Opinion

Stop denying the truth: The Democrats got walloped

No, it doesn't matter that the GOP had no agenda

Today is the day people will reassure you that the Republican victory in the 2014 midterms was not so big.

They'll say it wasn't really a repudiation of Obama. Or it kinda sorta doesn't count because the electorate was unrepresentative. They'll point to a handful of ballot initiatives and say that Colorado rejected the personhood amendment and Oregon and D.C. voted for legalizing marijuana. A little re-framing here, a hand-wave at some third-party spoilers there, and presto, it wasn't a bad day for liberalism after all. And hey, look, a federal judge overturned a ban on same-sex marriage in Kansas yesterday. It's a "Victory for the Left."

Well, here's my counterintuitive take on the midterms: The big winners are those who won big, the Republicans. They won the Senate, easily. They won a larger share of the House. They won governorships in blue states like Illinois and Maryland. Heck, they even denied Democrats a clean win in Vermont. Vermont! Republicans elected the first black senator from the south since Reconstruction. They elected the youngest congresswoman in our history.

The three outcomes that progressives most devoutly desired were smashed: Public-union buster Gov. Scott Walker won his third election in four years. Conservative governance, we were told, faced a clear referendum in the re-election bid of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. He won. Even Maine couldn't shake Gov. Paul LePage. Win, win, win. Democrats have to console themselves with Gov. Andrew Cuomo beating up a Westchester County Executive in New York.

We have been told that the GOP ran on nothing and that the party has no mandate. In truth, the congressional GOP has an identifiable record: unremitting opposition to Obama. Apparently, the electorate wanted more of that.

The Republicans got nothing but rewards for obstructionism. No Contract with America was needed. The 2014 electorate was willing to hire the Republicans like day laborers: Pull up, hop in. No, I don't need your C.V. You castrate pigs? Great, you got a job.

You can blame the map, blame the 2010 Tea Party wave of gerrymandering, or blame old white people. Obama was supposed to be a liberal Reagan, reversing 30 years of moderate to conservative governance. But Obama's historic elections had no effect on the midterm electorate which now has a 20-year bias toward the GOP. The rollout of ObamaCare with politically convenient delays and triggers over a period of years seems to have spread the damage from the expected fallout rather than contained it.

I have three consolations to offer Democrats for their very real loss. The first is that even with Mark Udall losing his own personal war on women, you're still winning the culture war. That's true even with state-level restrictions on abortion, and even if the movement for social justice feels like a bunch of hashtags on Twitter. Fifty years on, the sexual revolution is still unfolding with massive political consequences for conservatives.

Secondly, even though Obama was repudiated, the new more Republican Congress will continue to be incredibly, even dangerously, unpopular for a supposedly "people's House." If galloping inequality and the establishment of a caste-like class system in America is really happening regardless of who is in office, electoral victories will merely be preludes to the next electoral losses.

And lastly, just like the GOP in 2012, a big part of your problem was candidate selection. GOP victories in the statehouses do have a way of thinning the bench. But Democrats should be able to do better than Martha Coakley in 2016. That's solvable.

But in the meantime, my advice is not to fool yourselves. I came of age in an era of conservative defeat and decline. This was a big, big loss. And losses like that promised exciting, bloody, intra-party fights. A loss like that could even shake up the certainties for 2016.

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