The Gristle

A deep, purple bruise
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A DEEP, PURPLE BRUISE: Of the many moving pieces on Election Night, the Gristle’s eye was fixed on the role of rural Whatcom County as a bellwether for emerging state and national political trends—primarily, whether the searing, scalding bitter TEA of movement conservatives had cooled. Early results indicate it has, in drips and dribbles of polling data.

The People of Washington—who’ve had the foresight to create a bipartisan process wherein federal, state and local voting districts are discussed, analyzed and rationally agreed upon—really have no idea how powerfully movement conservatives were able to stamp their radical imprimatur like a deep bruise into the flesh of the nation. The tea party movement rose like a sharp musical note in precise time with the national Census and its attendant requirement to redistrict our political representation. Unlike Washington, the redistricting of most states is imposed by the majority of whoever’s in charge, no matter how slim or transient that majority and their mandate might be. And a faction of far-right extremists gained power at the exact moment when their peculiar virus could be wound permanently into the nation’s DNA.

If the nation’s 2012 red-and-blue electoral map looks a lot less like the country you know and much more like the division of the states at the outbreak of the Civil War, understand it is no accident: The very frameworks of our government—the senate, our electoral college—were designed to hold in place stubborn ideas like slavery and the ascendance of a landed aristocracy against populist reforms. Our Madisonian instruments protect a minority view; our strange oligarchy of consumer-based, investor-owned capitalism polices it.

In the hands of a more adept and circumspect modern conservative movement, instruments protecting the rights of minority interests are a good thing. It’s the weird Randian-Calvinism fusion that empowers the minority of the already exceedingly powerful, that misapprehends the very nature of tyranny, that is at odds with our democratic institutions. We have a conservative movement that has systematically destroyed its own capacity to respond to the conditions and problems that actually exist in the world.

For sure, tea party excesses—a nominating theater where accomplished conservatives around the country were forced out in favor of firebreathers and paleo-­demogogues—kept the U.S. Senate strongly in the hands of Democrats.

The remarkable performance of Republican Rob McKenna in statewide results that otherwise boosted Democrats Barack Obama and Maria Cantwell back into office by double-digit margins is testament—in the Gristle’s view—to the gnawing hunger, particularly among independent voters, for a calmer, saner GOP, distanced from the snarling jihadists who oppose government everywhere but inside a woman’s womb, where there government intrusion should be absolute and totalitarian. Many of these “independents” were once formerly proudly wearing the Republican brand.

Political scientists argue that the sorts of broad social forbearance, the civil discourse the Democrats had to learn in order to hold their North and South factions together for most of the 20th Century are no longer functioning, returning us to a political map where enormous underpopulated swaths of these United States command political parity with metropolitan areas representing hundreds of thousands, even many millions of people. Largely gone are the imperatives and contracts, the national goals and prudent compromises that might knit these groups together. Formerly unthinkable breakdowns—such as the completely avoidable federal “debt ceiling” crisis in 2011, and the budget coup led by minority Senate Republicans in Olympia last spring—become commonplace.

As the country, so the county.

With the districts and representatives that serve most of Bellingham in supermajority vanguard against election upheaval (there were no serious contenders for seats safely held in both the 40th Legislative District races and the 2nd Congressional District, and those challengers were all roundly defeated by large margins Tuesday), the interesting litmus is how severely the remainder of Whatcom deviated from its larger Congressional District and state results as a whole.

A poll released in late October indicated moderate Suzan DelBene had made up ground and pulled even with Republican tea party firebreather John Koster in the new 1st Congressional District, as scattered Democrats coalesced around their candidate. Results were entirely flipped in Whatcom County, which supported Koster by a ten-point margin.

The 42nd Legislative District—apparently steeped in tea in much greater concentrations than in neighboring areas—returned incumbent Republicans to Olympia.

As we indicated last week, the commanding ten-point leads of incumbent Republicans Jason Overstreet and Vincent Buys eroded with the influx of new registered voters, but not enough to lend Democrats victory in this formerly competitive swing district. Both Democrats Natalie McClendon and Matt Krogh lost by margins similar enough to suggest this may be the new normal, the new mix of progressives and conservatives, for the 42nd District.

The tragedy for the 42nd District is that—whatever their operative ideologies—neither Overstreet or Buys has been particularly energetic or effective in representing the interests of resource-rich rural Whatcom County in Olympia. Overstreet introduced silly and mostly useless bills; Buys fared slightly better, getting a handful of votes of benefit to farmers to the House floor.

We can’t expect a progressive tide in 2014 midterms, nor is one probable at the end of Obama’s term in 2016. After, we’ll be facing a Census and another partisan redistricting. A deep, purple bruise takes a long time to heal.

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