Many forests have been decimated and much ink spilled speculating about the meaning of last week's primary elections. Do they favor Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, None of the Above or Other in November 2010 and 2012? Based upon my own conversations and thoughts, the answer seems clear: they favor whomever is seen as (i) more competent, (ii) respectful of the American people and (iii) humble both personally and with respect to the role of government, and they militate against anyone connected with our current government which is seen as none of the three.
The quest for competence is most straightforward. For far too long (approximately equal to the Bush 43 and Obama administrations) government has been seen as a bunch of bunglers. Whether it's the response to Hurricane Katrina led by a horse show judge, non-existent WMD in Iraq being used to justify a war lasting longer than WW I and WW II combined, the inability to grasp the difference between war and law enforcement when dealing with apprehended foreign terrorists or economic illiteracy motivating tax increases as we strive to recover from the Great Recession, government is seen as people with a record of failure consistently doing the wrong thing once they are in governmental roles. Successful candidates will be those who have demonstrated in the private sector their ability to do the right thing for others as well as themselves. The time for utopian promises is over and the time for mastery of the basics is here.
The respect issue is more difficult to grasp, but is encapsulated by President Obama's recent quote in Newsweek (5-24/31-10; Alter, "Secrets from Inside the Obama War Room") regarding the discussion over AfPak policy : "For the past eight years, whatever the military asked for they got. My job was to slow things down." Saying that the military has gotten everything it wanted when it is stretched so thinly while engaged around the world in two major wars and numerous other operations with associated impact on military families is beyond erroneous -- it is the height of contempt. Saying that the President intends to stand in the way of the military which is so bravely implementing his direction and defending his person and our freedom issue reveals a side of the President that is quite unflattering and indicative of the need to replace him in the 2012 election.
President Obama revealed this side of his philosophy very early in his term when he appointed to high positions so many persons with serious tax and legal compliance problems: Geithner, Daschle, Richardson .... This should have told us that he feels that legal compliance is for the "little people."
In the same vein is the moronic comment of Rand Paul about the undesirability of the 1964 civil rights legislation. Whatever theoretical considerations Mr. Paul may cite, this legislation was enacted to stop the undeniable brutal repression of African-Americans at a time before he was born. I would heavily wager that this ignorant insult of African-Americans will (and should) cost Mr. Paul the Kentucky election.
Other illustrations of the official disrespect that has disgusted so many Americans are the comments of then candidate-Obama regarding guns and religion being the refuge of the ignorant and the pushing of a consumer financial protection agency that by definition will make it impossible for Americans to enter into the financial contracts that they deem appropriate. We hear repeatedly from the defenders of the CFPA how Americans are incapable of protecting themselves from the depredations of lenders and need government to come to their rescue. The President's constant personal demonizing of his opponents especially in the financial and health care industries when he has legitimate basis for policy disagreement also reflects this lack of respect. Whatever one thinks of the merits of ObamaCare, the byzantine procedural maneuverings which were utilized to secure its passage indicate an administration which feels that its view of the end justifies any means to attain it.
People have become disgusted with the torrent of abuse and condescension (not to mention tax increases) emanating from politicians everywhere, especially in Washington, and are likely to provide their votes to candidates who -- whatever their ideology -- can disagree without being utterly disagreeable.
Humility regarding both personal and governmental capability will also be essential for successful candidates. In response to the unquestioned grievous errors of the private sector which have had a lot to do with our Great Recession, the current administration exhibits a disturbingly naïve faith in government as the solution to every problem.
In well under two years we have been told that our government can directly run or dictate policy for the financial, health care and auto industries while at the same time pulling us out of recession, cleaning up the environment, greatly improving education and defending us from a growing terrorist threat. This is bunk!
Despite its lofty pretensions of universal competence, the reality of Administration performance is somewhat different. Among other things, we have unemployment exceeding 9.5% with little prospect of immediate improvement, financial markets which shudder at every new policy coming out of Capitol Hill, nothing other than more subsidies being done about Fannie and Freddie, a rising tide of attacks linked to Muslim extremist groups and an oil spill -- admittedly caused by the private sector -- which the administration seeks to counter with populist rhetoric instead of insight.
The electorate is coming to realize that reality is not a graduate seminar and that in the real world, trying to be a jack of all trades makes one a master of none. Candidates who succeed will disavow the idea that there is a government program for every problem and credibly pledge to have government do only what it can not be done by the private sector, such as defending our physical security. They will also not claim implicitly or explicitly that their academic or government backgrounds somehow make it right for them to tell supposedly "average" Americans what is good for them.
We have far too many examples of so-called experts making a mess of things, or making a mess bigger, for people to trust declarations of how this person or that program will solve all of our problems. 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help you' really is one of the universal lies.
Pundits looking for the "magic formula" in upcoming elections would do well to avoid focus groups and other complicated analytics, and look to the basic of successful interpersonal relationships.