On Tuesday afternoon, before election returns started coming in, Chris Matthews asked Eugene Robinson on MSNBC if he had any theories about what the elections that night might mean. Robinson thought a moment and then said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "You know, it's our job to find The Big Story in everything, and I'm not sure if there always is one."
Robinson -- an excellent reporter and analyst -- couldn't have turned out more right.
As the evening went on, network and online pundits everywhere had their theories tying everything together, giving all the results a great overall meaning.
The thing is, like Robinson postulated many hours earlier, I'm not sure there was any overall meaning.
Actually, I'll go a step further: I don't think there was the slightest thing that tied everything together.
Mind you, I could be totally wrong with this. It's far to early to know. Elections can change overnight, and November is almost half a year away. But the thing is, I'm a big believer in Occam's Razor. That's the "law" that says if there are many explanations for something, the simplest explanation is the correct one. And looking at all the election results on Tuesday and recently, the simplest explanations sure seem like the dead-clearest and most obvious.
Joe Sestak didn't win the Democratic nomination for senator in Pennsylvania because of "Tea Party" anger, or because of an anti-Washington movement. The "Tea Party" is not made up of Democrats. It's purely far-right Republicans. Joe Sestak won the Democratic primary because he was running against a man who had been representing the state for decades as a Republican, who said on camera that he only switched parties so he could win re-election. And Mr. Sestak himself was a three-star Admiral in the Navy, and is the highest-ranking former military officer to ever serve in Congress.
Democrat Mark Critz won the special election in John Murtha's district because it's a Democratic district. Which Mr. Murtha had represented for 36 years. And Mark Critz had actually worked for Murtha as an aide for many years.
Blanche Lincoln was forced into a run-off in the Democratic primary because Democrats of her own party were bothered by her votes against the Democratic administration, most particularly voting "no" for the health care reconciliation bill.
Rand Paul did win Republican primary for senator in Kentucky because of the "Tea Party," but that's because these far-right Republicans in Kentucky wanted the candidate representing their own Republican party to be even more conservative. It was internal Republican politics in a Republican election. What it wasn't was a vote on the general election.
Bob Bennett did lose in the Utah nominating convention because of the "Tea Party," but that's only because far-right Republicans in Utah wanted the candidate representing their own Republican party to be even more conservative. It was internal Republican politics in a Republican election. What it wasn't was a vote on the general election.
Mike Brown wasn't elected senator in Massachusetts because of the "Tea Party." He won because his opponent Martha Coakley went on vacation and took a month off. And because Ms. Coakley then had a disastrous debate where she came off horribly. And because Mike Brown didn't even identify himself as a Republican in most of his TV ads.
In Edgar Allen Poe's classic mystery, The Purloined Letter, police tear apart every concealed nook in an apartment unable to find the secret document -- when all along it had been placed in plain view. Sometimes people feel driven to look for hidden answers when the simple ones are correctly staring you in the face.
We kept hearing all night how Joe Sestak's win was a big blow to the White House, how
they must be all in a tizzy there.
But sometimes, you're looking for a story that isn't there.
Barack Obama didn't even campaign for Arlen Specter. When Joe Biden went to Pennsylvania right before the election, he didn't campaign for Specter either. How devastated can you be that someone lost, when you didn't lift a finger to help him?
Who knows? Maybe they really would have preferred life-long, career Republican Arlen Specter to win. Or maybe Joe Sestak is too much a loose canon for their tastes. But maybe -- maybe it's more reasonable that they actually might like having a young, vibrant, former three-star Admiral as the candidate to show what a vibrant, forward-looking party of change the Democrats are, but they couldn't say that because of commitments they were obligated to when Mr. Specter changed parties.
What the truth is, it's all a guess. By everyone. But in most of life, Occam's Razor applies. So, it should here, as well. Analysts are trying to tie all these disparate results together, when the simplest answer is that all these disparate results are, in fact, disparate. When the simplest answer in each race is generally the right answer.
Some answers support the right. Some answers support the left. But most answers, as Tip O'Neill once famously suggested, are local. That's where to look. At your own front door.