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It's Not the End of the World -- 7 Things Progressives Need to Keep in Mind About Last Night's GOP 'Wave'

The GOP’s gains represent a predictable rebalancing between presidential elections, rather than an ideological shift in the electorate.
 
 
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Election 2010 was, by any measure, the “bloodbath” the forecasters predicted. It was a terrible loss for the Democratic Party, but what about the progressive movement? Should liberals hang their heads in the wake of the GOP retaking the House? Was it a repudiation of everything we believe, or are these results merely a bump in the road for the movement -- a setback on the way to a better, more progressive America?

The reality is that Congress is going to be even more dysfunctional, and thanks to the incoming Tea Party candidates, Fox News and the rest of the right-wing noise machine, we’re going to be subjected to endless investigations into pseudo-scandals involving everyone down to the White House gardener’s second cousin. Maybe we’ll even be treated to an impeachment hearing or two.

The bottom line is that progressives went to bed last night fighting a right wing that’s lost its collective mind, in a broken political system, with a centrist, Wall Street-friendly party that can’t sell its successes, and we wake up in pretty much the same situation. In other words, yes, we now face the disheartening fact that Rand Paul is a member of the United States Senate, the “greatest deliberative body in the world.” But remember, we already had James Inhofe.

But despite all of that, the long-term winds that devastated the GOP in two consecutive “wave elections” and propelled a black man with a funny name into the White House are still at our backs.

We thought a little perspective was in order, so without further preamble, here are seven things progressives should keep in mind after Tuesday’s drubbing:

1. Midterm elections, unlike presidential races, are a collection of low-turnout, localized contests rather than a barometer of the nation’s ideological tilt. Former AlterNet staffer Steve Rosenfeld has a detailed piece at Project Vote examining the historic trends that shape midterm outcomes. “Many of the features of this year’s election,” he writes, “from the drop-off in voter turnout, to swings in political representation, and the uptick in activity by partisan idealists, are predictable outcomes that have distinguished midterm from presidential election cycles in recent years.”

The GOP’s gains in last night’s elections, as Rosenberg notes, “are part of the predictable rebalancing that occurs between presidential elections, rather than ideological shifts in the electorate.”

The most important point, one that will be all but ignored on the cable gabfests, is that “midterm elections consist of hundreds of lower turnout, individual, localized contests,” and, “as a result, they are weaker barometers of the views of the public at-large than higher-turnout presidential elections.”

2. The electorate is hopping mad, but they still dislike Republicans. A month before an election that has swept some rather extreme GOPers into Congress, an Associated Press-GfK Poll found that “60 percent disapprove of the job congressional Democrats are doing -- yet 68 percent frown on how Republicans are performing.”

A New York Times/CBS News poll last week found that while a majority of Americans voted GOP yesterday, the electorate “continues to have a more favorable opinion of the Democratic Party than of the Republican Party, with 46 percent favoring Democrats and 41 favoring Republicans."

This will be the third consecutive year in which the party out of power wins. That’s not a measure of the country’s ideological leanings, it’s a sign that people are hurting and are mad as hell about it (in case one needed such a sign).

3. Blue Dogs took the brunt of it. The loss of Wisconsin’s liberal lion, Russ Feingold, is a blow to the progressive movement. Alan Grayson’s defeat in Florida hurts. Other good lawmakers were booted out of office last night as well. But in many cases, what we saw were conservatives with Ds next to their names replaced with conservatives with Rs.

 
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