Wednesday, November 15, 2006

This Thanksgiving let us be thankful for the Midterm Elections

In 2000, the popular vote totals for Democrats in Senate races was approximately 48% of the votes cast over 47% for Republicans. In 2006, the votes in those same Senate races went 55% of the total for Democrats (and Independents voting with the Democrats) to 43% for the Republicans. It is truly a shame we do not have a parliamentary system to reflect the will of the people. Of course, the Republicans have been moving towards a European-style political party during the past few years under the direction of Karl Rove.

This and other observations of last week’s Midterm Elections by Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker:
Americans have had enough, and their disgust with the Administration and its congressional enablers turned out to be so powerful that even the battered, rusty, sound-bit, TV-spotted, Die-bolded old seismograph of an American midterm election was able to register it. Thanks to the computer-aided gerrymandering that is the only truly modern feature of our electoral machinery, the number of seats that changed hands was not particularly high by historical standards. Voters—actual people—are a truer measure of the swing’s magnitude. In 2000, the last time this year’s thirty-three Senate seats were up for grabs, the popular-vote totals in those races, like the popular-vote totals for President, were essentially a tie. Democrats got forty-eight per cent of the vote, Republicans slightly more than forty-seven per cent. This time, in those same thirty-three states, Democrats got fifty-five per cent of the vote, Republicans not quite forty-three per cent. In raw numbers, the national Democratic plurality in the 2000 senatorial races was the same as Al Gore’s: around half a million. This time, despite the inevitably smaller off-year turnout and the fact that there were Senate races in only two-thirds of the
states, it was more than seven million.

This election was a crushing rebuke to Bush and his party. The rest is interpretation. Nearly everyone agreed that public anger about the Iraq catastrophe was paramount. To the surprise of much of the political class, exit polls suggested that corruption was almost as formidable a factor, especially among Independents and disaffected Republicans. On the right, some commentators complained that the G.O.P.’s problem was that it hadn’t been conservative enough: too much spending, too much nation-building, too much foot-dragging on abortion and the like. Others took comfort in the hypothesis that, because a number of Tuesday’s new faces are Democrats of a (relatively) conservative stripe, the election was actually a victory for the ideology, if not the party, of George W. Bush. In a blog post titled “All’s Well on the Conservative Front,” Lawrence Kudlow, of National Review, pointed to the “conservative Blue Dog Dems who won a whole bunch of seats” as proof that “Republicans may have lost—but the conservative ascendancy is still alive and well.”

Maybe. Or maybe those Blue Dogs won’t hunt. In truth, the great majority of Capitol Hill’s new Democrats will be what used to be called liberals, and in every case Tuesday’s Republican losers were more conservative than the Democrats who beat them. Moreover, the fate of ballot initiatives around the country suggests that, on balance, the conservative tide may be ebbing. In six states, mostly out West, proposals to raise the minimum wage won easily. Yes, seven ballot measures banning same-sex marriage passed, albeit by smaller margins than has been the pattern; but one, in Arizona, was defeated—the first time that has happened anywhere. Missourians voted to support embryonic-stem-cell research. Californians and Oregonians rejected proposals to require parental notification for young women seeking abortions, and the voters of South Dakota overturned a law, passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor eight months ago, that forbade abortion, including in cases of rape or incest, except when absolutely necessary to save the mother’s life. Rick Santorum, the Senate’s most energetic social conservative, went down to overwhelming defeat—man on dog won’t hunt, either, apparently.

… Traditionally, America’s two big political parties have been loose coalitions, one center-left and one center-right. Rove transformed the Republicans into something resembling a European-style parliamentary party of the right, politically disciplined and ideologically uniform. This year, in response, many on the center-right acted like Europeans, too: they voted not the man (or woman) but the party (Democratic). That sealed the fate of Rhode Island’s popular senator Lincoln Chafee, among other remnants of moderate Republicanism. For the center part of the center-right, there was nowhere to go except to the center part of the center-left.

Bush said some of the right things at his press conference, but he chose his words carelessly. He congratulated the “Democrat leaders” and promised bipartisanship—a goal he is unlikely to advance by referring to his hoped-for new partners by a name calculated solely to annoy them. Impressions are inherently subjective, of course; but he looked like a man who at that moment would much prefer to be commissioner of baseball, the job he longed for in 1993, before falling back on running for governor of Texas. It has been obvious for some time that, as President of the United States, George W. Bush is in very far over his head. He does not know how to use power wisely. He will now have a Democratic Congress to restrain him, and, perhaps, to protect him—and us—from his unfettered impulses. This may not be the Thanksgiving he was looking forward to, but the rest of us have reason to be grateful.

No comments: