Analysis: The Anti-Incumbency Mood

NPR Senior News Analyst Dan Schorr says Tuesday's primary elections provided a vivid demonstration of the current anti-incumbency mood in much of the American electorate.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

As we just heard, Congressman Joe Sestak won yesterday, in part by insisting that he is outside the political establishment.

Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has been tracking this darkening mood across the country toward Washington's insiders.

DANIEL SCHORR: The Italians have a word for anti-incumbency. It is basta, or enough. And yesterday's primary elections provided a vivid demonstration of the current basta mood in much of the American electorate.

Late-blooming Democrat Arlen Specter was turned down for a sixth term in the Senate. In Kentucky, an anti-government novice beat out the Republican establishment candidate for the Senate. This was only the latest of developments in which the party faithful seemed to turn their backs on their leaders, less on policy grounds than grounds of incumbency.

Before yesterday's primaries came the decision of the Utah Republican Convention to unseat that reliable conservative, Senator Robert Bennett. And before him, familiar faces had gone down to defeat in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts.

Beyond slogans like we want our government back, it's hard to tell what the anti-incumbents want. In Maine, the current Republican platform calls for abolition of the Federal Reserve. This might have surprised conservative President Richard Nixon, who froze wages and prices and established the Environmental Protection Agency.

Clearly the economic recession plays a part in the thinking of the party insurgents. But the Great Depression of the 1930s drove America to the left under President Franklin Roosevelt, with New Deal agencies and government work programs. The current recession appears to drive anti-incumbent politics towards the right. Basta isn't much of a program but kick out the incumbents seems to be the order of the day.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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