It is, I suppose, time for an overdue commentary on the historic midterm elections.
It was a good night in most respects. It was disappointing to see Scott Kleeb (NE-03) and Angie Piccione (CO-04) lose having donated to both their campaigns, but it was remarkable that a democrat would have even been competitive in those districts. All in all a strong testimony to the effectiveness of Dean’s 50 State Strategy, and suggestive of good things to come down the road.
Locally things went particularly well, given the pickup of MN-01 for the Democrats, the takeover of the MN House, and enlarged majorities such that theDFL has a nearly veto proof majority in both houses. But I can’t for the life of me understand why the voters of Minnesota’s sixth congressional district could be so amazingly stupid as to actually elect thebatshit crazy, theocratic wingnut Michelle Bachmann to the US House of Representatives. And the electoral survival of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is a disappointment. I curse the governor every time I get stuck in traffic or see yet another pointless school fundraiser or tax hike. I bit my lip and grudgingly voted for the self aggrandizing media whore theDFL nominated to oppose him….but I know many who couldn’t do that an respect themselves in the morning. And it’s too bad. Pawlenty survived by a fraction of a point.
The Independence Party came out a big loser in the Minnesota elections. But not in the way so many people would think. There’s been the usual whining that their presence took votes away from Hatch, returningPawlenty to office. But there’s no way to say who would have been effected more. It’s a reasonable observation that the moderate populism of the Independence Party fits well with theDFL , without the hard core leftist element that makes some people nervous. But they seem to think lightening is going to strike again and they’ll pull, somehow, another 1998 a la JesseVentura . Sorry folks but it ain’t gonna happen. But you don’t solve the problem of significant numbers voting for third party candidates by bitching. You solve it by giving them something to support in your own platform.
The media honeymoon for the Democrats is already over with the reporting over fighting and divisions. That’s idiocy. Olbermann explains it pretty succinctly :
Funny, how when Trent Lott defeated Lamar Alexander by one vote for the Senate minority leadership yesterday, it was characterized in the media as a remarkable comeback story, with the random kidding reference to that ironical word “minority.” But when Steny Hoyer and Jack Murtha both stood for the House majority leadership today, that was characterized in the media as Democratic infighting, with frequent implications that the Dems were already coming apart at the seams.
Thoughtful conservative John Cole observes :
A snide observer might note that what you saw was just a real leadership struggle. Compare and contrast that to what is happening within the Republican House caucus, in which they just extended the middle finger to the public and elected the same exact leadership that was in place- Boehner and Blunt. No struggle, no debate, no chance for fresh blood- just a nice orderly succession in the DeLay bloodline.
Regardless, you have to love the right-wing spin on this whole affair- “Hoyer Humiliates Pelosi” is the typical response, and you can bet that a whole series of posts detailing the corruption of Rep. Murtha had to be shelved with Hoyer’s victory. Given that this is the same crew who, after being demolished at the polls on election day, claimed that Conservatism had won, that would be a pretty safe bet.
This was a leadership struggle, nothing more, and I do not think drawing any larger conclusions about whether or not the Democrats can work together makes any sense- after twelve years out of power, it is safe to say they are united against the Republican party (if there was a gaffe in all of this, it was Pelosi using the phrase “Truth to Power” in her remarks yesterday). Despite the best efforts of the media and the GOP to spin this as a terrible blunder, it will amount to little more than a blip, especially as the oversight begins in earnest this January.
A major catalyst for commentary is driven by a Time Magazine article which discusses myths percolating down from the midterms. I usually read Time more like a comic book, but they’re gotten it right this time – I can say that since their own analysis essentially reaffirms what I’ve been thinking myself these past couple weeks.
MYTH: Republicans lost their base.
REALITY: The base turned out, they just got beat.
Yep. Turnout wasn’t bad for a midterm, which makes it even tougher for the results to not be understood as something of a mandate against more of the same out of Washington. At Firedoglake we read:
Yes, that’s right, Karl. Your revved up base still turned out in droves, based on your nasty “push the worst buttons of their souls” political strategery, and yet…well…you still got your ass handed to you. Boo yah!
A lot too is that the old ploys to get out the vote worked in principle…they just worked differently than in 2002 or 2004. Take, for example, the anti gay initiatives on the ballots in several states. Kudos to the clearer heads in Arizona thatbitchslapped the constitutional amendment, but the real effects were probably in Virginia and Wisconsin where independents and Democrats turned out to support the amendments, but then voted for Democrats.
MYTH: The election was all about the war.
REALITY: It’s the dishonesty, stupid.
Time kind of overstates their case here. We see 74% complain about corruption while 67% about the war. The war did matter and it helped bring out the Democrats’ base. But this is a stark repudiation of those, usually on the right, who said the culture of corruption wasn’t a big deal. Moreover, it’s hard to separate dishonesty from the war since we know now that the intelligence was doctored to make a more compelling case for war in the first place.
MYTH: The losses Republicans suffered this election were no different than what you usually see in a President’s sixth year in office.
REALITY: Redistricting minimized what might have been a truly historic shellacking.
There are multiple stories to this one. There really aren’t that many regularly competitive districts any more and in some ways it’s a shame. It truly was a wave election, and the effects were felt throughout the ballot. Not just national but state legislatures fell to the Democrats as well. In terms of “getting” just how historic this change was, not one Democratic seat fell to Republicans this go around whether in the House of Representatives, the Senate, or governorships. Typically individual seats will change hands between parties, even though one party or the other will net an increase. Even in 1994, for example, the GOP lost four seats to the Democrats despite their net gain to take control. This time around there were ZERO Republican pick ups. It wasn’t just a net gain for the Democrats, but a complete firewall in terms of what they already had. It’s amazing.
More than that, it seems the GOP’s excessive and blatant gerrymandering may have even cost them a few seats. It appears the GOP, desperate in their attempts to boost numbers, may have stretched base voters too thin between some districts making them only nominally safe for GOP candidates leaving them both vulnerable to Democratic takeover during political waves.
MYTH: Democrats won because they carefully recruited more conservative candidates.
REALITY: Democrats won because their candidates were conservative about their message.
Truth be told, oversimplifications like this are why I typically read Time more like a comic book. The crux of the matter is that the Democrats are now the big tent party, with a whole lot more ideological diversity than you’re going to find within the GOP. What we’re seeing is additional evidence of realignment and the possible relegation of the GOP to regional status. The Democrats don’t need the south to get to a functioning majority any more, and the Republicans are losing strength almost everywhere but.
More to the point, the wailing cries from the wingnut caucus suggest a salving of conscience with the notion that “conservatives” won even if Republican’ts didn’t. Yes there were some conservative Democrats elected just as there were some liberal Republicans defeated. But a lot of liberals and even progressives (and an outright socialist) were elected as well. Moreover, a lot of these conservative Democrats aren’t really conservative. They’re not progressives but they are populists. Have these conservative pundits actually read John Tester’s policy positions? Or Jim Webb’s? I don’t get the impression they have because the policies advocated by these supposedly “conservative” Democrats fit squarely into the mainstream of the Democratic party and will be fought tooth and nail by the GOP.
MYTH: Joe Lieberman’s victory proves the netroots don’t matter.
REALITY: The netroots had some key victories.
Among the stupider claims passing for “wisdom” among the chattering classes. Lieberman is, in fact, among the worst ways in which to view theNetroots contribution. From the article:
Of the 19 candidates that three of the biggest liberal blogs (Daily Kos, mydd.com and Swing State Project) raised money for, eight of the candidates won. … This cycle, bloggers may have been most strongly linked to Lamont, but they actually donated more money to Jim Webb of Virginia. Bloggers also made “macaca” into a scandal that helped sink Webb’s opponent, George Allen. The netroots’ record is probably too short to be judged definitively, but instead of looking at pure win/loss records, an examination of where the netroots put their emphasis suggests that the online community is either becoming more sophisticated in picking its candidates or is helping push long shots over the top.
The netroots have been influential on both sides of the aisle, but the focus seems to rest mostly on the left side. OK, that’s fine for discussion purposes. First off, Lieberman’s run as an independent is best understood as a victory for the netroots. He lost the primary, but won the final based on his support from Republicans – and especially rightward leaning bloggers. “Virtual” opposition on the left cost him the primary, and “virtual” support on the right strengthened his campaign in the final. Yes, there arerightwing bloggers too and let’s not forget the role they played in the defeat, a couple years back, of Tom Daschle.
As far as the netroots go, they did pretty well. Tester and Webb in the Senate are clear netroots wins. But the larger story is the excitement generated by the netroots in races across the country that were FAR closer than they should have been. Idaho-01 should not have been competitive. Colorado-04 should not have been competitive. New Mexico-01 should not have been competitive. Nebraska-03 should not have been competitive. And there are lots more. Thenetroots are directly responsible for getting a buzz going in these races and starting the small time fundraising that got them to where they could compete on a more equal footing with established incumbents or in strongly GOP leaning districts. This is how you build a majority, on district at a time.
Here’s looking forward to 2008 when we can fumigate 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue…