What are this year’s midterm elections about? Even in the most closely fought face-offs, it’s not always clear. Is Iraq the deciding issue? Or will the vote be a broader verdict on the Bush presidency or incumbency in general?
Tuesday will tell.
And yet, there’s another place to look for clues about the direction of American politics, and that is in a group of not-so-tight gubernatorial races.
Less covered than the tensest, most partisan congressional fights, the likely blowout wins of popular governors in both parties, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s race in California and Janet Napolitano’s in Arizona, propose a story line as suggestive and deserving of note as the high-profile Iraq referendums and party-line slugfests.
In these gubernatorial blowouts, the easy re-election of nimble, energetic and pragmatic governors in key states marks the success of nonideological problem solving in an era that may be growing tired of ideological partisanship.
In this respect, astute governors of both parties are going to be rewarded big time this year for breaking with convention and governing in ways that eschew narrow partisanship in order to respond with alertness and creatively to America’s 21st century challenges:
Now, of course, caution is essential in attaching significance to the coming gubernatorial blowouts. Certainly, local conditions and personal character explain a good part of these and other stateside coronations. And for that matter, America’s states, by dint of their balanced-budget mandates and inherent policy responsibilities, are often America’s best laboratories of democracy.
And yet, it is hard to ignore that this fall’s stateside outpouring of approval for a group of somewhat similar governors highlights the renewed strength of a pragmatic, hybrid, unorthodox vision of government problem solving that contrasts starkly with the polarization, gridlock and ideological fatigue in Washington.
Moreover, it clearly bears noting that these pragmatic governors are being rewarded with likely second terms by constituencies that supported the opposite party for president. Napolitano and Sibelius are Democrats, whose states voted for Bush in 2004. Schwarzenegger and Rell are Republicans in Kerry country. In each case, their popularity vindicates the continued salience of a shrewd centrism (at least in the states) at a time of ideological hardening in Washington.
True, the pragmatists’ cakewalks lack the excitement and hoopla of the congressional horse races. Still, the wild popularity of the new-look governors could well hint at the post-ideological shape of things to come in what David Brooks has called the “era of what’s next.”