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Wednesday, May 19, 2010


As mentioned in an earlier post, the Ceaser-Busch book on the 1992 election, Upside Down and Inside Out, offers insights into the current political climate. It is particularly relevant to yesterday's election results. In Pennsylvania, incumbent senator Arlen Specter lost to a challenger who ran to the left. In Arkansas, another challenger from the left forced Senator Blanche Lincoln into a runoff. In Kentucky, a Senate candidate from the libertarian right defeated the establishment choice in the GOP primary. In a special House election in Pennsylvania, a Democrat won by running against his own party's liberal agenda and the GOP's purported pro-corporate bias. (See an ad here.)

The media have noted anti-establishment tone to the results. This "outsiderism" has roots in the anti-federalists, the Jeffersonians, and the Jacksonians. Ceaser and Busch explain how candidates as disparate as Rand Paul, Joe Sestak and Mark Critz can call claim the same "outsider" mantle:
[Modern outsiderism] functions almost entirely as a symbol, devoid of any specific content. Its essence is the appeal of being "not part of," and thus not tainted by, the inside, or the establishment, or the ways things are done ... Outsiderism has a powerful attraction in part because it is so amorphous and multifaceted. It is like an empty box with a false bottom from which almost anything can be pulled. Some outsider positions may be serious and thoughtful, others meaningless or downright dangerous. But much of the time, it is not a question of position, but merely of positioning. What strategists and candidates understand is that with the use of a vague symbol, they can appeal to diverse positions united only by a common mood or discontent