Most off-election years are fairly quiet. Without doubt, 2009 is an exception. Anti-government protesters, name-calling by both sides, and a member of Congress reprimanded for calling the president a liar are just some of the lowlights of the past few months. Your columnists, with little shouting, offer their perspectives:
The "tea party" rallies, the 912 project and other anti-government protests are increasing. Is this a long-term trend or just a flash in the pan?
Pignanelli: "12 Highlanders and a bagpipe make a rebellion." — Scottish proverb. Every 10 to 20 years, a heated aggressive movement occurs in American political culture. The instigators usually claim a nonpartisan agenda, while the average participants are angry with the federal government and despise both political parties. Oftentimes, these movements propel third-party candidates including Ross Perot in 1992, John Anderson in 1980 (but Ronald Reagan eventually captured their support), George Wallace in 1968, etc.
The current protests, whether at the town hall meetings or demonstrations in various capitals, are the new versions of these generational outbursts. As with the prior movements, they articulate wonderful slogans and foster strong emotions, but it will eventually dissipate. The question is whether the activists will encourage a plausible third-party candidate in 2012.
Webb: When a president tackles an issue impacting every single American and one-sixth of the economy, you can bet many citizens are going to get riled up. That's not bad; it's good. The same do-gooders who used to complain about apathy and complacency are now wringing their hands over citizen activism.
Every year we hear that politics has become more toxic and divisive. That's baloney. We always remember the good old days fondly, but politics isn't any worse today than in past eras.
Today is nothing like the '60s, when we had rioting in the streets, people killed, thousands of people arrested and massive civil disobedience.
The Vietnam War and civil rights brought people out of complacency. Today it's a terrible economy and a massive federal takeover. Tomorrow it will be something else. Citizen activism is a great American tradition.
The House of Representatives sanctioned Rep. Joe Wilson for his outburst last week against President Barack Obama during the health-care reform speech. Was this really needed and will it have any effect?
Webb: It was a lot of silly political grandstanding by Democrats in disarray. Wilson did a stupid thing and he apologized. The overblown media coverage and Democratic sanctimony demonstrated a deceitful double standard. Far worse things were said about Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush by members of Congress.
Pignanelli:Barack Obama is a decent person, caring father and supportive spouse. He is a credit to the highest office in our country. Regardless of whether his proposals are flawed, the president hopes to improve the lives of Americans. Wilson and other Obama detractors have the right (and obligation) to criticize the president's policies, but not the position. The president of this country possesses an office that unequivocally allows him to address his constituents, the Congress and even our schoolchildren without nasty personal attacks.
Presidents from both parties contributed to the decline of the office. Nixon treated it like a political toilet, and any sense of stateliness was shattered by Bill Clinton's excessive libido and pardoning. Hopefully, the House resolution will begin re-establishing a standard of behavior for both parties and their leaders.
What is the political fallout (i.e. who benefits and who loses) from this increased anger and rancor?
Pignanelli: Although the protests are impacting Obama's popularity, there is no increase in approval for Republicans. In the past, most politicians who tried to harness this fervor were harmed in the attempt (i.e. Perot; the exception is Reagan). The outlandish behavior by many protesters is preventing the needed credible debate on health-care reform. Wonderful slogans and a strong appeal to our American emotional legacy of independence are emanating from the protests, but no resolution is offered. Thus, until there is substance behind the screams, no one benefits.
Webb: The Republicans are benefitting now, but not because of anything they've done. They're simply the beneficiaries of Democrats' overreaching efforts to push big government solutions on a reluctant nation.
Please remember, the Democrats are in charge. They have the presidency and massive congressional majorities. They have total control of Washington. The Republicans never enjoyed such large margins when they were in power. On paper, the Democrats can do whatever they please. All they have to do is get their fellow Democrats to vote with them. What's hard about that?
The Democrats love to demonize the far right, but that's not their problem. They won't ever get archconservative support, and they don't need it. Their problem is the center, the independents, the moderate voters, who are abandoning Democratic big-government solutions in droves. A left-center coalition put Democrats in office. If they can't hold that coalition, there must be a message there. If an overwhelming Democratic majority can't take care of the nation's biggest problems, they don't deserve to be in charge.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. E-mail: email@example.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a Utah state tax commissioner. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.