I suppose that the election returns of Tuesday night could have been worse for Democrats but it's hard to see how. Granted, they grabbed a few governorships, though many fewer than expected. Jeb is still in the governor's mansion in Florida. Reformer Mark Sanford will be chipping away at taxes in South Carolina. Massachusetts and Maryland are in fairly capable Republican hands. Even socialist Hawaii has gone GOP.
President Bush's party picked up seats in the House, triggering Dick Gephardt's resignation as minority leader. As for the Senate, former American Prospect Washington editor Josh Marshall conceded, "the Democrats lost basically every race that was even remotely losable." For the first time since FDR, a sitting president's party picked up seats in the midterm elections.
The nightmare might not be over just yet. The Republicans could pick up a Louisiana Senate seat in the runoff next month. This race was grandfathered in under the old campaign finance laws, so unregulated outside spending will play a big part in determining the outcome. Seeing as how the Democrats are strapped for cash and various industries will be looking to get into the Republicans' good graces, it's very likely that Mary Landrieu will be toast.
It's also conceivable that given his shaky relationship with his party and sensing the shift in political winds -- especially in his home state of Georgia -- Zell Miller will jump from the sinking ship. If so, the spread will be 53 Republicans 46 Democrats and one lone idiot from Vermont, after an electoral bout that the Dems were supposed to win.
For the most part the Democratic reaction has consisted of equal parts denial and sputtering incomprehension. For every frank admission like Marshall's (see above) there have been equally idiotic howlers like this one: "I think these results are actually bad for President Bush's reelection prospects in 2004" (also by Marshall).
Though the shock of losing such a big one short-circuited the wind-up string attached to the backs of Dem spokesmen ([pull] "Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment" [thwack]) a defensive piecemeal consensus is evolving which holds tactics, poor organization and a lack of overall message accountable for the staggering losses. As the boys at Tapped put it, "the Democrats had no leadership, no message, no plan. There was just no there there."
Maybe the Tapped crew could be forgiven this inanity (after all, they did admit to writing while hung over) but it's hard to know what New Republic editor Peter Beinart's excuse was. In his weekly TRB column Beinart took a few fun swipes at Democratic equivocating on the war on terror before launching into the following:
"Republicans are saying Democrats lost on November 5 because the voters disliked their proposals on the big questions of the day. But that can't be true, because the Democrats didn't have proposals on the big questions of the day."
Balderdash. The Democrats didn't have a counterpart to the much-maligned Contract With America, but Beinart's approach is disingenuous.
Was there any doubt what the Democrats would have done with control of Congress? From Tom Daschle to Al Gore, the old instincts were well displayed for the voters to judge. The Dems collectively promised to spend more, sock it to business, further involve government with healthcare, fend off any attempts to privatize Social Security and resist "irresponsible" tax cuts in the future. As if to underscore this point, they dragged Fritz Mondale out of mothballs to attack the Bush tax cut.
But in an election where the residents of Massachusetts -- Massachusetts! -- came within inches of killing their own income tax and plunging the state finances into the toilet; where residents of Oregon fended off Canadian style healthcare by and eight to two margin; where Democrats were forced to run away screaming from the issue of gun control; voters appear to have sent a message of their own. They saw what the Dems were offering and decided they weren't having any.
When Democrats finish grieving their losses in this election, they should realize that they have been repudiated.