What now?

Republican defeats are just the first step in turning the nation around. Plus, the constitutional imperative of gay marriage.
By EDITORIAL  |  November 9, 2006

ELEPHANT HUNTING: The Democrats must now educate the public about the depth and breadth of the Republicans' perfidy

The national political news is good for a change. As we go to press, the Democrats have clearly regained the House of Representatives and have a chance of nudging into control of the Senate. But whatever the ultimate outcome in the Senate, the Republican’s autocratic hold on Washington is now fractured.

The first lesson of this election is easy to read: President Bush and the Republicans lost their political edge because independent voters lost faith in the president and rejected his disastrous and shameful war in Iraq. For the most part, it was independent voters’ swing away from the GOP rather than any inherent strength among the Democrats that punished Bush.

When the Democratic win (or, perhaps more accurately, the Republican loss) is looked at from a national point of view, the picture is clear but the implications are not clear-cut. Simply put, so-called blue states got bluer and — for the most part — the red states remained depressingly red. The Democrats’ strength is concentrated on the two coasts with significant — but hardly revolutionary — gains scored in the political battlegrounds of the industrialized Midwest.

These distinctions, these qualifications, are important to note because the nation remains as polarized today as it was two years ago when Bush squeaked by with his narrow popular win. The power shift will be real, but the Democrats’ mandate is elusive. That is so because a sizeable number of the Democrats elected to the House are more conservative or moderate than the coastal-friendly House leadership.

If the Democrats are to consolidate the gains they scored in this election, they are going to have to educate the public about the depth and breadth of the Republicans’ perfidy, not only in Iraq, but on a wide array of issues that hit average people hard: tax policies that favor the rich, retirement policies that favor corporations, drug plans that boost profits for pharmaceutical companies, student loans that do little for students and their families other than saddle them with outsize debt.

When television commentators discuss the Democrats’ regained power to hold hearings and issue subpoenas, they are talking in insider’s shorthand about the ability to instruct and teach. With their newfound strength as the majority party in the House, the Democrats need to launch a series of hearings on a wide range of issues to show the nation — especially the red states — just how wrongly things have gone. It’s a challenge of political imagination even more than it’s a test of political will. The next two years will be crucial if the hope for a truly compassionate and sophisticated White House is to be realized in the 2008 presidential election.

If the national party is looking for a model, it could do no better than to look toward Massachusetts. The election of Deval Patrick and the tone he set in his upbeat but realistic acceptance speech shows that political life can be high-minded while being tough-minded. The hard work, which will surely be frustrating at times, will begin in earnest next year. This election is about more than glimpsing light at the end of the tunnel; it’s about the promise that — to borrow a biblical phrase — the children of light can triumph over the children of darkness.

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