Column for 12 November, 2006
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
It’s difficult to overstate the magnitude of the Democrats’ victory in Tuesday’s election. As I type this, news reports suggest that Sen. George Allen (R-Macaccaville) will not ask for a recount, giving the Democratic Party control of both Houses of Congress for the first time in twelve years. The results of this election blowout will be endlessly scrutinized like the entrails of a sacrificial goat for weeks to come (after all, pundits have to have something to justify their existence), however I think it’s clear that there are two reasons, and two reasons only, why the Democrats won: George W. Bush and Tom DeLay. Bush, with his stiff-necked monomaniacal fixation on pursuing a catastrophically failed policy on his unnecessary war in Iraq, transformed himself into the political equivalent of a giant steaming barrel of toxic waste. Republican candidates were reduced towards the end to sneaking the President of the United States into town late at night, like college students smuggling a date out of a dormitory, for clandestine fundraisers. GOP candidates performed extraordinary verbal gymnastics trying to demonstrate that they had never heard of this alleged ‘George W. Bush.’ Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island even revealed that he hadn’t voted for Bush in 2004. He did everything short of being legally adopted by Ted Kennedy and still lost. Tom DeLay on the other hand, with his used car salesman’s smile, shellacked hair and a heart, like the Grinch’s, that was two sizes too small, came to epitomize what Democrats gleefully called the “Culture of Corruption” in the GOP-led Congress. DeLay wasn’t alone, of course; he had Randy “Duke” Cunningham, Bob Ney and Mark Foley, among many, many others, to help fan the awful stench wafting from the People’s House. Americans perceived, and rightly so, that their government was for sale to the highest bidder. Conservatives were turned off by the orgy of pork-barrel spending used to fuel the Republican political machine. In that respect, 2006 resembles 1994: an unpopular President combined with a scandal-plagued Congress (though the scandals back then seem positively quaint by comparison) brings down the party in power. The Democrats even managed to swipe a page from the Republicans’ playbook and engaged in a rare show of organization and message discipline. In other ways, however, this year is far different: while the GOP takeover in ’94 was fueled mainly by the defeat of white, Southern, moderate-to-conservative Democrats, this year Republicans of all stripes were beaten, and in some cases beaten badly, all across the country. Also, the Republicans twelve years ago had at their backs a strong wind from a thirty-year trend in their favor in the South; Democrats this year had no such history. In fact, they had been losing ground in recent elections, and were fighting a GOP with the institutional advantages of big money and hyper-partisan redistricting. As one pundit opined, however, the Republicans’ advantages this year were like the levees of New Orleans; capable of resisting most normal storms, but swamped and ultimately breached by a Category 5 hurricane.
Here in Texas, the Democrats had a great night, in spite of once again losing all statewide races. Rick Perry was strutting and preening for the cameras, encouraging talk of him as a possible vice presidential candidate in ’08, in spite of the fact that he won the smallest percentage of the vote of any Republican candidate for governor since 1974 and despite winning fewer votes overall than Tony Sanchez, the man he decisively beat in 2002. Several down ballot candidates, all hopelessly outspent, performed much better than expected as well, with VaLinda Hathcox (Land Commissioner), Hank Gilbert (Agriculture Commissioner), Dale Henry (Railroad Commission), Bill Moody (Supreme Court) and J.R. Molina (Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals) all winning more than 40% of the vote. In the Legislature, not a single Democratic incumbent lost, the Democrats successfully defended all their open seats, and gained five seats, not enough to change control of the State House, but possibly enough to end the Speakership of the universally despised Tom Craddick, whom even the Governor now refuses to publicly support. Just up the road in Dallas County, the Republican Party was virtually annihilated, losing nearly every single contested countywide race. In fact, an old friend of mine from our Young Democrats days, Martin Hoffman, was elected the new judge of the 68th Civil District Court. Democrats also ran ahead of the state average in Harris County, in keeping with a general trend of the large urban counties becoming more and more blue.
Here at home, Chet Edwards delivered a severe beating to Vancampen Taylor, easily winning every county in the 17th Congressional District except for Hood and Johnson (which he lost by a mere 8 votes out of 30,000 cast). While no other Democrats won locally, several besides Chet got at or near 10,000 votes, a respectable showing in a heavily-Republican county.
So all across American, Republicans in general and George W. Bush in particular were handed a stunning personal rebuke by the voters. What happens next? The White House has already shown promising signs of returning to reality, as the President quickly and unceremoniously shoved Donald Rumsfeld under the nearest bus, though he proposes to replace him with an un-indicted co-conspirator from the Iran-Contra Scandal, Robert Gates. The Democrats have their work cut out for them, as an electorate that determinedly voted for divided government will paradoxically expect them to Get Things Done now that they are in power. But we can worry about that later. For now, let the Democrats enjoy their white wine spritzers and brie. The hard work comes later.