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There's No Voter Insurrection -- Americans Are Poorer, Unemployed, and Not Fired Up About Politics

It is in the nature of the 24-hour news cycle to dissect each and every vote, poll and throwaway comment, searching for meaning like an ancient seer rummaging through bird innards or a boom time stock trader decrypting Alan Greenspan's every word. Joe Sestak's victory over war (or Trojan) horse Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Democratic primary is just such an event, launching a thousand prognostications, talking heads chomping at the bit to control the spin. Combined with Tea Partier Rand Paul's win in Kentucky, Arkansan Blanche Lincoln getting forced into a runoff, and Utah GOP Senator Bennett's primary loss, a narrative is coalescing: the American electorate--as amorphous a thing as the much mythologized "Arab street"--are in an "anti-incumbent mood." The New York Times Matt Bai well summarized the conventional wisdom:
"Voter insurrection has gone as mainstream as Miley Cyrus, and to the extent that the parties in Washington take comfort in the false notion that all this chaos is fleeting, they will fail to internalize the more enduring lessons of Tuesday's elections."
For Bai, the lessons are clear: outsider candidates are now better poised to topple the mighty; less identification with the two major parties leaves primaries vulnerable to energetic ideologues; and a resurgent outside-the-Beltway sentiment threatens all that was sacred. But if Philadelphia is any indicator, Bai and others largely miss the bigger point: most Americans are back to their well-deserved cynicism towards politics. They're poorer and unemployed and aren't really that fired up about anything. In Philly, almost no one voted. As usual. People (especially Specter supporters like Governor Ed Rendell) blamed the rain. But Tuesday's turnout was on par with other years. Just about 2 out of 10 registered Democrats bothered to show up, and it really wasn't that rainy. The Obama phenomenon--what Discovery Channel host Sarah Palin likes to call "that hopey, changey stuff"--was a blip. Obama took over the Wall Street bailout and two wars, while rolling out a diminutive stimulus package that barely staunched runaway job loss. I voted for Sestak. Despite his profoundly uncharismatic delivery on the stump, I didn't think Specter could be trusted. But almost no one in Philly, and throughout the entire Keystone State, gave a damn. And that's the story the media isn't telling. Reporters are biased towards finding a narrative, and towards trumpeting change instead of trying to explain persistent continuity. We also tend to assume that other people think about politics as much as we do. Sometimes news isn't new. Indeed, some of the most troubling things about this country are very, very old. The Tea Party, for instance, has never been that much of a mystery. Why did we need a New York Times poll to tell us that this was the same old far right? It's not breaking news because it's the same old story. But it bears repeating.
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