Republicans lose big time
As I expected, the Democrats won a majority in the House of Representatives, but contrary to my expectations, they are close to doing likewise in the Senate, according to the most recent reports. Since it is not clear what the Democrats stand for, however, it would be hard to call this a "victory" for them. It was certainly a major defeat for the current leadership of the Republican Party, and especially President Bush and Karl Rove. Whether RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman will keep his job remains to be seen. It is likewise too early to say what this means for the country, and for the future course of the war against Islamo-fascism.
The Democrats have gained at least four Senate seats, and they will probably win two more, giving them an outright majority. With all but three of the 2443 precincts in Virginia reporting, Jim Webb has a lead of 7,000 votes over George Allen. Unless there is a huge shift due to military absentee ballots or massive irregularities are uncovered in the probable recount, it looks like it's all over. The (unofficial) local and statewide results from the State Board of Elections:
|Locality||G F Allen
|J H Webb Jr
|G G Parker
|23,413||26 of 26
|7,292||6 of 6
|5,995||5 of 5
Even worse for the Republicans, Claire McCaskill pulled ahead of incumbent Jim Talent in Missouri overnight, and has been declared the victor. That race, of course, was heavily influenced by the stem cell research debate, in which Michael J. Fox and Rush Limbaugh were the main protagonists. Montana was hanging in the balance until this morning, but Conrad Burns has fallen behind Tester, so the last hope for the GOP has come crashing down. There will probably be recounts there and in Virginia, but it would take a miracle to change the results. Who would have thought that a single offhand comment last August would have had such profound historical implications?
Democrats are expected to gain at least 27 seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans lost three seats in Indiana, where they have enjoyed a rock-solid majority status for many years; this was a catastrophe. To her credit, the next Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, pledged to operate in a "bipartisan" manner, reaching out to moderate Republicans. She will need those folks in order to pass laws and funding measures that are acceptable to President Bush (and possibly the Senate). While I would like to believe her, I think her past record of razor-sharp rhetoric justifies an attitude of wait-and-see skepticism. For the post of Majority Leader, long-time insider Steny Hoyer appears to have an edge over John Murtha.
Democrats made solid gains in governorships across the country, taking Republican posts in Colorado, Arkansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio. The Republicans were on the defensive, trying to hold on to governorships in a political climate filled with vague discontent. One of the few pieces of good news was in Minnesota, as Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty was re-elected. He took a lot of heat for pushing state funding for a new baseball stadium for the Minnesota Twins, and barely held onto office. See cqpolitics.com.
What to make of this?
Andrew Sullivan says Bush should heed the voice of the people by firing SecDef Rumsfeld immediately. (President Bush has just announced exactly that, a stunning reversal after years of stubborn persistence. Is Karl Rove next?) Sullivan takes unabashed joy in the defeat of "Christianists," but how does he account for the fact that anti-gay marriage amendments carried in seven of eight states? Arizona was the sole exception. It will take a leader with far more rhetorical talent than George W. Bush to articulate a compelling vision of national purpose that encompasses strong national defense and "traditional family values." Thanks to Mark Foley, that latter phrase is fast becoming a lame cliche, and evangelical Christians are likely to give up on the Republicans.
Rush Limbaugh blames the loss on the failure of the Republicans to hold true to their professed conservative principles, citing Bush's Medicare drug benefit program as a disastrous sell-out. No doubt that is a big part of the reason, but we must also examine why Bush and the Republicans leadership abandoned the party's ideological roots. Was it nothing more than too-clever short-term electoral politics? Another question is whether there is a long-term shift in voter sentiment from the right back toward the center. If so, then Rush's derision of "squishy, moderate country club" Republicans may be way off the mark. Conservatives have been in tune with the mainstream of American public for so long that they have gotten spoiled and complacent. Conservatism is no different than any other ideology: It faces constant challenges from newly emerging social, economic, and political circumstances, and if it fails to adapt in creative ways (like Reaganism), it will wither and fade.
If the Bush cabinet undergoes further purges, I hope Bush takes the advice of WaPo columnist David Broder by naming a special "wise elder" adviser to lay the foundation for his last two years in office. Bush will be a "lame duck" earlier than most presidents, but if he get the right advice, he can still exercise his power and influence in constructive ways.
If we could summarize the reasons for defeat in one word, it would be hubris. Lust for power, and the blindness to the consequences of disregarding it, has been at the heart of human failure from the beginning of history. ("What chapter was that in?") Hopefully some conservative activists will go back to the drawing board by doing a little reading of the Classics.