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What Explains the Anti-Establishment Sentiment?

After last night's election results, there's no doubt that the electorate has contempt for Washington incumbents and the political establishment.  Virtually every media account dutifully recites the same storyline -- that these results reflect an "anti-incumbent" mood -- but virtually none of these stories examines the reasons for that "mood."  Why do Americans, seemingly regardless of party affiliation or geographic location, despise the political establishment?

One reason why media mavens seem reluctant, even unable, to grapple with this question is because it so plainly falls outside their familiar, comfortable narratives.  Contrary to efforts earlier this year to depict the problem as one aimed at Democratic incumbents due to the unpopular health care plan and the growing "tea party" movement, Republican voters -- as demonstrated in Florida, Utah, and last night in Kentucky -- clearly hate their own party's leadership at least as much as the animosity directed toward Democratic incumbents.  The trend is plainly trans-partisan and trans-ideological, and the establishment political media has a very difficult time understanding or explaining dynamics about which that is true.

So extreme is the anger toward the political establishment that not even popular politicians have any impact on it.  Despite the fact that he remains quite popular with his state's GOP voters, Mitch McConnell's handpicked candidate was slaughtered in Kentucky by a highly unconventional and establishment-scorned Rand Paul.  And just as Massachusetts voters did in December when President Obama traveled there to plead with them to elect Martha Coakley, only for them to reject those pleas and send Scott Brown to the Senate, Democratic voters completely ignored Obama's vigorous support for incumbent Senators Arlen Specter and Blanche Lincoln, sending the former to ignominious defeat after 30 years, and forcing the latter into an extremely difficult run-off with Bill Halter (who was recruited by Accountability Now, an organization I helped found and continue to run).


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