- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2011


A state Senate recall election is not usually a top news story, but political junkies were filling the Twittersphere on Tuesday with up-to-the-minute reports on recall races in Wisconsin. Labor-union-backed Democratic candidates challenged six of Gov. Scott Walker’s Republican supporters in hopes of taking enough seats to gain control of the state Senate and block further legislation to erode union power in the Badger State. This $30 million effort came up one seat short. Next week, Republicans will have a chance to take back the two seats they lost in another round of recall voting. This is democracy in action.

Turnout for the recall election was as high as 74 percent, a rate that rivals voter participation in presidential elections in the state. It was almost unprecedented for an off-year, offseason special election. The turnout is even more interesting when contrasted with a Rasmussen poll released Sunday that showed just 17 percent of likely U.S voters think the federal government today has the consent of the governed. Sixty-nine percent think the government does not have this consent, and 14 percent are unsure. This is a record low result for this question, down from 23 percent in May. Not surprisingly, the poll showed just 6 percent rated the performance of the current Congress as good or excellent. This reflects a strong current of alienation in contemporary American politics that’s not particularly healthy.

Liberal critics point to the Tea Party as a symptom of political breakdown. They invoke mythical good old days when debate was less strident, positions were less ideological and everyone got along. There was a hint of this during the debt-ceiling debate when President Obama complained that “in the past, raising the debt ceiling was routine.” If it weren’t for the Tea Party “terrorists” holding the country hostage, critics charged, the government could press the reset button and return to its traditional collegiality and general sense of good cheer and common cause.

As the late John P. Roche - author and adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson - observed, American politics has always been a contact sport. The supposed “era of good feelings” that liberals evoke never existed in modern Washington. The grass-roots conservative movement that has changed the balance of American political power since its emergence in 2009 was a reaction to the excesses of a Democrat-controlled federal government drunk with power. It takes a lot to rouse the American electorate from its lethargy, but once motivated, it’s a powerful force.

As the Wisconsin recall election and, more importantly, the 2010 congressional midterm “Republican tsunami” showed, the people have the ability to express their will and to give guidance to what Mr. Obama somewhat dismissively calls our “big, messy, tough democracy.” Alienation from the political process is born of laziness or unwillingness to make the occasional but necessary compromises that are the basis for our constitutional system. Those who complain that the government is unresponsive should work harder to change its composition. This takes some effort, but the disastrous first two years of the Obama administration demonstrated what happens when a government is left to its own devices. In the end, the electorate gets the government it deserves.

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