Unsolicited commentary on Elections ’09

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 8, 2009 in Unsolicited Commentary | Subscribe

Here at law:/dev/null I generally try to avoid writing about politics (at least the non-SG variety). The main reason is simple propriety — law school seems to treat all of us about the same, regardless if we’re conservative or liberal or something else altogether. But it’s also partly out of lingering bitterness toward my own past involvement as a political activist-turned-pariah, and the realization that I’m essentially a man without a party.

So earlier this week, during my usual perusal of the law-blog world, I ventured over to (In)Sanity Souffle’s remarks on the Maine referendum that overturned the legislature’s recognition of same-sex marriage. I thought about writing something on the topic, changed my mind, and went back to studying for my soon-to-be dismal performance in Contracts.

But then this morning I went through my usual Sunday ritual watching the political talk shows, and no one seemed to mention the main take-home point I took away from Elections 2009: none of the results were surprising. At all.

Interlude: A Window into TDot’s Politics

Let me break from the main entry briefly to give you the 10-second rundown on my political beliefs. The 3-second rundown was mentioned in my tales of IRS woe, and it’s a suitable jumping off point for the ever-so-slightly longer explanation.

I grew up hating politicians of all stripes (which is probably a good starting point for most children), a worldview I borrowed from my grandparents. For most of my childhood I was raised by Nan & Pops, who were/are as starkly different from my parents as a Mac is to a PC. Nan graduated from nursing school a few months before she met Pops, they got married soon thereafter and have been happily together ever since; she’s a housewife who raised 3 kids and now-5 grandkids, while Pops did two tours in the U.S. Navy before spending the rest of his career as an enlisted shipbuilder for the Coast Guard who has since retired. They highlight the generational divide that separates “The Greatest Generation” and their offspring from the Hippies and their offspring — being frugal, eschewing debt, striving for self-reliance, preferring quality time with family over quantity time with a television, etc.

Their politics innately made sense to me. They hate losing so much income to taxes, especially since they successfully raised a family of 5 on modest means; but they also dislike expansive welfare programs, since they were willing to sacrifice their own wants to ensure everyone had a roof over their head, clothes on their backs, and food on the table — and figure everyone else should do the same. They’re Roman Catholics who believe in God, Jesus and so on, and generally have a distaste for the raging atheists trying to stamp out any mention of anything even vaguely religious from public life; but they also support the separation of church and state because personal matters like religion “are none of your damn business” — and consequently not the government’s business either.  Despite their age, they have no problem at all with racial minorities, homosexuals, Jews/Muslims or other groups that older folk seem to dislike for whatever reason; Nan summed it up best when she said “God made all of us the way we are, who am I to question His judgment?”

And boy do they hate politicians. As far as my grandparents were concerned, every single one of them was crooked and out only to line their pockets with our tax dollars. I’m pretty sure both of them stopped voting entirely by the time I got to middle school because “nothing ever changes.” So I not only hated politicians too, but developed an acute interest in all things political.

I decided to actively get involved politically a few years later in high school, after attending a student-oriented luncheon on political theory hosted by then-Delegate Bob McDonnell (yes, the same guy who is now Governor-elect of Virginia). McDonnell exhorted us to try and change the things we didn’t like instead of merely accepting them as the status quo. So I started volunteering for political campaigns, helped to create a Republican club at my high school, and continued to stay involved when I moved to North Carolina to attend N.C. State University.

But that eclectic blend of “free people and free markets” conservatism that’s perfectly acceptable in the military- and business-hub of Virginia Beach VA got me into trouble in Raleigh NC. I eventually became the youngest elected Vice Chairman in the history of the Wake County GOP because I knew how to passionately and intelligently debate people about things like taxes and healthcare — and I got thrown out of that same Wake County GOP a mere 2 years later because I also knew how to passionately and intelligently debate people about things like separation of church and state and gay marriage.

Fast forward to today. My political views haven’t really changed, but I’ve contributed a grand total of $0.00 to the Republican Party at the local, state or national level since my banishment. I bailed on my days as a political activist to become a lobbyist and later a policy analyst for a state legislator. And now I generally don’t play in the partisan political arena at all, preferring instead to promote higher education issues through my role as President of the UNC Association of Student Governments (albeit as the first Republican to hold the Presidency in as long as anyone can remember).

I’m still generally anti-government, anti-tax, pro-gun, and pro-military. I used to oppose the death penalty, but after working for the court system (and seeing some of the exhibits in our evidence rooms) I came to the conclusion that some people just need to be executed. I’m not a fan of abortion but don’t care enough either way to do much about it. Having grown up with little material wealth, I don’t have much sympathy for the rich — but having also been homeless shortly after dropping out of N.C. State and enduring all kinds of hell to get where I am now, I don’t have much sympathy for those who stay poor. I believe in God/Jesus/etc, but stand by Nan’s old comment that religion is “none of your damn business.”  Who’s asleep in the bed next to me falls into that same NoYDB category, coincidentally one of several reasons I’m fine with gay marriage. I voted for GWB twice, and would happily do it again. I voted for Obama, but only because McCain was the more liberal of the two.1

I could go on about dozens of other topics, ranging from W’s foreign policy (love it) to net neutrality (hate it) and anything in between. But this section has probably already taken longer than 10 seconds, so I should probably move on ;)

Elections 2009: Why the Surprise?

So back to last week’s elections. The national media focused on 4 stories: Republicans winning the governorships in Virginia and New Jersey, a Democrat winning a Safe Republican seat in Congress in the 23rd NY Congressional District, and Maine voters overturning the legislature’s recognition of gay marriage.

==> Bob McDonnell wins in Virginia: this didn’t really surprise anyone, if only because the polls showed a landslide for weeks. Pundits were quick to blame his opponent for the loss, but remember this is the exact same guy who ran against McDonnell for Attorney General — and who lost that particular race by only a couple hundred votes instead of the out-and-out thrashing he got last week. The simple fact is McDonnell is not only a damn good candidate who was going to win this race regardless of who ran against him, but voters also tend to prefer nuts-and-bolts / bread-and-butter / law-and-order candidates in times of uncertainty. That’s exactly the campaign that McDonnell ran.

==> Chris Christie wins in New Jersey: this one seemed to shock people, though why I don’t know. See the previous entry about the type of candidates voters gravitate toward during uncertain times. Where McDonnell was an Attorney General, Christie was a U.S. Attorney with an impeccable record of jailing corrupt politicians (which, at least as far as NJ goes, seems to be the only kind they have). Christie also focused intensely on the poor economic conditions in the state, and naturally had the more believable argument with voters since his opponent was in office when those poor economic conditions came about. No matter how big the Democratic registration advantage may have been, everyone should have seen this victory coming.

==> Bill Owens wins in NY-23: again, another obvious result. First there’s the fact his main opponent Doug Hoffman was a 3rd party candidate — love or hate our 2-party system, with few exceptions 3rd party candidates simply don’t win elections. Period. Add on top of it the factional divide among the Republicans between the liberal GOP, the moderate GOP, and the conservative GOP. For all the post-election talk of “there’s no civil war in the party,” I can tell you from personal experience it’s total BS. My eviction from the WakeGOP centered exclusively on the fact I didn’t hate blacks or gays and refused to quote Bible verses in everyday conversation, and I’ve helped put quite a few Democrats into office as a result. NY-23 is just a continuation of that same phenomenon. Owens win was a foregone conclusion… as will be his loss next year if there’s only one GOP candidate.

==> Homophobes win in Maine: bringing things full circle to that piece over at (In)Sanity Souffle, I have no doubt the sadness and disappointment are real but I’m confounded by it just the same, at least insofar as they’re rooted in the result being unexpected. Let’s not forget it wasn’t terribly long ago that mixed-race marriages were illegal in my home state of Virginia. Had that been a legislative enactment instead of a judicial decision by the Supreme Court (see Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1) would a referendum overturning it fail today? I’d like to think so, but honestly I’m not sure. People tend to give pollsters answers that would be considered “politically correct” because they don’t want to be perceived as bigots. Once someone steps into a voting booth, though, they become quasi-anonymous and can state their opinion without anyone ever finding out. And anything non-“conventional” tends to get voted against. In general I don’t like the idea of a referendum process overturning legislative enactments — the politicians chosen on Election Day should be the referendum — but the minute that referendum was allowed, supporters of gay marriage surely must have known the people opposing them were going to carry the day. I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes another Supreme Court ruling similar to Loving for anything to permanently change.


Anyhow, that’s my unsolicited synopsis on the 2009 elections — like or dislike the results, they shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

And in exchange for y’all indulging me, I promise I’ll refrain from any further political commentary for the near-term future ;)

Have a good night y’all! :D

  1. And frankly I have a hard time forgiving anyone who would trample the Constitution to protect their incumbency. I’ve despised McCain since learning about McCain-Feingold in 12th Grade civics class. []

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Nov 9, 2009 at 12:02 PM

I’m pretty much in the same boat. I don’t get too fired up about any one issue, primarily because politics isn’t personal to me…it’s professional…I guess when I look at it as my job I just figure out what needs to get done to achieve our goals and not all the fiery rhetoric and all that jazz. I’m not particularly partisan, although I’ve been a Republican for-ev-er and while I have serious concerns about the direction the GOP is heading, I’m also not really interested in becoming a Democrat or without party. I’ve found law school to be fairly intolerant of not just conservatives, but even moderate or liberal Republicans. Might just be where I am, though. I can’t count the number of “tolerant liberals” who have attacked me simply because of my voter registration and the fact I’m an Evangelical Christian without ever stopping to ask me what I actually believe. They might be surprised. But that’s about all I have to say about that :)

And I agree with you, nothing that shocking came out of last week’s elections…I guess the pundits have to be shocked about something, though, right? ;)

Nov 12, 2009 at 8:25 PM

Yes indeed :beatup: I wonder what people did back when 24/7 punditry didn’t exist?

As for liberal tolerance, it’s kind of weird at NCCU. It’s a historically black university and the law school has one of the most diverse student bodies in the country, so most of the folks are Democrats… but I haven’t had a bad discussion/debate yet, and actually converted a few people (or at least made them question left-wing orthodoxy).

Maybe they’re just being nice to me, idk… :)


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