As Kevin Phillips, architect of Nixon's Southern Strategy, pointed out, the Democrats overcame a very effective Republican machine to win the midterm elections. Less noted in the post-election analysis is that they won against a system that has been gerrymandered against them. What's more, even in their minority status, they represented more Americans in the Senate than the Republicans did. Finally, Democrats are always going to be at disadvantage with funds because their supporters, as an aggregate, are just not as wealthy as Republicans' are. It's a shame our current system penalizes them for this.
And yet, Democrats won. Sizeably. Conservative pundits like George Will, Bob Novak and others have been insisting that conservatism as a political ideology did not lose, rather the current Republican party lost. I find a few problems with this statement:
(1) No political ideology is ever consistently implemented by a political body. It's naive to think that if Republicans were just able to promote conservatism, they would be fine. Everything that we have seen in the last twelve years, from hypocritical anti-Clintonites Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston having affairs of their own while espousing family values, to corrupt pork-barrel spending, to pay-to-play policy making, to inconsistent tax relief, is exactly what the Republican party is all about. It should not have taken George Will twelve years to realize this. Any political party is only as good as the people who represent it, and even those vestiges of the initial Republican revolution who we saw on TV the other night--the J.C. Watts, the Bill Bennetts--had trouble adhering to conservatism.
(2) Conservatism did lose, all across the country. It lost in all of the states where referendums to increase the minimum wage passed. The conservatism that believes in legislating morals lost in South Dakota, where a statewide abortion ban was voted down; it lost in Arizona where a ban on gay marriage was voted down; and it lost in statehouses across the country, where state governments became majority Democratic. It lost in the new, fast-growing voting bloc of 18-29 year olds, 60% of them whom voted for progressive candidates.
(3) Kind of an addendum to #1, but Republicans were never really conservative where it counted, and they never will be. They promoted excess in the financial sector, which as Phillips said, is "running amok on debt;" they created a huge government deficit; they ignored the problem of global warming in favor of propping up industries of excess, like the auto industry; and they themselves engaged in corruption, cronyism, promotion of government largess--especially because of Iraq, where contractors are not being held accountable for their work and are running up a huge tab at the American taxpayer's expense.
In sum, Conservatism lost big. I'll have more to say on why I think the Democrats won and who was most responsible for these gains and then hopefully what I would like to see from the new Congress in coming blog entries.