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NPR Political Analyst Ken Rudin: Changes Won't Last Forever

November 4, 2010 - 7:00pm

Three days after a stunning defeat for Democrats, National Public Radio's top political analyst told the politically minded in Palm Beach County not to think these changes will last forever.

Ken Rudin was the guest speaker at the nonpartisan Forum Club of the Palm Beaches Friday afternoon. Rudin's been reporting on politics for the last three decades and is currently the political director at NPR.

"We think these sea changes will last forever, but they don't. They change on a dime," Rudin told more than 400 people at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

He pointed out how the Republicans thought they would be "in the woods for a long time" after losing to Barack Obama in 2008, but just two years later the pendulum has swung back in the other direction.

It wasn't a surprise that Democrats lost seats this year. Historically, the party in power always loses some seats. But what is surprising, he said, was just how bad of a shellacking -- to use President Obama's words -- it was.

This election gave Republicans 680 seats in state Legislatures across the country, the most they've had since 1928.

When Obama had just taken office in 2009, his approval rating was higher than most presidents. But after massive pieces of controversial legislation and trillions of dollars added to the deficit, Rudin said, fear and anger began to take over.

"The underlying fear for my children and grandchildren's future was an important factor in this election season," he said. "The anger was real and a lot of Democrats didn't know what hit them."

Rudin says the fear was propelled by cable news networks on the left and the right, saying they broadcast more opinion than news. While he mentioned MSNBC, he particularly criticized Fox News.

Last month Juan Williams, a colleague of Rudin's, was fired from NPR for comments he made on Fox. Rudin said NPR shouldn't have allowed one of its staff to work for both organizations.

"It's not that they're conservative and we're liberal," he told the group. "They're opinion and we're news."

Rudin also appeared to be somewhat baffled by the tea party.

"I don't really understand the tea party," he said. "There's no organized movement, no central headquarters. There's just a lot of anger."

He acknowledged that the tea party, in conjunction with other factors like the Obama hug, took the seemingly untouchable Gov. Charlie Crist down in the race for U.S. Senate.

Even with a Republican-controlled House and more Republicans in the Senate, the future political landscape is about as uncertain as ever. The left is likely to be more liberal, with many of the moderate Democrats having been voted out. And the right is more conservative with the influence of the tea party.

Rudin questioned whether the tea party will cause Republicans to move so far right that moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney will have trouble in 2012. He also pointed out the significance of the Republican governorships over Senate seats, because Republican governors like Rick Scott will have influence in more states over drawing voting districts for 2012.

But even in context of all the changes 2010 brought, Rudin says it's impossible to predict what will happen even two years from now.

"Ultimately, I don't think [the 2010 elections] mean that much for 2012," he said.

"Drastic changes we've seen this year could be just as drastic in 2012," he added "Or, they could not."

Lane Wright can be reached at or (561) 247-1063.

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