This week, Oregon lefties were dealt a bit of a blow in our effort to see the exit of Republican Senator Gordon Smith--regarded as one of the top five most vulnerable GOP incumbents. John Frohnmayer, a former member of the Bush Administration (National Endowment for the Arts), announced his independent candidacy with a call to impeach President Bush. This doubly sucks, because we not only have a chance to take the seat back, but both Steve Novick and Jeff Merkley, the Dem candidates, are solid lefties.
But as I think about it, there is something interesting in this phenomenon. Frohnmayer, who has lately lent his support more in the Democratic direction, is nevertheless one of those candidates who acts as a kind of barometer for the national mood. In the mid-90s, the political winds blew right, whether it was Clinton ending welfare or the rise of the poisonous Fox network or the general derision directed all things culturally liberal and urban. Dems were a joke, liberalism was dead, markets and Jeses were ascendant (remember the discussion that we lived in a post-nation world?).
Frohnmayer, as the independent, gives voice to the extra-party mood of the electorate. And what he says, loudly, is that the American polity is incompetent and corrupt. His argument will undoubtedly be that the Dems are no more trustworthy. But while that may screw the Dem this year, the message is clear: the era of GOP rule is done.
I have this debate with friends pretty regularly, who argue that since Dubya was the worst candidate in history--theoretically or in reality--ipso facto, the GOP will win in '08 when the same electorate who voted W will have a better Republican on the ballot. If the ascendancy of the GOP brand were still so strong, however, former Bush administration officials wouldn't be running against the GOP in 2008.