A Victory for Progressive Values
Let's be clear -- it wasn't just a good night for Democrats. It was a good night for progressives, and no media spin that these new elected officials are "conservatives" changes who they are. The media is always marvelling that "new" Democrats are so much more conservative than "traditional" liberal Democrats of the past -- which would surprise all the folks firehosed in the streets of the South by many Democrats of a generation ago.
There are no doubt some conservatives among the new Democrats elected but as Rick Perlstein, Ezra Klein and Chris Bowers note, many were progressive and Netroots supported and almost all were tough on core economic justice issues.
Let's remember -- those massive Democratic majorities of a generation ago were fake. In 1981, Ronald Reagan was able to control the agenda in Congress because 67 Boll Weevil Democrats essentially caucused with the GOP. In 1993, the Democrats had a "majority" of 258 but Clinton was only able to pass his initial budget by one vote, so he had a de facto majority of 218 votes. I actually am more confident in the present 228-230 Dem majority we are getting this round to support progressive initiatives than those fake-larger majorities of the past.
And the ideological meaning of this election is nowhere clearer than in the state initiatives passed across the country. The obvious examples are passage of minimum wage initiatives in every state where they were proposed, passage of stem cell funding in Missouri, passage of ethics reforms in Montana, approval of early education funding in Arizona, a prescription drug program for the uninsured in Oregon, and a program for alternative energy reform in Washington State (the last one teetering on passage).
Add in the rejection of the rightwing ideological agenda -- while bans on gay marriage were passed, voters said No on the abortion ban in South Dakota and defeated parental notification in California, Ohio and Oregon. Voters rejected repeal of the state estate tax in Washington. The tax revolt died this year as across the country "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" -- which would have put a meat axe to state budgets -- were defeated at the polls or blocked earlier in the petition gathering process. While "eminent domain" was restricted in a number of states, the attempt by the rightwing to hitch those bills to a radical theory of "regulatory takings" was defeated in California, Washington and Idaho -- with only Arizona approving this deceptive rightwing gambit.
The signs of ideological collapse on the right are relatively clear as different coalition partners fight with each other -- and those fights between corporate interests, libertarian small government types and religious zealots are only likely to increase without as much access to power and the budget to bind their differences over with money.
So celebrate -- this was not a partisan victory but a real victory for progressive values across the country. There's still lots of work to be done, but it's a great first step.