Wednesday, November 08, 2006

We Won. Now What?
Today was the most beautiful 40-degree rainy November day I can remember, even if I didn't join it until about noon after staying up nearly til 4 waiting for someone to call Montana. The Democrats won the House by a substantial margin, evidently have won the Senate--it's difficult to see how the canvassing or even a recount can lift Felix Macacawitz over my man Jim Webb--and now control a majority of governorships and either a majority or a plurality of statehouses. Whether or not Donald Rumsfeld would have resigned regardless of yesterday's outcome, the two events certainly will be linked in the public mind, and together they tell a story of a war policy that was first repudiated by the sovereign people, and then abandoned by its architects.

A collection of first impressions and second thoughts:

  • After 12 years in a defensive crouch, Democrats can stand up and begin to go on the offensive. But--to beat the metaphor into a bloody pulp--they haven't stretched those muscles in a long, long time. It will be interesting to see what they have to offer in the way of a concrete positive agenda. Speaker-presumptive Pelosi's 100 Hour Plan is a good and wholly logical place to start, but it’s still remedial/ameliorative, fixing Republican foul-ups rather than launching something fresh.

  • Figuratively speaking, more monsters (Santorum, Burns, evidently Allen; Sherwood, Weldon, the ghosts of Foley, DeLay and Ney) were destroyed yesterday, and more good men and women elected (Tester, McCaskill, Klobuchar, evidently Webb; Sestak, Gillibrand) than in any election I can remember-—though ’98 was close, with D’Amato and Faircloth going down. The Congress certainly will be a better place with its better composition and to call those results satisfying would be a severe understatement.

  • With control of a majority of governorships and a plurality or majority of statehouses, the Democrats now can substantially dictate the action at the state level. Just as the 1920s saw the runup to the New Deal in states' progressive experiments with social insurance, market regulation and labor force interventions, the late ‘00s could see the same as governors like Spitzer, Patrick, Richardson, Rendell and Granholm either take over or return to office in stronger position. Both for their own ambitions and the larger project of building a new national governance agenda for Democrats, these governors should have a very interesting 2-4 years.

  • Big as “the wave” was, it could have been bigger—-I counted at least a half-dozen House races where tough Democratic challengers got 49 percent and barely lost. This included races in Ohio, Connecticut, and New York, where reports of the political demise of moderate Republicans in districts slightly to either side of 50/50 were greatly exaggerated. This should be seen as a signal from the electorate that they want bipartisanship--and hopefully between their political near-death experiences and the shattering of the unitary Republican model, these Republicans reps will do the right thing and be freer to vote their consciences without fear of reprisal from a goon like Tom DeLay. If so, they’ll win again in two years with more room to spare; if not, the Democrats will come at them much harder next time and, barring a change in the broad context (or something really dumb like Hillary Clinton atop the ticket), probably win some of those seats.

  • The Democratic caucus is both much bigger and much more ideologically diverse than yesterday, and Democrats now have power in places where they haven’t been heard from in many years--since 1994, in many cases. Unless they’re idiots, this will push the party more toward the center and ensure an agenda focused on meat-and-potatoes economic issues and pragmatism in foreign affairs, rather than the hubristic cultural liberalism that always seems to screw us. While cultural liberalism perhaps arises from our best instincts and principles-—equal opportunity, respect for differences, self-determination—-in practice it often looks ugly and elitist. Before we take up these fights again, we need to figure out better tactics; in the meantime, the focus should be on reducing unwanted pregnancies, ensuring equal civil rights for gays and gay couples, and respecting religion in the public square while resolutely defending the church/state wall. (If I were a Democratic strategist today, I'd actually urge trying to figure out a way to co-opt the "faith-based initiative"--maybe by emphasizing the positive potential role of religion in strengthening marriages and lowering the divorce rate.)

  • After his disappointing win, Joe Lieberman-for-Lieberman has the balance of Senate power in his hands. But this is a two-edged sword: he can do a lot of damage to his reputation and legacy by giving in to his more narcissistic instincts. I'm now cautiously optimistic that he'll choose the pragmatic course of caucusing with the Democrats rather than join the sinking ship of the Bush administration or giving the Republicans a tenuous Senate majority that, as of today, couldn't have very strong hopes of lasting past 2008 (when Democrats should win Colorado and Minnesota at the least) in any event.

  • Reading the transcript of Bush’s remarks today, he comes off as more conciliatory than he evidently seemed to those watching. If he keeps to this note, though, I expect his approval ratings to rise into the high 40s or even low 50s. Democrats should proceed with caution--while keeping in mind that he’s now the lamest of ducks. In other words: be polite, be respectful, ignore him to the furthest extent possible, and use targeted hearings (see below) to extend the longer-term case against his disastrous governance style and the deep flaws of right-wing ideology.

  • Between Jon Tester’s win in Montana and the defeat of the draconian South Dakota abortion ban, interior west libertarianism is evidently alive and well, and no longer particularly Republican. Obviously this is a big opportunity for Democrats, and could advance the presidential hopes of another big winner last night: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

  • If the Democrats are smart, they will focus congressional hearings and investigations in two areas only: war profiteering and the politicization of the bureaucracy. I defy any of the harshest right-wing pundits to defend the misdeeds of politically connected contractors that charge the government $50 for a six-pack of soda and serve dirty water while billing the taxpayer on a "cost-plus" basis that offers every incentive to overcharge. And while it won't get as much broad attention, it's important that the Democrats show there are consequences to tossing out experts in favor of apparatchiks in federal agencies from EPA to the Iraq Provisional Authority.

  • On the Rumsfeld resignation, it’s an acknowledgement that the war policy has failed and the “course” will be changed. Between presumptive new SecDef Bob Gates and the so-called Baker Commission, we have a Clark Clifford and it’s March 1968 all over again. Interesting aspect to this is that when Gates comes up for Senate confirmation hearings (probably under Democratic control--anyone know who the committee chair would be? Biden?), the war will be in some sense "re-litigated." Avoiding this was one of the big reasons, supposedly, why the administration wanted to keep Rumsfeld on. I guess their risk/reward calculus changed. Since Gates isn't tainted by association with the runup to the war, and the Democrats will want to show a conciliatory face, I suspect he'll be confirmed very quickly and by a wide margin. But the Senators will have their say on the war, and probably the administration will get it from both sides: Hagel and Warner among others will have choice words.

That's all for now. After six years, it's pretty nice to feel like I have some representation in Washington again.

(And, oh yeah: I did steal this post title from Taegan Goddard's book.)

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