So, in a future post I’ll get to what strikes me as the most immediate and obvious cause (at least, the one they had control over, so beyond the incredible forces arrayed against them) of the Democrats’ disasters last night, because I think that for the most part it’s pretty simple and has little to do with some explanations I’ve heard that are either convoluted, self-serving, too wedded to conventional (bogus) wisdom, or just full of fatuous, psuedo, blubber.
But for tonight, what are some implications of the results yesterday?
Well, for one thing, meaningful federal action on a host of issues (climate change/energy, immigration, truly comprehensive health-care and a return to financial reform, transportation/infrastructure, gay rights, civil liberties- Russ Feingold, I really wish you were still here) is toast for at least the next two years. That does NOT mean that action period is over, but it does mean that such action is going to operate in a necessarily limited, and primarily statewide and local-municipal sphere. So for instance, for transit-enthusiasts and urban renewalists, local-level initiatives will likely be the primary battlefield for the next couple of years, which is, uh, not super encouraging if you’re not on a coast…
This is why, for me, the night was all about Strickland (and a select few congresspeople I was otherwise attached to- Grayson, Kilroy, Feingold, Hodes/I-love-you-Elijah, Grijalva, Boccieri, and Sutton, who I am so glad survived). I pretty much figured the Congress was a mostly lost cause (indeed, the Senate beat the rest of us there about a year ago, ‘majority’ notwithstanding), but control of the Governor’s mansion has huge implications for a number of projects and the general level of momentum here in Ohio. 3C rail (and by extension, jobs and the future of our transit manufacturing sector), freshwater offshore wind (and by extension, jobs and the future of our renewable energy manfuacturing sector), research and development priorities, and almost the entirety of our anti-poverty infrastructure, are all heavily dependent on state-level control. The misery that will be wreaked because of that particular loss was, as nearby friends could tell, enough to send me into throes of minor-league and short term despondency and awkward singing of R&B songs and toasting. We’re going to all of us need to learn to accommodate those changes (in policy, not my singing or toasting).
However, another trend waiting to be misunderstood and ignored by the media and culture at large, is the fact that conservative Democrats fared spectacularly poorly, worse by far then their more progressive party-mates. At least when looking at the ranks of the Blue Dog vs. Progressive Caucus, this seems borne out. The left is already being blamed for general Democratic losses (more on this tomorrow), which seems weird, considering that voters punished Blue Dogs to the tune of a full half of them losing their seats, accounting for half of total Democratic losses, whereas the Progressive Caucus lost only three of its over-80 members.
This isn’t a totally fair comparison (and also doesn’t necessarily mean a lot for how the party is going to shift) for a number of reasons, including:
- The fact that Blue Dogs are often in districts that are by nature much tighter races, frequently by virtue of being, well, poorer, meaning that there are larger opportunities for outsiders and larger corporations to tip the scale in one direction, meaning that both candidates in such districts are pushed in a more corporatist direction. As Harry Truman famously put it, voters will choose a true Republican over a fake Democrat all the time.
- I don’t know the spread of DSCC support and funding this time around, but it could be that Blue Dogs didn’t receive as much support as other candidates. This strikes me as doubtful given Rahm’s historic support for Blue Dogs over other Dems, and their role in the 2006 retaking of congress, but I don’t know for sure and it could have been a factor.
- Finally, most importantly, because of the singular position Blue Dogs occupied, they have always exerted an outsized influence on the Party, and have been more disciplined in getting what they want than have Progressives, who failed to push effectively, or I should say successfully for key health care reform provisions, financial reform provisions, and an adequate stimulus (again, more tomorrow on this last point, because it is freaking crucial). Because Blue Dogs often take the ‘veto role’, and threaten to tank legislation they don’t like, whereas Progressives are more prone to compromising until they absolutely can’t stand it (and still voting for it), they have exerted more influence than Progressives. Whether Progressives will begin to exert like influence remains to be seen, but the development of Progressive discipline, and numbers, is as I see it the key goal of Party organizing for the next couple of years.
I kind of started veering into the conclusion with that last point, so I’ll just get to it. What all this indicates is that the House Democrats are a much more progressive (though also, unfortunately, limited and bound by their lunatic opponents) bunch than they were before. We progressives, lefties, or however you identify, have a tremendous opportunity to push the Party in a better direction, through both disciplined media development, aggressive candidate pushing and primarying, and simply making the case that progressiveness isn’t just better policy, it also translates into greater electoral success. That gets very close to what I’m talking about tomorrow, so I’ll leave it at this: amidst the disasters of the evening, there is already a way forward waiting to be charted, there are opportunities for enterprising, ingenious, and broad-based organizing and leadership development. Most importantly, we are not just lost in the woods, but have options available to us that we need to cling to and cultivate as lifelines out of potential despair. There’s too much at stake to succumb prematurely to that.