Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Road Ahead

I'm not gonna lie; Tuesday night sucked.

While I wasn't surprised the Republicans took back control of the House of Representatives and made gains in the Senate, I held out hope that voter turnout and other factors would stem the tide. But that didn't happen, leaving us with a divided government heading into 2012, and a bunch of questions I don't know the answers to.

Unlike the pundits, though, I admit that I don't know.

I suppose the first question to be asked is: what happened? How did Democrats lose so many seats just two years after a massive wave brought them into power? Was it voter turnout, anger over the economy, simple election patterns proven over the course of time?

Perhaps a little bit of everything. We know the majority party almost always loses seats in the first midterm election after a new presidential administration -- particularly when economic conditions are so poor -- just as we know midterm turnouts tend to be smaller and favor conservatives. These are trends and facts proven by history, and to some degree, they came to bear once again Tuesday night.

The problem isn't necessarily that the Democrats didn't do anything with their two years of power in the legislative and executive branches -- in fact, they did a whole bunch of stuff -- but we're talking politics, not policy.

So who's to blame? In a word, everyone.

President Obama is to blame for failing to use his immense personal popularity and his considerable communicative skills to truly accentuate just what the Democrats' accomplishments mean for people. Simply put, he lost the message.

Republicans in Congress are to blame for their constant, unbending obstruction. Constant filibusters, a steadfast refusal to compromise, even as Democrats adopted long-held GOP beliefs (individual health insurance mandate, anyone?) and the simple belief that they would win at the polls by simply saying "no" and letting the economy fester.

Blue Dog Democrats for muscling their way through Congress to further water down legislation -- in the House, they forced the stimulus to shrink and tried to shove stricter anti-choice measures into health care reform. In the Senate, they nearly tanked health care reform because of their opposition to the public option.

The rest of the Democrats are to blame for a) capitulating to the Republicans and the Blue Dogs, essentially taking the mandate given to them by the voters and throwing it in the trash, and b) for also failing to adequately articulate their accomplishments to the public.

Voters are to blame, either for staying home or for letting their anger over current conditions sway their vote away from sanity. I wonder how many disaffected progressives or young voters went out and voted for a Republican or a Tea Party candidate, simply because they were mad about how things were going.

Then there's the media, the perpetual conflictinator, to borrow a phrase. Corporate-owned and more interested in the daily battles of which party is winning which battle, instead of really focusing on the issues at hand. The pundits and bloggers can scratch their heads all they want over Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity this past Saturday, but ultimately, the Comedy Central funny man had a point.

See? Plenty of blame to go around. But blame really doesn't get us anywhere, aside from the short-term emotional satisfaction of just letting off some steam. The question remains: where does the country go from here?

Hell, where do progressives go from here?

There is some good news to be had from Tuesday night. Democrats did maintain control of the Senate -- though it's a wonder if that'll mean anything, given that chamber's 60-vote default thresholdto get anything done -- and there are a number of governors' races that swung blue. Jerry Brown beat Meg Whitman (and her oodles and oodles of cash) in California, while it appears Pat Quinn might win in Illinois.

Then there's Senator Harry Reid defeating Tea Party darling Sharron Angle, Chris Coons upending Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and an intriguing fight in Alaska that could sink Tea Party favorite Joe Miller in favor of ... write-in Lisa Murkowski?

By the way, the last time a write-in candidate won a Senate race, the Giants won the World Series. Guess who won the World Series this year. Just sayin' ...

Also, while the GOP won back the House, it did not acquire a veto-proof majority, so if the party makes good on its threat to repeal some of the accomplishments of the past two years, or look to do something as crazy as, say, abolish the Department of Education, President Obama can sink those proposals with the stroke of a pen.

It will be interesting going forward to see a) how Democrats handle the lame-duck session over the next two months, and b) how does Republican leadership handle the influx of Tea Party candidate?

Do Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Reid work to push through some more legislative priorities before the new Congress is sworn in and we likely say hi to Speaker John Boehner (ugh, that hurt to write ...)? Do the Tea Partiers hold true to their beliefs, or can Senator Mitch McConnell and Speaker Boehner corrall them into an effective governing body?

Or do we have gridlock for the next two years while the GOP tries everything it can to ensure President Obama doesn't win re-election in 2012?

I honestly have no idea.

But here's the pep talk version of this post. I know things suck right now, progressives and liberals. Last night stung, I won't lie. I was mad last night, and I wasn't really sure who to direct that anger toward. But Election Night 2010 was not the end of the road; it was but another step in this messy process we call politics.

We knew we'd possibly lose the House and see our majority in the Senate shrink. This isn't a shock. But where do we go from here?

Well, we appear to have our work cut out for us. The fact that we have to start calling people like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio "Senator" is a scary thought, but it's the reality we have -- just as we now have a Congress without the likes of Alan Grayson and Russ Feingold. We still have a voice, and we need to start putting that voice to good use again. We need to continue fighting for the causes and the candidates we believe in, whether that's through party establishment or through outside groups like

We have to hold our elected officials, whether we voted for them or not, accountable. We have to begin voter mobilization efforts now, to ensure that turnout isn't a problem again in 2012. The media will likely paint Tuesday's election results as a test for President Obama, and they're not wrong, but this will be a test for us as well.

We must remain strong, we must remain vigilant. We cannot let these results, expected as they were, to deter us from fighting for the change we voted for two years ago. We cannot let a Republican-controlled House of Representatives prevent us from fighting for the common man. Jobs, equal rights, affordable health care -- these are among our causes, and if we truly want to see them enacted, we have to keep fighting.

It won't be easy, it won't be quick. But what worth fighting ever is? We cannot sit on the sidelines and let things happen; we have to go out and make them happen. We have a future to shape in this country, and I refuse to sit back and let the regressive party be the one who does the molding.

I leave you with words from President Obama, words he delivered on Election Night in 2008, after he'd won the presidential nomination. They were appropriate then, and they are even more so now.

"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America - I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you - we as a people will get there."

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