Was it all some horrible nightmare?
This was the hope I woke up to this morning after a long, bleary-eyed night of gut-wrenching election results coverage. Republicans swept the House, and came very close to taking the Senate. Jan Brewer and her protege Ken Bennett were popularly elected. There’s not a single African-American senator in the new Senate. Ballot measures ending affirmative action and combatting federal healthcare reform passed in Arizona. John Huppenthal, who has declared it his mission to eradicate ethnic studies in Arizona, was elected to the top education post. Rand Paul — fucking Rand Paul — is a U.S. Senator. A “Tea Party Caucus” will be a reality.
I found myself desperate this morning to consider the silver lining. And, as obfuscated as that lining is by Rand Paul’s self-satisfied smirk, I found it.
Things were bad last night, but they could have been much, much worse.
John Raese’s senatorial loss in West Virginia was a huge upset that, in my mind, dismissed any doubts that Democrats would retain majority control in the Senate. Raese was polling well against Joe Manchin, with most polls actually putting him ahead of his opponent. Harry Reid won his re-election bid against Sharron Angle, even though polls also placed Angle with an advantage. And California did not disappoint me: Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown bested their Right-wing opponents in tight races.
Last night’s election results demonstrated that money cannot always buy an election. Linda McMahon, who reportedly spent $20 million of her own money, lost by several points. And Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO running in California, apparently funnelled $140 million of her personal wealth into her campaign. This wasn’t enough to topple Jerry Brown, who was vastly out-spent by Whitman in the race. Here in Arizona, the recent Citizens United Supreme Court case invited an unprecedented amount of money by out-of-state third-party groups to attack Democratic incumbents Gabrielle Giffords and Raul Grijalva. Attack television ads were on every channel, and blistering campaign signs on every street corner. In a recent debate, Giffords lamented the difficulty of attempting to match the spending power of those groups with her campaign budget. Yet, as we saw last night, Giffords and Grijalva prevailed in the face of two Tea Party candidates, each backed by third-party money from corporate interests.
And for me, the best silver lining is Chris Coons’ election in Delaware, despite his surprisingly unabashed progressive politics.
For several election cycles now, Democrats have gotten used to the DNC strategy of putting up moderate, right-leaning Democrats to try and cater to the middle. For several years, progressives have been told, by both sides of the aisle, that progressive politics are untenable, and that progressive candidates are unelectable. The words “liberal” and “left-wing” have become dirty words.
Progressives are told to hold our noses and vote for Blue Dog Democrats because the “D” behind their names ensure that they are better than the other guy. We are told that this strategy guarantees a Democratic majority, and real change in Washington. We are told that a progressive agenda will be helped by electing conservative Democrats. We are chided when, as progressives, we point out how this marginalizes actual, left-wing ideas. We are told that the Democratic party is a big tent — never mind, that the tent fabric is stretched over Blue Dogs leaving progressives standing out in the rain.
Well, last night was the coming home to roost of Rahm Emanuel’s push to back conservative Democrats. It’s true: in 2006 and 2008, Emanuel’s strategy resulted in a massive Democratic take-over of swing-districts. But, in the subsequent years, have Democrats been able to pass the kind of liberal, left-wing legislation that such a takeover should mean?
Yes, healthcare reform passed — but with such political wrangling as to largely invite the hateful tenor of the elections this year. President Obama commented a few minutes ago:
Yesterday’s vote confirmed what I heard from folks all across America,” he said. “People are frustrated; they’re deeply frustrated by the pace of our recovery.
“Over the last two years, we have made progress, but clearly too many Americans haven’t felt that progress yet, and they told us that yesterday.”
Democrats were hamstrung in more progressive legislation because they struggled to keep their own caucus in check; every major vote seemed to include the story of a Blue Dog Democrat crossing the aisle to vote with Republicans.
To me, conservative Democrats have violated their bargain with the Democratic Party. Republicans wield such political power in D.C. right now because it’s rare for a Republican to stray too far from the fold. One wonders whether the benefits of Blue Dog Democrats outweigh the energy that must be spent to keep them voting with the party that helped them get elected.
So, then, we look again at Chris Coons, an avowed liberal who bested the national poster-child of the Tea Party. Coons did not compromise his progressive ideology while campaigning, but stuck to a message of more government, and better government because he knew that his ideas were simply better. Coons’ victory provides the example we need: perhaps it’s time for Democrats to take a second look at helping to fund intelligent, loyal, progressive Democrats who won’t stray from the Democratic party if elected. As other examples of progressives who prevailed last night: Jerry Brown in California and Raul Grijalva here in Arizona.
For all the losses that Democrats sustained last night, for all the regressive ballot measures that passed in states around the country, and for all the gridlock we will suffer through in Washington in the next two years, perhaps it will all be worth it if the DNC gets the wake-up call it needs to reconsider its strategy of trying to out-Republican the Republicans. Perhaps it will all be worth it if, in the next cycle, Democrats look towards providing a real progressive choice for left-wing Democrats to not only vote for, but to be energized for.
Perhaps it will all be worth it if, this morning, Tim Kaine (head of the DNC) woke up feeling exactly the same way that I do, and announce, tomorrow morning, a return for the Democrats to real, left-wing politics, politicians, and legislation.