God I hate morning afters. But they are inevitable (if you're lucky) As far as I can tell in reading the various postmortems there are two overriding lessons.
The first is that it's the economy (stupid). At nearly 10% unemployment, a foreclosure scandal of epic proportions, Wall Street run amock and a gusher of plutocrat money flowing into the political system, it's almost impossible to believe that the Democrats didn't lose the Senate as well as the House. It was not an ideological election -- Blue Dogs and progressives alike lost their seats, in regions all over the country. It was a primal scream of a vote, against those who promised to make things better and failed to do it.
There are fundamental disagreements about how to fix this, but I expect that "consensus" is about to be found around the idea of austerity. Nonetheless, the Republicans will say the president is a socialist foreigner who is working in league with terrorists to destroy the country, so 2012 may be even more disappointing. If you're a praying person, pray that the invisible hand is hard at work making everything all better very quickly.
As to the other lesson, some of us predicted when the first black president came into office and was accused of proposing death panels for seniors, that the Republicans were firming up their best new demographic. Here's one from March of 2009.
The right understood they'd lost the youth vote, the ethnic and racial minority vote and usually the female vote. The only demographic vote they had going for them was the elderly. And they've done a masterful job of making seniors feel like they're doing something for their grand kids by denying them health care and ensuring that there will be no safety net for them when they get old. You have to give them credit for that.
The elderly are easy prey for all kinds of scare stories and scams from unscrupulous people. And nobody is more unscrupulous than a right winger desperate to obstruct a program or politician they know will be popular and empowering of liberals. Here's one example from a few years ago, and as far as I know they are still active today. The groups they fronted for certainly are.
I know it's seems surprising to many that the right is able to mobilize senior citizens against health care reform, but it doesn't surprise me at all. They've been laying the groundwork for this, from dozens of different directions, for decades. The "right to life" people's ongoing efforts to put euthanasia on the table is just well tilled little piece they are using for this particular moment.
The fundamental architecture of the conservative movement is built on a simple premise: liberals want to take all your money and then kill you or they want to kill you and then take all your money. It's not really any more complicated than that.
And you have to blame the Democrats for failing to see that was a huge part of the Republican strategy going into the mid-terms in which the voting demographic always skews older.
So, here we are. People keep asking me what this means for the progressive movement and I reply --- nothing. Progressives are in this for the long haul. And anyone with any experience knows that the country is polarized between the right and the left, with a bunch of people in between who don't know what to think. All we can do is keep trying out different ways to persuade them that their best bet is to go with the progressive philosophy and require our elected politicians to figure out how to turn that philosophy into governance. It's a long term battle that has periods of intense confrontation and calm conciliation, but it never really ends.
As you go about your business today, feeling like hell, keep in mind that it was just two years ago that many of the same pundits and gasbags were assuring us all that the conservative movement was dead. We are doing a lot of lurching about right now because the country is under stress and our political system is dividing strongly along partisan lines. Get used to it. I suspect we're going to be in for turbulent politics like this for some time. And if we play our cards right, and the Democrats don't completely implode, it's probable that at the end of the day we (or those who come behind us) will look back and see that human rights, economic justice and peace came out the winners more often than not.
I thought that Hillary Clinton had it right when she said at the Democratic Convention in 2008:
My mother was born before women could vote, my daughter got to vote for her mother for President. This is the story of America, of women and men who defy the odds and never give up. Keep the faith. And anyway, what choice do we have?
So how do we give this country back to them? By following the example of a brave New Yorker, a woman who risked her lives to bring slaves to freedom along the underground railroad.
On that path to freedom, Harriet Tubman had one piece of advice:
‘If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If they’re shouting after you, keep going. Don’t ever stop, keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.’
And even in the darkest moments. That is what Americans have done. We have found the faith to keep going.
Update: Oh, and when they try to blame the bloggers or the liberals, just throw this in their face:
Only 47% of the members of the Democratic “Blue Dog Coalition” won re-election. 95% of the members of the “Progressive Caucus” won re-election. We're divided, but not that way.
And just in case the media hasn't noticed, the Democrats still control one house of congress and the presidency.