With Republican Scott Brown winning Massachusetts’ special U.S. Senate election in one of the greatest electoral upsets in the state’s political history last night, politicians around the nation are asking themselves what lessons can be learned from the race, and what a Scott Brown victory means for the direction of the country. While various theories have been offered by pundits and columnists, one idea seem to have real credence. With the economy in its current situation, two ongoing wars, and a seemingly deadlocked government, voters in Massachusetts and around the country are voting against incumbents more so than for their opponents.
Make no mistake, Scott Brown’s victory in one of the bluest states in the country is nothing short of remarkable, and clearly his campaign and supporters have earned the seat they have taken, but just as in Virginia and New Jersey last November, gains for Republicans were in large part a rejection of the progress and competence of the country’s current leaders. The mood around the nation is that of anti-incumbency, and as expected, the party in power is bearing the brunt of that mood. But as Republicans continue to pick up seats here and there, how long will it be until voters become frustrated with the progress of the that party? After all, the GOP offers little in the way of major reform and new and unconventional solutions.
The same mood was present in 2008, when then Sen. Obama invigorated the country’s Independent voters and lead the Democrats to the Whitehouse on the wave of hope and change. By the end of the Bush Administration the economy was in shambles and the nation was engaged in two ongoing wars. Americans were fed up with the government and wanted its ineffective leadership gone.
What Democrats and Republicans misinterpret election after election is that in hard times, times of endless war and economic recession, Americans vote against their leaders more than they vote for their opponents. Have the elections of the past year been a referendum on Obama or on Democrats or Congress? No. They have been a referendum on the situation in which Americans have found themselves. Whether or not the nation’s leadership is responsible for this situation, the electorate will continue to hold them accountable.
This is where Libertarians have an opportunity. While the two major parties trade the burden of incumbency, third parties have the benefits of being outsiders. In addition, a sentiment of limited government has been spreading across the country. Tea Party supporters are propping up candidates in a number of states and while those candidates may mostly be Republicans, the focus of their message has been pointed toward a small government philosophy. Scott Brown used that message to get elected in Massachusetts, Marco Rubio is using it to take the Republican Senate nomination away from Charlie Crist in Florida, and the Libertarian Party can use it to win elections this November.