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Fluke election result won't alter LA politics maturation

Politically attentive conservatives in Louisiana must feel like the Frank Costello character in the movie The Departed, groaning “How … did this happen?” with the election of Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards as governor. Understanding how leads to the realization that its uniqueness likely does not change the evolution of Louisiana’s political culture.

Costello uttered this plaintive question after having gotten shot in a police ambush organized by his mole in the state troopers, betrayed because the mole thought Costello would betray him to federal authorities. In this instance, conservatives statewide suffered betrayal at the hands of some voters who typically cast ballots for Republicans in statewide contests but did not this time because they feared delivering the state’s top office into the hands of Republican Sen. David Vitter. After all, they got told often and long enough, even by Republicans, that Vitter was mean and that Edwards served in the military.

The state’s populist heritage played some role in this, a trait that Edwards skillfully exploited. With a public conditioned so long to evaluate politics on the basis of personalities and not issues, the Edwards campaign hammered at this and obfuscated as best it could, if not falsified, to mass audiences that large majority of his issue preferences incongruent with the Louisiana public’s, with some obvious success.

But he needed help from the Republican, in the form of some of its legislators and erstwhile gubernatorial candidates. As the GOP became the majority party more from Democrats’ insistence on following the national party to the left than from articulating and acting upon a consistent conservative agenda, it never has learned to govern on the basis of that agenda. It downplayed ideology most of this election – in part because its leading figures had violated core principles of conservatism through legislative tax increases imposed this past session – giving voters mostly echoes rather than choices.

And as antipathies came to the surface based on Vitter’s take-no-prisoners style of campaigning and governance over the past quarter-century that irked the good-old-boy Republicans more enamored with the populist tradition than committed to conservatism, they put personal agendas and ambitions ahead of the good of the state. They showed their true colors in either failing to support Vitter and his conservative, reformist agenda or, worse, in actively aiding and abetting Edwards in a return to a governing philosophy that once made Louisiana the laughingstock of the states.

(Thus, Republicans and conservatives should feel justified suspicion that, in any future political endeavors, Republicans-In-Name-Only Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle; Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne; state Reps. Bryan Adams, Chris Broadwater, Thomas Carmody, Kenny Havard, Joe Lopinto, and Rob Shadoin; state Sen. Danny Martiny; and state Sen.-elect Ryan Gatti do not seriously advocate conservatism. No individual who honestly believed in the principles of conservatism would support, tacitly or openly, a candidate with beliefs largely inimical to conservatism when a committed conservative remains as an option, and seemingly so easily sell them out.)

Vitter deserves blame as well for his loss. He banked too heavily that heavy fire by his ambitious GOP opponents, who took the electorate’s preference of Vitter over them like jilted suitors, and by Edwards would not erode his long-standing favor in the Louisiana public’s eyes. He ran a campaign too aloof and should have realized much earlier that by not sating the thirst of the media, chattering classes, and of the rest of his enemies by him performing a kabuki theater act of contrition for his “serious sin,” they could use it to do the same as did his political opposition.

It was not the serious sin that did him in – how else could that explain the giving four times to the serial adulterer and criminal Prisoner #03128-095 the keys to the Governor’s Mansion – but that when left to fester by a detached campaign it too easily could become part of a larger narrative pushed by all of the above to trumpet the alleged despicableness of Vitter. A core set of voters, that sees a vague apology for actions of the distant past as acceptable for someone ideologically reliable that they send to Washington, by contrast thinks it important to have a down-to-earth, visibly – even grovelingly contrite – leader of the state, a point the Vitter campaign never seemed to get.

However, to think Edwards’ election signals any kind of hope for longer term success by the state Democrats entirely misunderstands the event. Indeed, precisely because he now has a chance to govern, the odds shorten that the party will become more marginalized than ever. The state’s latent populism, the precondition that makes the coming together of the fluky, perfect storm elements that produced this result, remains virulent only because no opportunity has come to discredit it fully.

That juncture is reached. If the legislator Edwards witnessed filing bills, casting votes, and making speeches seamlessly mutates into governor, he will govern so far removed from the preferences of the majority of Louisianans that he will bury liberalism in Louisiana for a generation, not only because the public will object to it but also because what policy preferences of his he succeeds in enacting will fail.

Unless Edwards goes against type and the entirety of Louisiana’s Democrats follow, the underlying contradictions between their liberalism and the public’s desires, and what’s good, for Louisiana will become obvious. In all likelihood, this aberrant election result in the longer term squaring of the majority’s interests with the state’s election outcomes and subsequent policy made only will slow the maturation of the state’s political culture from a personality-based liberal populism to an issues-based conservatism, not alter its inevitability.

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