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October 8, 2010 [LINK / comment]

Vote out which incumbents?

As frustration with the bleak economic conditions mounts, and as resentment toward the big government agenda of the Democrats builds, incumbents in Congress are under unusually high pressure from the voters this year. So what's up with all those semi-trailers in this area that have been adorned with anti-incumbent slogans in huge black letters? The two trailers pictured below are in Rockingham County, and there are at least a couple in Augusta County as well. I regularly pass by the one along I-64 in Fishersville: "Congress: Represent the American People or Go Home!" What is odd is that all of them say, "Vote Out All Most Incumbents!" The word Most is inserted as an afterthought, perhaps to make clear that the mysterious angry citizen (or citizens) who paid for those signs doesn't want the incumbent congressman from this district voted out. The News Leader recently reported on those trailers, noting that they may be in violation of local advertising ordinances, but it did not identify who paid for them. What I want to know is, why are they here in the Sixth District, where the incumbent is very popular, especially among conservatives?

Congressman Bob Goodlatte is running for reelection in the Sixth District of Virginia for the ninth time. (His first term began in 1993.) Other than 2008, when Democrat Sam Rasoul ran against him, Goodlatte usually breezes through the campaign season without much to worry about. He's a good man, and aside from his support for certain agribusiness subsidies, he has a pretty solid voting record as a free-market economic conservative. (Goodlatte visited the Augusta County Republican headquarters in Staunton last month.) But the failure of the Democratic Party to even run a candidate against Goodlatte is a very troubling sign of a lack of competition in our political system, raising doubts about how democratic we really are.

Indeed, the very high rate at which incumbent legislators are reelected every two years is one of the most glaring defects in the American political system. In the last two elections, about 94% of the members of the House of Representatives who sought reelection were successful, and those were years in which voters were noticeably displeased with the Republicans and turned control of Congress over to the Democrats. In the four preceding elections (1998-2004), the incumbent reelection rate was about 98%. It makes you wonder how much meaningful choice the American voters really have. I am opposed to arbitrary limits on campaign spending, but the fund-raising advantages enjoyed by incumbents have made it so hard for challengers to win that the U.S. Congress has turned into a virtual House of Lords, largely immune from public pressure, and the congressional seats are becoming aristocratic privileges. Policies and tax laws are tailor-made in response to pressure from lobbyists with fat wallets, while needed basic reforms are shunted aside. In sum, there is good reason for the anger behind those anti-incumbent banners. It really is time to "clean House" ... and clean the Senate, too!

Congress trailer billboard 2

Anti-Congress billboard on a trailer along Interstate 81, south of Weyers Cave; roll your mouse over the image to see another such billboard, on Route 11 south of Harrisonburg.

Is Obama a socialist?

On Facebook a week or two ago, Bruce Bartlett asked, rhetorically, how can President Obama be socialist if the U.S. government is selling its shares of GM. (They're in the process of settling up all the bailout transfers and exchanges, so it's not really a policy move per se.) Bruce provoked a cascade of responses that were uniformly derisive toward conservative critics of Obama, mocking the paranoia exhibited by some. My comment:

Lots of cute jabs on this thread, but the GM case does raise an interesting philosophical question: What does it even *mean* to be a socialist in a post-industrial service-based economy? If Obama is indeed pursuing the European social-democratic model, seizing the proverbial "commanding heights" so as to manage competing social demands for limited resources, he probably wouldn't worry much about taking or maintaining control of declining industries.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 09 Oct 2010, 2: 35 AM

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