Elections ’06: Celebrate today, but troubling signs for tomorrow

electioncaution.jpgSo, we won! That’s big news and a credit to the hard work and dedication of the many people who were told a few months ago that a Democratic turnover in either House of Congress was just a pipe dream. For those of you who struggled to effect this change, please: go celebrate. Enjoy the day. Catch up on some sleep. Re-acquaint yourselves with your families. Come back and read this tomorrow.

For the rest of us: I don’t mean to rain on the parade, but in the crowing about the Democrats’ victories last night, I can’t help but hear echoes of President Bush’s wrongheaded claims of a mandate after the 2004 elections. As the new majority party in the House, there is a great opportunity to redress some of the uninvestigated wrongs of this Administration, to staff committees with sane people who place Nation above Party, and to attempt to undo the nightmarish abandonment of principle and procedure that has plagued the House since the (wrong-headed but) high ideals of the Contract With America disappeared into the swamp of power-madness and greed that Washington has always been.

We Dems took control of the House with nearly twice as many seats as we needed. The first Muslim Representative was elected. The first female Speaker of the House is set to take over. The GOP scum whose criminality were so outrageous that they couldn’t be ignored by even the most ethics-challenged Republicans were sent packing and Democrats filled their seats. Final analyses have yet to be written, but my rough count on CNN’s site shows 26 incumbents in the House were defeated. While that seems pretty high, that’s less than 5% of the House’s 435 members and fewer than the 34 House members of both parties who ran unopposed. It’s enough for the Democrats to set the agenda and for the 110th Congress to shake off the moniker of Do-Nothing Congress… perhaps.

While we might not take the Senate, there’s a strong chance that we will wind up with an even split (Lieberman and Sanders, the two Independents, have stated they will caucus with the Democrats for procedural purposes), meaning that Dick Cheney will have to come out of his undisclosed location more frequently to break tied votes. Morons like Frist and Hastert won’t be able to change the text of reconciled House/Senate bills in back rooms in the middle of the night, and the odds of such massive changes to Senate rules as the end of the filibuster occurring just dropped much lower than the odds of John McCain actually becoming a liberal when the cameras aren’t rolling.

We can’t fool ourselves by thinking that people voted for the Dems as much as they voted against the Republicans. Informally, I asked some of my friends and relatives, most of whom are Democrats, why they voted the way they did, and even these party members didn’t mention any kind of program or platform or reason beyond throw-the-bums-out, or, it’s time for a change. I have to believe that Republicans and Independents voted the way they did for the same reasons. The people are sick of Iraq, but merely rehashing the debates over cut-and-run vs. stay-the-course isn’t going to inspire any confidence. There are liberal groups who have outlined workable, comprehensive plans for our exit from Iraq and they need to be brought into the conversation so some adult voices can be heard above the din of sloganeering. We need to charge out of the gate on January 2 and show the people that we are something more than “Not-Bush.”

Most troubling to me in what it says about the electorate is the reaction in many states to ballot initiatives banning gay marriage and even banning civil unions. In Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin, voters approved changes to their state laws which will deny equal rights to gays. Arizona voted to make English the official language. Michigan voted to restrict Affirmative Action programs. These are indicators that on this issue important to progressives, the socially conservative public will not be on board.

Contradictions are rife however, with South Dakota voters approving an overturn of the draconian ban on all abortions, with Missouri approving state funding for embryonic stem-cell research, and with Oregon voting against requiring parental notification of abortions. And, on the economic front, there is a strong support for more economic fairness with every state which offered a ballot question about increasing the minimum wage finding that raise approved by the voters.

Since 1994, when the public was sick of the corruption and ineffectiveness of Congress and elected to move the country to the right, the Dems have had only to oppose the Republicans. Now, they need to lead. Can they do it?

Crossposted from Newsvine.