The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

PA-12: The Final Wisdom

Posted on | May 19, 2010 | 64 Comments

HAGERSTOWN, Md.
Back home now, after driving 430 miles in 24 hours for the Election Day swing through Pennsylvania’s 12th District. Am I totally bummed out? Yeah, especially because I spent four hours sleeping in my car at the West Virginia Welcome Center on I-79 after staying until 3:30 a.m. at the post-election bull session.

The bull session started in the lobby bar and ended on the sixth floor of the George Washington Hotel (which, I must remind you, is posh) where the young GOP campaign staffers anethetized their post-election pain with anodyne beverages. One of these young fellows bristled a little when he found out I’m a reporter, although I tried to explain I’m a friendly — as objective as Harry Carey calling a Cubs game. The hostility puzzled me, and then he explained that he’d been misquoted by the New Republic a few days earlier.

Well, Chris Burdick is a Great American  no matter what the New Republic says about him. Ever since the infamous Stephen Glass episode, it’s been good policy to take anything the New Republic says with a grain of salt, including John B. Judis’s election analysis that depicts PA-12 as a victory for The Vital Center:

Democrats can be pleased with the results of the May 18 elections. They won the only head-to-head contest with a Republican—a congressional election in Pennsylvania to fill the seat of the late John Murtha—by capturing the center in a fairly conservative district.

Which is utter hogwash — it was a victory for political inertia in a district that has been dominated by Democrats so long that the Republican Party at the county level has atrophied. And the Democrats didn’t win by “capturing the center” but by doing what they do best: Lying.

So fuck you, John B. Judis.

Hey, I’m feeling better already.

There is nothing worse that these “Big Picture” intellectual pundits who do nothing but pontificate about the cosmic significance of events they haven’t witnessed in places they’ve never been. Amy Crawford may be a vicious Marxist bull-dyke who misquotes Great Americans like Chris Burdick, but at least she was there, OK?

Until you’ve had a chili dog at Coney Island Lunch, don’t tell me about PA-12. Until you’ve been to the First Ward in Latrobe, until you’ve spent some time talking off-the-record to the locals, until you’ve taken a wrong turn and driven through the dilapidated south side of Johnstown — I missed Highway 271 and kept going south on Bedford Street — you don’t really know what you’re talking about.

Political Nostalgia and Economic Envy

The current political mantra of “jobs, jobs, jobs” has a different meaning in places where Democrats and their union-goon buddies have ruled the roost for so long. Whereas most conservatives hear “jobs” and think of innovative hard-working enterpreneurs attracting investment to create private-sector economic growth — you know, guys like Tim Burns — a lot of people in places like PA-12 hear “jobs” and think . . .

Well, they don’t really think at all.

Rather, the typical Democratic voter in PA-12 has some kind of visceral atavistic impulse to blame his problems on greedy rich Republicans — you know, guys like Tim Burns.

So those ridiculously false DCCC ads that accused Burns of wanting to “ship jobs overseas” were merely telling Democratic voters what they already believed. If you got laid off at the plant 10 years ago, and are still sitting around your run-down house on the south side of Johnstown waiting for the Good Old Days to come back, the Democrats will be only too happy to tell you that the Republican Party is the only thing that stands between you and that $22-an-hour job which doesn’t require education, skill or even sobriety.

Granted, the GOP has at times indulged in dumbed-down symbolic politics — “Vote Republican, or Gay Mexican Abortionists Will Burn Your Flag!” — but cultural conservatism doesn’t destroy communities the way economic liberalism does.

On the city square in Johnstown yesterday, I saw a monument to victims of the 1889 flood. But there was no monument to victims of the AFL-CIO: “In Loving Memory Of The Thousands Of Jobs Driven Away By Anti-Competitive Labor Policies.”

Until more Republicans in Pennsylvania can muster up the courage to start speaking some blunt truths about the source of their state’s economic malaise, Democrats will continue winning with idiotic assertions about greedy rich people who want to “ship jobs overseas.” Hell’s bells, what about shipping jobs to Alabama and Kentucky? Why are foreign companies like Honda and KIA building industrial plants in southern Appalachia, but not northern Appalachia?

Wake up and smell the AFL-CIO, Pennsylvania!

Trampling Out the Vintage

Who to blame for defeat in PA-12? Go ahead, blame me. I jinxed it. My family’s had a losing streak in Pennsylvania ever since my great-grandfather’s regiment got outflanked by the Iron Brigade on July 1, 1863

However, the finger-pointing and second-guessing will probably focus on more local scapegoats. Dave Weigel recounts some of the post-election analysis (see also here), but none mention the name of the Rob Gleason, who is chairman of both the Pennsylvania GOP and the Cambria County GOP. In the wee hours at the lobby bar of the (posh) George Washington Hotel, Gleason’s name was mentioned quite a few times by local grassroots Republicans — and not in a good way.

Mark Critz carried Gleason’s Cambria County by a margin of more than 5,000 votes, 57% to 41%. If Gleason can’t even deliver his home county for the GOP in a key special election, why the hell would Pennsylvania Republicans put a loser like Gleason in charge of their statewide party operations?

If the Tea Party Patriots in Pennsylvania want to stage an uprising, let them unfurl their Gadsden Flags and take over the state GOP with the battle cry, “DUMP GLEASON!” Trust me, there are plenty of rank-and-file Republicans who would rally behind such a movement.

And so much for strategic goals, I suppose. Before joining the rank-and-file at the lobby-bar bull session, I first had to grapple with the Final Wisdom in my American Spectator column:

Clearly, Democrats did damage to Burns with a blizzard of TV and radio ads accusing the Republican of wanting to impose a 23-percent sales tax “on just about everything we buy” — a blatant distortion of Burns’ qualified support of the Fair Tax, a proposal that would eliminate the income tax and abolish the Internal Revenue Service. FactCheck.org called that accusation “misleading” and one Pittsburgh TV station pulled the Democrat ad from the air, but it continued running elsewhere — even during commercial breaks on local broadcasts of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show — right up until Election Day.
The effectiveness of that line of attack against Burns, however, should raise alarm bells for Republicans looking forward to November. How many GOP congressional challengers have endorsed the Fair Tax? Whatever their numbers, all of them can now expect to be hit with the same kind of attack. . . .

You can read the rest of that, and also read some of the cogent reader comments like these:

I fear the voters of PA-12 are going to learn good and hard that Murthanomics will not work for them without Murtha. His seniority and committee assignments are not transferable. . . . I anticipate the Department of Defense and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee are going to rip out the rug from under Johnstown with gleeful, vengeful, abandon. . . .
I do not anticipate much joy at the next Cambria County Fair, no sir.

And:

It is a heavily and grotesquely gerrymandered Democratic district. And its demographic makeup is very old . . . [I]t was affected by the Great Depression into the 1950’s before it began to recover.. . . The young, talented and ambitious moved out long ago and are still leaving it. . . .
Pittsburgh has lost 1/2 its population in the last 30 years and it shows . . . They have been in decline for that long.

Anyway, I’m back home now. Upstairs, my kids are romping around and laughing. It’s a pleasant sound, but I’ll need need a few more hours of sleep to recover from this road trip. Thanks to everyone who hit the tip jar to make this coverage possible, and my apologies that the result was not the victory that we had expected. There were more than a few Tim Burns supporters crying last night, but I’m a neutral objective journalist and crying would be unethical.

And you know what a stickler I am about ethics.

UPDATE: Via Memeorandum, I see that second-hand wisdom is being offered today by Politico, Steve Benen, and many others who never ate at Coney Island Lunch. However, we must respect the great sage of American political analysis, Michael Barone:

In Pennsylvania 12, so far the state shows 77,410 votes cast in the Democratic primary for Congress and 43,614 in the Republican primary—43% of them for 2008 Republican nominee William Russell, who pointedly did not endorse special election Republican candidate Tim Burns. Thus the electorate in the 12th special election consisted of almost twice as many registered Democrats as registered Republicans. . . . [T]radition-minded Democrats who didn’t like Obama and never much liked Republicans . . . didn’t . . . feel compelled to vote in the Specter-Sestak primary . . . and they didn’t feel compelled to vote in the Pennsylvania 12 special between a Democrat who took care to distance himself from Nancy Pelosi but was still a Democrat and a Republican who was a businessman conspicuously not endorsed by the retired military officer who was the party’s candidate 18 months ago. Tim Burns needed these votes, and might have gotten them if they had felt obliged to vote, one way or the other, for president; but he couldn’t get them to the polls.

An interesting theory, but in terms of forward-looking strategy, Barone’s analysis is not as useful as my suggestion of dumping Pennsylvania GOP chairman Bob Gleason.

Gleason: He was for Arlen Specter
before he was against him.

Start printing the bumper stickers.

UPDATE II: Doug Brady offers an excellent analysis at Conservatives for Palin, pointing out that having the PA-12 special election concurrently with the primary in the predominantly Democratic district may have been decisive. And if Doug is right, then there is no weight behind  MSM’s crystal-ball claims of grand cosmic implications for November.

However, the Pennsylvania GOP still needs to dump Rob Gleason. If the Democrats hold a 2-to-1 registration on Gleason’s home turf, whose fault is that?

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Comments

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  • http://theothermccain.com Robert Stacy McCain

    Rob Gleason chose Burns to run in this election and made it so through committee approval.

    That is simply FALSE, Skye.

  • http://theothermccain.com Robert Stacy McCain

    Rob Gleason chose Burns to run in this election and made it so through committee approval.

    That is simply FALSE, Skye.

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  • Estragon

    What might happen in the beginning of the postmortem examination if the subject said, “Wait – I’m not dead yet!”?

    The turnout was fed by the close contests in Democratic primaries for Governor and Senate, so Democratic votes exceeded Republicans by nearly a quarter million – but Democratic registration in PA exceeds Republican by over a million, so this is hardly surprising. Burns still has a chance in November because since PA primaries are closed, independent/”other” turnout was insignificant for the special election. Still the underdog, but not a hopeless one.

    November is PA-12’s last chance to redeem themselves for subjecting the nation to over 30 years of the crooked Murtha, though. If they blow it then, they are dead to me. Dead! – got that, Johnstown?

  • Estragon

    What might happen in the beginning of the postmortem examination if the subject said, “Wait – I’m not dead yet!”?

    The turnout was fed by the close contests in Democratic primaries for Governor and Senate, so Democratic votes exceeded Republicans by nearly a quarter million – but Democratic registration in PA exceeds Republican by over a million, so this is hardly surprising. Burns still has a chance in November because since PA primaries are closed, independent/”other” turnout was insignificant for the special election. Still the underdog, but not a hopeless one.

    November is PA-12’s last chance to redeem themselves for subjecting the nation to over 30 years of the crooked Murtha, though. If they blow it then, they are dead to me. Dead! – got that, Johnstown?

  • bogie wheel

    Pittsburgh has lost 1/2 its population in the last 30 years and it shows . . . They have been in decline for that long.

    This is misleading. The CITY OF PITTSBURGH has lost half its population over the last few decades. The metro area has remained at about the same population over that same time frame.

    Obviously, it would have been better if the metro area had been growing in population during this time. But let’s not confuse the facts; it’s the CofP that has had the massive population hemmorhage.

    Since one of the points of this post is people who don’t live in or visit an area, writing erroneous & mischaracterizing stuff about it because they have never experienced the ground-level view, I thought, as someone who does live in the Pittsburgh area, I ought to correct the item. Because whoever wrote it probably doesn’t live here.

    Some other things to ponder when talking about Pittsburgh, population, and politics:

    1. The voter registration in Allegheny County is 5 to 1 Democrat to Republican.
    2. Union legacy is BIG. BIG BIG BIG.
    3. There has not been a Republican mayor of Pittsburgh since 1933.
    4. The City of Pittsburgh, and much of Allegheny County politics at the county level, is effectively a one-party government.
    5. There are too many layers of redundant government in Pennsylvania. “Too many towns, too much debt,” as one of the local papers put it.
    6. The City of Pittsburgh faces a black hole on pensions payout. (surprise surprise) The mayor & city leaders are desperate to find revenue anywhere & everywhere they can. Last fall, three days *after* his re-election, Mayor Ravenstahl proposed taxing college students who attend campus classes in the City. The universities fought this & it died … for now. Next up: Raising the commuter tax. After that: Looking for change under the couch cushions.
    7. There are discussions about whether merging the City and County governments might help the redundancy & overspending problems.
    8. Allgheny County has the second-highest percentage of seniors per population (18%), next to Miami-Dade. Pittsburgh not being the mecca for millionaire retirees, this puts an increased tax burden on the county residents who are working and paying taxes.
    9. A lot of people have gotten around #8 by moving to outlying counties. Property taxes in the Greensburg area (Westmoreland County) are 1/3 to 1/2 those of equivalent-priced properties in Allgheny County. If you are on a modest budget, or you are trying to raise a family, which forces you to penny pinch, moving out of Allegheny County is a no-brainer. This is the *other* aspect of the City of Pittsburgh’s population hemmorhage that most people don’t know about or don’t talk about. There was a diaspora due to job loss and steel mill closings, yes. Many of those people left the region altogether. But there has also been an exodus of residents from the high-tax, Democrat-controlled entities of the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to lower-tax, Republican-leaning neighboring counties.

    It’s the auld, auld story. High taxes, overspending and declining services are job- and residency-killers.

    Alas, Pennsylvania itself has a job-killing climate.

    So even if Allegheny County and/or Pittsburgh voters & leaders were to somehow, mirable dictu, come to Jesus on taxes and spending, the atmosphere in the Commonwealth is still toxic for jobs and businesses.

    Johnstown has more or less a concentrated version of the City of Pittsburgh’s disease, governmentitis. What has saved Pittsburgh’s bacon so far and kept us from going the way of, say, Buffalo or (grasping crucifix very tightly here) Detroit, is the emergence of economic sectors not tied to steel or manufacturing.

    Voters here need to step off the union-legacy Democratic plantation. Until that happens, I don’t see much hope of any change in the tax-and-spend paradigm that is sapping us.

    … Incidentally, I love Pittsburgh & I love the people here. I’m not a native. I moved here, left for a few years, then recently came back & felt very much at home. Pittsburghers are good people, mostly socially conservative, salt-of-the-earth types. Some of the most polite drivers you will ever see! And if you love sports you will feel right at home here: “we’re a drinking town with a football problem.”

    But the political sensibilities are terribly outmoded. As the saying goes, Pittsburgh is 10-20 years behind everywhere else in America. Arghhh.

  • bogie wheel

    Pittsburgh has lost 1/2 its population in the last 30 years and it shows . . . They have been in decline for that long.

    This is misleading. The CITY OF PITTSBURGH has lost half its population over the last few decades. The metro area has remained at about the same population over that same time frame.

    Obviously, it would have been better if the metro area had been growing in population during this time. But let’s not confuse the facts; it’s the CofP that has had the massive population hemmorhage.

    Since one of the points of this post is people who don’t live in or visit an area, writing erroneous & mischaracterizing stuff about it because they have never experienced the ground-level view, I thought, as someone who does live in the Pittsburgh area, I ought to correct the item. Because whoever wrote it probably doesn’t live here.

    Some other things to ponder when talking about Pittsburgh, population, and politics:

    1. The voter registration in Allegheny County is 5 to 1 Democrat to Republican.
    2. Union legacy is BIG. BIG BIG BIG.
    3. There has not been a Republican mayor of Pittsburgh since 1933.
    4. The City of Pittsburgh, and much of Allegheny County politics at the county level, is effectively a one-party government.
    5. There are too many layers of redundant government in Pennsylvania. “Too many towns, too much debt,” as one of the local papers put it.
    6. The City of Pittsburgh faces a black hole on pensions payout. (surprise surprise) The mayor & city leaders are desperate to find revenue anywhere & everywhere they can. Last fall, three days *after* his re-election, Mayor Ravenstahl proposed taxing college students who attend campus classes in the City. The universities fought this & it died … for now. Next up: Raising the commuter tax. After that: Looking for change under the couch cushions.
    7. There are discussions about whether merging the City and County governments might help the redundancy & overspending problems.
    8. Allgheny County has the second-highest percentage of seniors per population (18%), next to Miami-Dade. Pittsburgh not being the mecca for millionaire retirees, this puts an increased tax burden on the county residents who are working and paying taxes.
    9. A lot of people have gotten around #8 by moving to outlying counties. Property taxes in the Greensburg area (Westmoreland County) are 1/3 to 1/2 those of equivalent-priced properties in Allgheny County. If you are on a modest budget, or you are trying to raise a family, which forces you to penny pinch, moving out of Allegheny County is a no-brainer. This is the *other* aspect of the City of Pittsburgh’s population hemmorhage that most people don’t know about or don’t talk about. There was a diaspora due to job loss and steel mill closings, yes. Many of those people left the region altogether. But there has also been an exodus of residents from the high-tax, Democrat-controlled entities of the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County to lower-tax, Republican-leaning neighboring counties.

    It’s the auld, auld story. High taxes, overspending and declining services are job- and residency-killers.

    Alas, Pennsylvania itself has a job-killing climate.

    So even if Allegheny County and/or Pittsburgh voters & leaders were to somehow, mirable dictu, come to Jesus on taxes and spending, the atmosphere in the Commonwealth is still toxic for jobs and businesses.

    Johnstown has more or less a concentrated version of the City of Pittsburgh’s disease, governmentitis. What has saved Pittsburgh’s bacon so far and kept us from going the way of, say, Buffalo or (grasping crucifix very tightly here) Detroit, is the emergence of economic sectors not tied to steel or manufacturing.

    Voters here need to step off the union-legacy Democratic plantation. Until that happens, I don’t see much hope of any change in the tax-and-spend paradigm that is sapping us.

    … Incidentally, I love Pittsburgh & I love the people here. I’m not a native. I moved here, left for a few years, then recently came back & felt very much at home. Pittsburghers are good people, mostly socially conservative, salt-of-the-earth types. Some of the most polite drivers you will ever see! And if you love sports you will feel right at home here: “we’re a drinking town with a football problem.”

    But the political sensibilities are terribly outmoded. As the saying goes, Pittsburgh is 10-20 years behind everywhere else in America. Arghhh.

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