Thursday, November 09, 2006

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Ok, the most obvious fact is that it’s neither Monday nor morning. It’s actually two days after the elections. Nevertheless, it's time for me to give you my take on the results. Here's my pick for winners and losers in the 2006 elections.

Jim Webb was a very big winner. He came into this race a complete novice. And he was never supposed to win. To a lot of so-called hard headed pragmatists, if Webb had simply slowed down Allen's momentum to keep him from a cakewalk into the Republican presidential nomination, it would have been enough. But here was a guy who was a reluctant politician, introverted (I mean, he writes books for a living - that's 8 hours of sitting in a room all alone working at a solitary pursuit, not great preparation for glad handing the general public), and obviously uncomfortable asking strangers for the huge amounts of money it takes to run. Yet despite all that, he slayed a giant. If anybody deserves the hearty thanks of Democrats all over this country, it's Webb. Against all odds, this novice took back the Senate for Democrats.

The most obvious loser is George Bush. This was a referendum about him. His management style, his policies, his administration. People wanted change and they trusted the Democrats to deliver it.

Surprisingly, the biggest winner (other than the actual successful candidates) might also be George Bush. He showed immediately that he got it. His humble demeanor as he admitted at a press conference that Republicans had “taken a thumping” reminded Americans of what they had originally liked about him, back in 2000 when he still acted like a regular guy you’d want to have a beer with. It’s been a long time since anybody’s caught a glimpse of that humble side. He’s been all arrogance recently. Look for a return to the famous charm offensive of early 2001. Of course, it didn't work the first time and I'm not sure it will, with Democrats, this time either. It's not really meant to charm them anyway. It's meant to appeal the public, though, so he can blame Democratic obstructionists who will definitely oppose him on Iraq, social security privatization, and any number of judicial appointments.

The big losers, Democrats. Now they've got to govern. At some point, they have to agree upon a legislative agenda, including a plausible plan to extricate us from Iraq without appearing reckless or weak. That's a lot harder than it looks from the minority side of the aisle. Governing is more difficult than it appears, especially with a divided government. Both sides are going to do a lot of finger pointing and posturing and jockying for favorable position with the public leading up to the presidential elections in 2008.

But a big loser was Karl Rove whose strategy of exciting the base - independents and swing voters be damned - finally failed. Good politics always is about building coalitions, not depending on only one narrow segment of the electorate to win and govern.

So-called values voters were another big loser. For all their bragging after 2004, they couldn’t deliver the winning margins in state and local races when they were overtaken by events like the war in Iraq and the economic erosion of the middle class. Pragmatism trumped the culture wars when it came to candidates winning this year.

On the other hand, values didn’t lose. Voters were disgusted by Republican scandals from Abramoff to Foley. Voters proved that they didn’t define values as narrowly as the social conservatives did. Honesty, integrity, concern for economic fairness and social justice, and good environmental stewardship concerned them.

On the other hand, traditional moral values are hardly dead. In Virginia, the marriage amendment won and I am afraid that same sex marriage is a loser. Although I personally support anybody’s right to be married to whomever they want and to have the full legal protections of a marriage, for now laws to define marriage as between one man and one woman have a better track record than those that seek to expand the definition of marriage to give the right to same sex partners. That's true across the nation.

Right now, gay activists need to do the hard work of convincing the American public of the basic fairness of extending to same sex partners the same legal protections for their unions that straight people have, and not focus on whether its called marriage or something else. Sometimes incrementalism and pragmatism win.

The Republicans’ famous 72-Hour Project was a loser. Not that it failed. Just that Democrats don’t need to fear it. When they set their minds to it, Democrats can get out their votes too. The Democrats’ GOTV effort was a winner.

I’m prejudiced on this one, but another winner was Virginia’s organized labor, which was with Jim Webb from the beginning. Although a few unions backed his opponent in the primary, most of labor supported Webb, including the incoming president of the NoVa Central Labor Council, who met with Webb back in March and supported him immediately. The Northern Virginia CLC, by the way, knocked on 4,000 doors and made 2400 phone calls in one day in their labor to labor GOTV effort, probably the most they've ever logged in an election. In a squeaker like this, that's got to give them some credit for turning out labor voters for Webb that helped put him over the top. Good job!

Other very big winners were Larry and Leslie Byrne, who took Webb around to Democrats and labor. Chap Peterson was also right there lending his name and considerable credibility to Webb’s run. And the fact that both Leslie Byrne and Peterson could put the 2005 Lt Governor’s primary behind them to unite behind Webb's candidacy can teach a lesson in graciousness, pragmatisim, and party loyalty to some of the leadership of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee. Enough said about that.

A big winner was the Virginia blogosphere.

Without them Allen’s maccacca moment would have been relegated to the last page of the metro section of the Washington Post without much coverage anyplace else. In the past, the press thought of themselves as the gatekeepers who decided which news the public should get. Those days have ended. For better or worse, the general public now knows what’s whispered in the halls of Richmond and Washington the same as the reporters and the legislators do. Nobody was better at up to the minute coverage, gossip, rumor, innuendo, and spot on analysis of polls than Not Larry Sabato. Ben Tribbett is the must read blog for all Virginia bloggers, regardless of party or ideology.

Another big winner was Raising Kaine's Josh Chernila and Lowell Feld . They were the first Webb supporters. In fact, without their encouragement, there might not have been a Webb candidacy. They helped to persuade him to run. And the rest of the RK gang provided coverage, support, enthusiasm, and great YouTube footage to readers. We probably have to thank the Indian-American college student, Siddarth, who first put YouTube and maccacca on the map - or at least the late night comedy shows. Congrats to all!

Finally, a special mention has to go to Mason Conservative who has been incredibly gracious on his blog and over at NLS. He is a true Virginia gentleman and he makes me proud to be a Virginia blogger. We will lock horns again, my friend. But for now you have all my admiration and you are one of the true winners for showing style and class. And good luck to your Redskins. You deserve some victory joy.


Vivian J. Paige said...

The so-called marriage amendment was not about gay marriage nor were those of us who opposed it in any way attempting to expand the definition of marriage.

To characterize this fight in those terms is to ignore the fact that gay marriage has been illegal in VA for more than 30 years, and civil unions since 2004. Passage or failure of the amendment would in no way affect that.

No, Virginia just created second class citizenship for 130,000 unmarried couples, 115,000 of which are STRAIGHT.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Vivian, I opposed it too. But the simple fact is that is the way the ordinary public is seeing it because that is the narrative the Republicans put forward.

My point is we need a way to get those rights for same sex couples and we can worry about what we call it later.

Ignoring the reality that a lot of basically fair minded people are still put off by calling it marriage doesn't help. Educating them will. But it takes time.

Meanwhile, I want to see gay people have rights to joint property, to visit sick and dying partners, to custody of their children. And you simply don't get that by scaring voters off with a concept they think is strange to them.

Get them used to same sex unions by appealing to their sense of fairness and decency. Then fight over what you call the arrangement or whether it should be a marriage sacrament in a church.

And by the way, if I were a churchgoer, that might be the battle I'd fight in my own congregation as opposed to at the secular state level.

I still say if a religious congregation recognized gay marriage as a sacrament, they'd have a good First Amendment case that all laws preventing same sex marriage was an infringement on their religious liberty and separation of church and state. But until a brave denomination is willing to go to the courts with that challenge, incrementalism is better than people being in legal limbo.

Bryan J. Scrafford said...

Although I can see where you're comming from, I believe it's too early to say that the Democrats are big losers in this election. You are correct that they have moved into a position where they can no longer simply blame the Republicans for not governing correctly, but I believe that could be used to the benefits of the Democratic Party.

If the country begins moving in the right direction, then voters will realize that it was the Republican Party that was holding our country back. If the conditions in Iraq don't improve, the corruption doesn't stop, or nothing is done except hold hearings on the Bush administration, however, it is then that you could say the Democrats are the big losers. As it stands now, however, we simply will have to wait and see.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Sorry I was away over the weekend and couldn't respond sooner. But I was being somewhat tongue in cheek when I said the Dems were losers.

I do believe, though, that there are some genuine pitfalls. The first of which is too high expectations. People might expect the Congress to be able to do more than it realistically can.

For example, they cannot withdraw our troops from Iraq without President Bush's agreement and they are not likely to get that. Congress is limited in what it can do without that president's cooperation, just as the president is limited if Congress opposes him.

That's just one possible pitfall of too high an expectation of what can be achieved.

Democrats in Congress will also have to learn to work across the aisle and find common ground whenever they can, without compromising their principles or forgetting why they were elected. And that can be tough because many of the Republicans who were returned to Congress are still among the most partisan of the bunch.

Where they can't agree, Democrats should try to remain civil and not cut Republicans out of all the power as the Republicans did to the Democrats for these last 12 years. It will be a real temptation to pay the Republicans back for they way their leadership marginalized the Democrats. But Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid should resist that temptation.

Being civil, taking the high road, but remaining firm in their convictions and being able to explain all that to the American people are, I think, the winning formula for keeping the Congress they fought so hard to take back.