Political Hay

A Referendum, Not an Election

On the last two years, on the last fifty years.

By 9.14.10

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The Republicans will win big in November. We know this because the people who are supposed to know these things -- pollsters, pundits, and so forth -- are telling us so. These same people are also telling us that this does not mean that voters have suddenly fallen in love -- or even back in love -- with the Republicans. Because they haven't. If the Republicans in Congress are any more popular than the Democrats, the margin is thin enough that weak sunlight can pass through it. It is Congress that voters are mad at and there are more Democrats than Republicans in Congress. Therefore, this is the Democrats' year to take it in the chops and the Republicans will get the bigger offices, the better to accommodate all those lobbyists who will now be calling on them.

It will be merely another election, then. One party in; the other one out. Life in Washington will go on. Which makes it hard to get excited about the election unless

Unless voters treat it not as a choice between Republicans and Democrats but as a referendum on Washington. And not just on the last two years but on the last two generations.

That would be an election that the ordinary voter, living out in the wilderness beyond Fairfax County and struggling to survive, could get excited about.

The voter could march down to the polls full of purpose as he contemplated the way Washington has gotten richer and richer on his money. He sees how government workers (sic) make more than he does and wonders, given the quality of their product over the last 40 years, why this should be.

Just for instance, there was that war that Washington declared on poverty and that it is still fighting… and losing. But like all wars -- hot, cold, or metaphorical -- it has been excellent for "the health of the state." So many new government agencies, so many jobs for community organizers and public interest lawyers and lobbyists, so much money sloshing around to nonprofits and think tanks. There is still plenty of poverty, of course, but then you can't fight a war without an enemy. Which is what makes this war, like the one on drugs, so good for Washington. The enemy is indestructible, so the appropriations just keep rolling in. The voter in this referendum on Washington might like a chance to express himself on those wars. Time, he might say, to surrender, cashier the generals, and demobilize the troops. Let them find honest work.

Then, there are those other great tasks that Washington has taken on, lest the people undertake things they are not trained or qualified to handle. Like educating children. Washington created a Department of Education the better to serve… well, the bureaucrats who work for it and the teachers' unions that dictate its policies. At the time of its creation, the Department of Education was said to be necessary because the United States was a "Nation at Risk." Things are no less dire on the education scene these days, but there are a lot of consultants doing very nicely and, in Washington, that is the definition of success.

We have a Department of Energy, created to end our "Dependence on Foreign Oil." Well, we are no longer dependent on foreign oil. Now, according to the locutions of Washington, we are "addicted to foreign oil." Which may, or may not, count as progress.

Not so long ago, Washington decided that it would be good for the country if everyone owned a house. So it ginned up the action at Fannie and Freddie, since these operations were going to make it possible. Soon there were mortgages for all. And soon after that, foreclosures for millions. And bailouts costing hundreds of billions for Fannie and Freddie.

Washington has lately decided that it is spending too much money. It was, of course, the last to notice. Which merits at least a vote of no-confidence in this coming referendum. A trillion dollars is hard to miss even when you keep books the way they do in Washington where, if you spend more than you did last year, but the increase is less as a percentage than it was in the previous year (or something like that) then you have "cut spending." People who operated according to these accounting principles for years and years are now running one of those commissions that are so popular in Washington and that employ so many people at good wages. This commission is going to figure a way out of all this deficit spending.

The voter, who is itching to get to the polls in this referendum, already knows what this commission will recommend as a solution. Taxes. And he remembers that it was a Republican candidate who said, "Read my lips. No new taxes."

And then raised taxes.

So he isn't voting for the Republicans in this referendum. Not voting against the Democrats, either, for that matter.

He's voting against the political class and a 50 year record of doing what is good for Washington and less so -- a lot less so -- for the country.

He's sending a message.

"Get out of town and take the ****ing town with you."

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About the Author

Geoffrey Norman is the author of Riding With Jeb Stuart and the editor of Vermonttiger.com.