I awoke this morning to the pattering of a soft November rain. Though I am not usually a morning person, I don’t mind saying that I sprang out of bed today with more enthusiasm than I have in a long time, and with good reason. Last night’s preliminary election results made it clear that there would be much to feel joy about this day, and I was not disappointed by that prediction.
I deliberately avoided all news sources for most of yesterday, knowing that until the polls closed, there would be nothing but a flood of speculation and meaningless guessing games. I had no desire to expose myself to that; if the news was good, it would only instill in me the dread that my hope would later be dashed, and if it was bad, it would needlessly upset me in advance. I did not check the news until I got home from work yesterday evening, and at first, I did so with a sense of dread. Progressives in America have had their hopes dashed too many times in the last few years to be optimistic, despite polls showing the Democrats with a strong lead in the runup to Election Day. I was tentatively hopeful, it’s true, but polls have been wrong before, and my hope was tempered with a strong desire to take nothing for granted.
But as the polls closed, the good news started to pour in, and as the night rolled on, it just kept coming. As the votes tallied up, Republican incumbents were falling like scythed wheat in district after district. On every level of government, Democratic candidates were trouncing their opponents all along the eastern seaboard, and even in hotly disputed races in what should have been safe Republican territory, conservative incumbents were unable to pull away from their challengers. By the end of the night, Democratic control of the House of Representatives was a foregone conclusion; but despite several tremendous and encouraging victories, control of the Senate was still very much up in the air. Four Republican senators had fallen, and the Democratic challenger in Tennessee had been defeated. The unfolding races in Montana and Virginia would decide which party would control the upper chamber, and the Democrats could still win, but only if they took both races in historically deeply conservative states.
But Senate control is uncertain no longer. By lunchtime today, the thing I had scarcely dared to hope had come true. Fox News and the AP were calling Montana for the Democrat Jon Tester. Virginia was even more of a nail-biter, but by afternoon, James Webb was ahead of George Allen by 7,000 votes with 99.8% of the state’s precincts reporting. And as if a floodgate had been opened, at the same time the announcement went out over the radio that Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s Secretary of Defense and architect of the epically botched Iraq war, was resigning, as if he too had somehow become a casualty of this election.
Here are some of the more notable victories of last night:
- In the Florida senatorial race, the odious Katherine Harris, who called separation of church and state “a lie” and said that electing any non-Christian would be “legislating sin”, went down to crushing defeat at the hands of Democrat Bill Nelson. The fact that she squandered her own inherited fortune in the process only makes the victory sweeter.
- In Pennsylvania, the repugnant sexually obsessed fundamentalist and homophobic bigot Rick Santorum was decisively trounced by state treasurer Bob Casey, a conservative Democrat who nevertheless outshines Santorum by a wide margin.
- In Missouri, the anti-choice, anti-medical-research Senator Jim Talent was defeated by state auditor Claire McCaskill with, perhaps, some help from a campaign ad featuring Michael J. Fox that graphically shows the effect of Parkinson’s disease.
- In Montana, Senator Conrad Burns, a close friend to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff who once warned us to beware of Muslims who “drive taxicabs in the daytime and kill at night”, lost his seat to Jon Tester, president of the state senate and still part-time worker on his family’s organic farm.
- In Ohio, the corrupt Republican machine that has worked hard to turn conservative evangelical churches into Republican foot soldiers was crushed across the state. Senator Mike DeWine was unseated by Democratic challenger Sherrod Brown, while gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell, who worked tirelessly to disenfranchise progressives in his previous role as secretary of state, lost to Ted Strickland. Ohio Democrats also won three congressional districts across the state.
- In Indiana’s 8th Congressional district, the brazen theocrat John Hostettler (sponsor of the overtly anti-constitutional Public Expression of Religion Act about which I have written previously) was soundly defeated by Vanderburgh County sheriff Brad Ellsworth.
- In Texas’ 22nd district, the seat of the disgraced and indicted Tom DeLay was won by Democrat Nick Lampson.
- In Pennsylvania’s 7th district, Representative Curt Weldon, already under FBI investigation as an alleged part of a bribery and influence-peddling scheme, was swept out by retired Navy Vice Admiral Joseph Sestak.
- In California’s 11th district, the rabid anti-environmentalist Richard Pombo, who as chair of the House Resources Committee pushed hard for drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and sought to weaken the Endangered Species Act at every turn, was overthrown by renewable energy expert Jerry McNerney with help from the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations.
I have a few words to say to both sides. First, to the losers of this election – the religious right theocrats, the pompous pundits bloated on their own sense of self-importance, the racists, the hatemongers, the fearmongers, the corrupt, the self-interested, and the liars both professional and pathological. To these people, I have only this to say: Stew in your defeat. Sputter and rage and gnash your teeth. You now know how real Americans have felt these past six years watching you drag our country down and make a mockery of everything it stands for. I promise you that it will not be the last time you feel this way.
Our great president Abraham Lincoln, who would have totally repudiated you and all you stand for despite the fact that you nominally share a party with him, famously said, “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” And last night has proven these words true. For a short time you were able to govern by appealing to all that is worst in people to pull together a razor-thin majority – but Americans are a basically decent and intelligent people, and they have come around at last and rejected the politics of hate and fear you promote. I would not ordinarily gloat like this, but this comeuppance is far too long overdue and far too richly deserved not to.
Second, to my fellow progressives: I am overjoyed and prouder than I can say of all of you. I am grateful for the privilege to have taken a small part in the hard work we have put in to get to this point. But we must remember that the job is not yet done. Despite our new majority, we are still embroiled in a bloody and unwinnable misadventure in Iraq; we still have a bleeding economy and a massive deficit; we still lack adequate protection for the rights of gay people and other minorities; and we still have a president who thinks himself above the law. Even in spite of our tremendous success, there are still many vile and abhorrent specimens of Republican from safe red districts that survived, and that will impede any effort to bring George W. Bush to account for his misdeeds. And the Democrats themselves are hardly perfect; it will still take much arm-twisting and compromise to unite them all into a truly progressive governing coalition. All of these things were true before the election, and none of them has changed. What has changed is that now we have the power to do something about them.
Make no mistake, this is an overwhelming victory, and we should treat it as such and celebrate it as it deserves to be celebrated. The United States of America has been under dark clouds for the past several years, and at long last, those clouds have parted and a shaft of daylight has broken through. But once the euphoria has faded and we look forward to the challenges that await us, the truly hard work will begin. With this week’s victories, we have derailed the Republican agenda and bought ourselves two years to define what we stand for and to develop our political infrastructure. Now we have to make good use of them.