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Reflections on a Disturbing Election Night

Friday, November 06, 2009
I've spent a few days mulling over the results of the elections on Tuesday. There weren't any in my state, for which I was profoundly grateful - which suggested the first clue as to what happened. I suspect a lot of folks are still a little burned out from the last race, and there wasn't much happening to excite us. Obama has been a bit of a disappointment: incremental change in time of crisis isn't what I would call strong leadership. As many commenters have noted, off-year and mid-term elections are far more dependent on turning out one's base than Presidential elections are. Since the overall turnout is so much lower (often dramatically so), enthused minorities can have a much greater effect on the outcome.

But even should the Democrats manage to push through national health care, and even a climate change bill, before the middle of next year, they're still looking at big losses in 2010. As all of us political scientists have noted for decades (killing whole forests in the process) economic conditions are the single strongest determinant of aggregate electoral performance. In other words, if the economy is bad, the incumbent president's party loses. Period. The economy doesn't have to be fully recovered in 2010, but people have to start seeing real progress or the Democrats are risking another 1994. The Democrats' unwillingness to really grapple with the underlying causes of our economic difficulties virtually guarantees that we'll putter along in a jobless recovery for the next few years. You'd think that "moderate" Democrats would know this and act accordingly, but they're either a) terrified of big contributions from corporations going to their opponents, b) listening to David Broder too much, or c) suffering from extreme cognitive capture. Probably all three. As usual, the Blue Dogs have learned nothing, and they'll once more be wiped out and blame liberals for their defeat.

Could the tea-baggeres bail out the Democrats? Are the Republicans so nutty that they'll destroy their chances by nominating a bunch of wingnuts? Maybe that would save a few seats, but I don't think it would in the end make much difference. I'm sure at some point a party becomes so insane that voters would refuse to support it even against an unpopular incumbent, but it's unclear whether we've reached that point yet. I doubt it. People's ability to make excuses for lunacy, particularly by Republicans (thanks media!) is near-infinite. The Democrats will probably use that as their chief strategy, running viciously negative campaigns against their opponents. I don't think it'll work any more than it did for Corzine in New Jersey, but what else will they have?

Or maybe the Democrats in Washington will wake up on Monday morning, realize they're in deep doo-doo, and start passing a bunch of legislation: going after Wall Street, another stimulus, tax reform to end corporate welfare, national health care with a strong public option and national exchange anybody can enter, and campaign finance reform. And maybe my boss will suddenly decide to double my salary.

On a related note, I find it deeply saddening that the gay rights movement have lost their 31st straight referendum. But I have to say that this is what we can expect from the use of referenda, an institution totally inappropriate to civil rights legislation. It's absurd that we put civil rights up to a popular vote - if we'd done that on ending segregation or giving women the right to vote, I really doubt they would have passed. You don't give the majority the right to decide the rights of the minority - that's what the courts are for. Hell, I have major misgivings about the use of referenda at all. I mean, look how wonderfully it's worked for California!

And on that note, I'm going to start my little vacation. BH and I are headed to NYC for our 20th "anniversary" (since we met, not since we got married). Ciao!
Posted by Arbitrista @ 7:49 AM
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