Anti-Incumbent Super PAC Does More Harm Than Good

Throwing out more seasoned players will only make the gridlock in Congress worse.

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"Throw the bums out" is an understandable sentiment among Americans frustrated with the state of affairs in Washington. But as an actual election tactic, it's foolish and counterproductive.

A new super PAC called the Campaign for Primary Accountability takes the clean-house approach and is seeking to help candidates in both parties defeat an incumbent (or, in the case of two incumbents forced into a primary against each other, the candidate the group sees as more independent). The organization helped defeat Ohio GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt, who was defeated by a little-known and underfunded primary challenger. The group was not successful in its bid to support Ohio Democrat Rep. Dennis Kucinich against his opponent and colleague, Rep. Marcy Kaptur. Now, the Campaign for Public Accountability is taking on Alabama Republican Rep. Spencer Bachus.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Super PACs.]

The amount of cash the group is spending is miniscule compared to the amount of money injected into the presidential campaign by hyper-wealthy donors. But unlike the billionaires seeking to put their favored candidate into office, the Campaign for Primary Accountability appears to want to shake things up for its own sake. And that is a recipe for more gridlock and dysfunction on Capitol Hill.

While it's fashionable to assume that "entrenched" members of Congress are the root of the problem, the opposite is often true—and surely has been true in the past year. Many lawmakers come to Washington with a bit of hot-headedness, but mellow when they realize they are merely one among 435 or 100 members of one of two chambers of one of three branches of government. If often takes some time and maturing for new members of Congress to realize they can't have their way all the time. This is a big and diverse country, and compromise is a necessary part of lawmaking.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Was 2011 One of the Worst Years for the U.S. Government in American History?]

When Congress nearly brought on a global recession last year, was it the experienced members who were to blame? No, it was the freshman, Tea Party-backed members of the caucus who thought increasing the debt limit meant increasing spending (as opposed to what it was, which was making sure the United States would make good on obligations it had already incurred). They were so cement-headed about what they wanted, they didn't know—or care—that failing to raise the debt ceiling would have been devastating not only for this country, but other nations as well. The delay alone caused the United States to lose its AAA credit rating, and it could have been worse. Lowering the debt is an admirable and important goal. Throwing the economy into a tailspin just to make a point is just irresponsible. Veteran lawmakers in both parties knew that and finally got the debt ceiling law passed.

There is a strong argument to be made for new blood at any establishment, be it a political body or a private company. But throwing out more seasoned players will only make things worse.

  • See a collection of political cartoons on the Tea Party.
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