for experience. As much as people like to hate politicians, the gaffes the newcomers make, and the distraction from the real issues the gaffes create, do not advance the cause of democracy.
The Tea Party candidates like to say they are here to take the government back, though they are not very precise from whom they wish to take it. They are, however, usually precise about what they want to do with the government once they take it back. In Nevada, GOP Senate nominee and Tea Party-backed candidate Sharron Angle listed her positions on her website. She aimed to privatize Social Security and Medicare, eliminate the Departments of Energy and Education and withdraw the U.S. from the United Nations. But, lo and behold, having won the primary Tuesday night, those positions were removed from her website Wednesday. In case Angle hadn’t noticed, in politics today, nothing can be scrubbed completely, there is always a video or a copy. The one thing the Tea Partyers had going for them was the patina of authenticity, they speak their mind and stand for their principles, but dumb moves like removing controversial material from your website cashiers even that credential.
Carly Fiorina, the GOP Senate candidate in neighboring California, also forgot what is now known as the Gordon Brown Rule: Never forget to find out if the microphone you are wearing is live. She was caught on camera no less, apparently disparaging rightwing Fox News darling Sean Hannity and talking cattily about Sen. Barbara Boxer’s out-of-date hairdo. It was an inauspicious beginning to Fiorina’s general election campaign. Mind you, I agree that Hannity should be disparaged and it is foolish to start a general election campaign, when you run to the center, by doing an interview with a Fox News blowhard. On a day when Fiorina needed to be introducing herself to those Independent and moderate Democratic voters whose votes she will need in November, instead of articulating her message, she was caught sounding petty, and the fact that she was caught off guard meant that the clip trumped any and all other messages she might have wanted to deliver. There are good, substantive reasons to vote for or against Sen. Boxer but her hair is not one of them.
Not to be outdone, the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in South Carolina was discovered, the day after his surprise win in the primary, to have been charged with a felony sex charge after he showed obscene photographs to a University of South Carolina undergrad. The state Democratic Party chairperson has asked Alvin Greene to step aside despite his primary victory, so the state party can choose someone else to go up against Sen. Jim DeMint. DeMint is arguably the worst U.S. Senator currently serving, so there is a case to be made for his early retirement, but sex offenders have a hard time making that case. Mr. Greene, too, has no prior political experience.
I know the rap on politicians. They are too cautious. They have to poll-test every issue. They do not just say what they think or feel. But, ya know, looking at these three newcomers, I am thinking there is a lot to be said for a little bit of boring, predictable, poll-tested insincerity.