Thursday, November 04, 2010

It Needs To Be Said

The news media is all over themselves analyzing the results of the 2010 midterm elections. There are so many narratives to follow that they're practically getting dizzy (oh look! Minnesota's having another recount! Oh, well, at least we've got practice.) But the consensus seems to be that this was a resounding victory for the Republicans and a stirring rebuke to Obama's policies.

Which manages to ignore the facts of one of the most unprecedented election results in the history of the United States of America. (Literally. There has never been a time during the 96 years that both houses of Congress were directly elected by the people that one house has switched parties but not both.) The fact that the Republicans took back the House of Representatives, but not the Senate, is a clear signal that the major news media is managing to studiously ignore, possibly because they want to drum up some excitement for the 2012 elections. (I don't believe the media is particularly biased in favor of conservatives or liberals. They're biased in favor of drama. Elections are like crack to them.)

The fact is that in a year when Democratic enthusiasm was at its lowest ebb, when everyone and their mother knew that the Republicans were going to retake Congress simply because a dispirited progressive faction was punishing the Democrats by staying home, the Republicans still managed to blow an absolutely golden opportunity. They fell far short of everyone's projections in the House, and fell short of controlling the Senate at all. Why? Mainly because in a few key races, they nominated candidates who didn't hide behind platitudes about "living within our means" and "taking government back for the people", and instead talked in detail about what they stood for and what their policies were.

Those Republicans lost, big time. Joe Miller, Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle--every one of them said in detail what they'd do if elected, and every one of them heard the resounding voice of the American people saying, "No thank you." Even in reliable red states or red districts, outspoken conservatives like Rand Paul and Michelle Bachmann had to spend millions of dollars to hang on to what should have been safe seats. The fact of the matter is, in order to get re-elected, the Republicans had to pretend not to be Republicans. That's the narrative that you're not hearing about right now. But you might hear a lot about it in a couple of years. Because two years is a long time to ask the Republicans to pretend not to be Republicans.


magidin said...

There is a partial historical precedent: in the 1930 election, the House "sort of" flipped but the Senate did not. Republicans kept the Senate, and the House by one or two seats (after holding a big majority). This was back when there was a long lame-duck period (November through end of March), and during the interim, there were a number of deaths and special elections in the House, which were won by Democrats. By the beginning of the new Congress, the House majority was democratic, so the House flipped but the Senate did not.

Jim S said...

Actually in 1980, the Republicans took back the Senate for the first time since the 1950s, but the Dems kept the House. That's why Tip O'Neil was such a prominant figure in the Reagan years.

Brendan said...

The question is, if the Republicans either fuck things up or just plain deadlock progress, will they be able to shift the blame?

They shifted a lot of blame for both their past fuckups and their stalling tactics of the last two years onto Obama and the Democrats, so why won't thy think it'll work again in 2012?

RichardAK said...

The Republicans did not take the Senate because it has been six years since 2004, when the Republicans did very well in the Senate elections. That meant that there just weren't that many potentially vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this year. In 2012, it will have been six years since 2006, which was a very good year for Democrats, so a lot of potentially vulnerable Democrats, and few potentially vulnerable Republicans, will be up for reelection.

Also, don't forget that many of the Democrats who won their seats in 2006 were the so-called "Blue Dog" or moderate Democrats. Those Senators are going to be very worried about keeping their seats in two years. That means that the Republicans may have something like a working majority in the Senate anyway, at least on certain issues. Don't be surprised if the Democrats start having to use, or at least threaten to use, the filibuster at certain points over the next two years.

The fact is, the Republicans would have had to win ten seats to take the Senate this year. That they won "only" six is not a great sign for the Democrats.

John Seavey said...

But the fact that they needed to win ten, but lost four significant races because they nominated Republicans who actually admitted what their party stood for (Linda McMahon in CT, Sharron Angle in NV, Christine O'Donnell in DE, Joe Miller in AK) isn't exactly a good sign for the Republicans, either.

magidin said...

Republicans did not lose Alaska, John. The winner will either be Joe Miller, or Murkowski; and Murkowski ran as a write-in so she could remain a Republican, so Republicans will keep Alaska no matter what. Even without Murkowski running as a write-in, there was little chance for the Democrats to take that seat. The split in Alaska is between the very conservative and the extremely-loony-way-out-there conservatives.

RichardAK said...

Also, the Republicans lost in Connecticut and Delaware because those are both very blue states. It is possible that a more moderate Republican might have done better in Delaware, but just the fact that any Republican at all might have had a chance there is a bad sign for the Democrats.

And Linda McMahon was not a particularly radical right-winger; her big liability as a candidate was her connection to a business that may Connecticut residents hold in contempt.

If Democrats spend the next two years thinking that the fact that they held the Senate this year means that things are basically okay for them, they will be setting themselves up for disaster in 2012.

magidin said...

Richard, actually all indications are that the centrist republican that the party wanted to run in Delaware (Castle) would very likely have taken the state. At the very least, it would have been a very close election, which it wasn't with O'Donnell

RichardAK said...

Magidin, that was precisely my point:
"a more moderate Republican might have done better in Delaware, but just the fact that any Republican at all might have had a chance there is a bad sign for the Democrats."

Delaware is a very blue state. It went 62 to 37 for Obama in 2008, 53 to 46 for Kerry in 2004, 55 to 42 for Gore in 2000, 52 to 37 for Clinton in 1996, and 43 to 35 for Clinton in 1992. It hasn't voted for a Republican Presidential candidate since 1988, and we know how that election went. If Obama even has to fight for Delaware (or Oregon, or Connecticut) in 2012, he may as well pack it in.

magidin said...

Richard: And Castle has been the congressman from Delaware since the early 90s, and a Republican. I agree with you to some (in fact, to a large) extent, but it is also the case that generically, "Republicans" are just as badly thought-of as "Democrats", and that the disapproval rating of both parties are pretty low. This is was a punishment vote. Certainly Obama needs to do something so people aren't angry come 2012, but I don't see anyone who is reading the tea leaves getting this anywhere close to "It's the economy, stupid", which I think is pretty much what this was.

John Seavey said...

The thing is, Richard, I agree with you that Democrats are not very well-regarded right now. But people are trying to claim that this election was a mandate for the Republicans, when in fact it was just frustration against the Democrats. In fact, the Republicans who actually took firm, definitive policy stances had a lot harder time getting elected, because people don't actually agree with most of them; the Republicans' only winning strategy was to shut up and let the Democrats lose.

The problems that the Republicans have, though, are two-fold. One, they can't just shut up and let the Democrats lose forever, and two, the only party that America hates more than Democrats right now is Republicans. :)

Austin Gorton said...

@John: One, they can't just shut up and let the Democrats lose forever, and two, the only party that America hates more than Democrats right now is Republicans. :)

Man, I hope you're right.

What I don't get from the narrative the media is telling is this: if this election is America saying the Democrats didn't do enough, who will take the blame in 2012 when nothing still hasn't been fixed (because a MORE divided government sure isn't going to get more done than a less divided one)?

If nothing getting done is what made America flip sides, will they flip the Republicans in 2012, who they (according to the narrative) gave a mandate to do something in this election, or will they fail to re-elect Obama, since (again, according the narrative) his perceived inaction is what led to this Republican victory?

It can't go both ways...

I don't believe the media is particularly biased in favor of conservatives or liberals. They're biased in favor of drama. Elections are like crack to them.

Well said. Drama=ratings. Ratings=money.

Forget Democrat/Republican. The media is a business. They go where the money is.