From here the election results look like two thirds of a large liberal victory: the Presidency, the Senate, but not the House.
President Obama was re-elected by a thin popular vote margin, and a more substantial electoral vote margin, only because he campaigned as a progressive — even when this was somewhat at odds with how he governed. The keys to victory — besides superior organization and a creepy opponent who proved easy to demonize — were running on progressive issues: keeping his health care plan, the auto bailout, a new changed policy that stopped rounding up and deporting large groups of immigrants, equal pay for women, equal rights for gays.
The size of the numerical swing towards the Democrats in the Senate is unclear as I write this, but even if Democrats gained only one seat, they defeated a piggish group of candidates who ran against abortion even in cases of rape, and some of whom questioned the right to contraception. While Romney and some other Republicans tried to distance themselves from the most extreme statements about abortion, they did not repudiate the candidates or did so only briefly. And no one stepped forward on the contraception issue to say that members of their party were insane to try to turn the clock back to the 1950s or before. But the voters in at least four and perhaps six states repudiated the right-wing zealots who came through Republican primaries that skewed them further right than any time since 1964.
More importantly, the new Democratic Senators are in almost all cases a substantial upgrade on their predecessors. They will be strong voices, intellectual voices, for progressive policies; Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin will be stars. And Sen. Warren in particular will play the outside game, and rally constituencies outside the Senate.
Meanwhile at the state initiative level, liberals won victories that are simply historic: at least two states, Maine and Maryland, adopted same-sex marriage by plebiscite. [UPDATE: make that THREE states: Maryland, Maine, and Washington. And Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana.
Here in Florida we defeated all of the most horrible state constitutional amendments. The three which passed are all about helping those who cannot help themselves: low-income seniors, disabled veterans and spouses of military deceased military personnel and first responders. This is, in the main, a liberal position even if the means chosen, tax-related constitutional amendment, was not one that liberals tend to like. (That voters rejected all the really evil state constitutional amendments and soundly voted to retain all three of our excellent Supreme Court Justices would be enough to restore faith in democracy if only we could run the elections better.)
Only the House, which remains largely unchanged stops one from claiming this election as a liberal route of reactionary forces, even though Florida elected Joe Garcia and also liberal firebrand Alan Grayson.
The House will again be led by a foolish man who does not command the loyalty of his troops. Speaker John Boehner remains the Yasser Arafat of his party: a weak leader who dares not stop the corruption in his own ranks (Exhibit A: so-called zero-tolerance had nothing to say about David Rivera), and who cannot deliver his troops for any agreement he might be tempted to reach.
Perhaps that is just as well. President Obama has signaled too often his desire to strike a so-called ‘Grand Bargain’ (or Great Betrayal as some call it) that would undermine the buying power of social security payments for people who live too long, and raise the retirement age beyond the capacity of many workers in physical trades or even retail. That fight begins today.
The fact that the Dems had full control – control without fear of Republican votes – for a couple of years and largely squandered it suggests that it’s not simply a matter of numbers.
Unless one party or the other some how manages to put in place completely overwhelming numbers (i.e. 75-80% in the House and Senate – not gonna happen), I just don’t see this as being only a numbers game. The reality is that whatever one’s OWN political leaning, there remains about an even number of people with the opposite (or at least one different enough to have different views on key issues). As such (and as proven over, and over, and over, and…) the Senate cannot simply force through (even with the necessary votes) legislation that is unpopular with a sizeable chuck of the population and expect no push back.
As I believe (cynical view) that once in office, a politician’s primary personal focus is in staying there, there is huge (maybe inordinate) fear of push back. Mob action is still unpredictable – the Tea Party proved that. No one in power WANTS to ram something through despite 40%+ of people who disagree – at least not without a really good reason – because it jeopardizes that primary personal goal of keeping the office. Hence the need for REAL mandates from the American people, not the imagined ones we’ve had since Reagan.
I think that’s a lesson we saw with the Dems in 2008-10. having power is not enough by itself. There needs to be a real mandate (support from the vast majority of Americans for an idea) or a real moral cause (REAL civil rights (not everybody deserves to go to college)), or it just doesn’t work.
So I think there needs to be real cooperation between the parties, or we will simply have either 4 more years of relatively nothing while our economy continues to wallow, or we will have 2 more years and then another 2010-type election that just serves to make everyone angry all over again. Boehner is right – now is the President’s moment. I hope he uses it.