I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Great Victory - crushing the developing myths

(updated below)

The outcome of this election -- even with the not-yet-fully-finalized Senate victories in Virginia and Montana -- is as resounding and clear as it gets. For exactly that reason, all sorts of devastated Bush followers and confused and desperate media mavens are busy spawning myths about what happened -- often, in the case of the mindless pundits, unwittingly, even unconsciously. Most Americans know exactly what happened here, but it is nonetheless vital that these myths be smashed from the start and the clear lessons of this election be safeguarded:

(1) This is a shattering and humiliating defeat for the Republican Party. The excuse that it is just run-of-the-mill, standard sixth-presidential-year impatience is pure nonsense. In the sixth year of President Clinton's presidency, Democrats in the midterm elections gained seats in the House and there was no change in the Senate.

When a President and his political party are liked and their positions are in line with what Americans want, they win, even in the allegedly cursed "sixth presidential year." By contrast, when a President is deeply unpopular and his party perceived to be rife with radicalism and corruption, they lose. And when that perception is particularly strong and widespread, they lose badly. That is what happened here, and there is nothing mundane about. These results are extraordinary, and every Bush follower knows it.

(2) This was a resounding and emphatic rejection of the core, defining premises of the so-called "conservative" movement and what has morphed into the grotesque Republican Party. Nobody doubts that Americans vigorously rejected George Bush and his signature policy -- the invasion of Iraq. But it wasn't only Bush and Iraq.

Democratic candidates won -- in every part of the country and regardless of their ideology -- by committing themselves to one basic platform. They vigorously opposed what have become the defining attributes of the Republican Party and they pledged to put a stop to them: unchecked Presidential power, mindless warmongering, a refusal to accept or acknowledge realities (both in Iraq and generally), and the deep-seated, fundamental corruption fueling the Bush movement and sustaining their power.

Virtually every Democratic winner, from the most conservative to the most liberal, in the reddest and bluest states, have that in common. They all ran on a platform of putting a stop to the radicalism, deceit and corruption that drives the so-called "conservative" political movement.

Yes, it is true that some of the Democratic winning candidates are pro-life and/or opposed to gay marriage. None of that is new (Democrats are led in the Senate by a pro-life politician and most of them are on record opposing gay marriage). Their doing so prevented the Rovian Republicans from creating sideshows designed to obscure and distract from the vast damage which these Republicans have done to the country. But abortion and gay marriage aren't the issues that determined, or even meaningfully influenced, the outcome of this election, and everyone knows that.

Democrats didn't win by pretending to be anything. Democrats won because they emphatically and unapologetically vowed to oppose what the Republican Party has become and to put an end to its deeply corrupt and destructive one-party rule -- and that is what Americans, more than anything else, wanted.

(3) Republicans lost in every region and were defeated in critical races even in the reddest of states, such as Kansas, Indiana and Arkansas. The Republicans are rapidly collapsing into a regional party -- the Party of the South -- and even there, they lost incumbents and vast amounts of their support. They have pandered to such a small and deranged band of extremists for so long, and they are now finally paying the price in the form of a disintegrating movement and continuously shrinking band of followers.

(4) The notion that this is a victory for some sort of mealy-mouthed, Bush-lite, glorified centrism is absurd on its face. Democrats won by aggressively attacking the Bush movement, not by trying to be a slightly modified and duller version of it. The accommodationist tack is what they attempted in 2002 and 2004 when they were crushed. They won in this election by making their opposition clear and assertive.

Many of the Democrats who won were exactly those candidates who were supported most enthusiastically by the most liberal blogs. Atrios, for instance, raised money for only a handful of challengers and many of them won -- against Republican incumbents in previously red districts: Jon Tester, Patrick Murphy, Joe Sestak, Nick Lampson, Chris Carney. The same is true for the FDL/C&L list of candidates (Amy Klobuchar, Ben Cardin, Sherood Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand) and the Daily Kos/MyDD list (Jim Webb, Tim Walz).

Liberal blogs tend to support underdog Democratic candidates who are challenging Republican incumbents or open seats, i.e., the races that are most difficult to win. And yet a huge bulk of the winning Democratic candidates who won in those races were the ones supported by liberal blogs. And many blog-favored Democrats who lost were ones running in very red districts against GOP incumbents -- such as Angie Paccione (against the heinous Marilyn Musgrave) and Victoria Wulslin (against the equally horrible Jean Schmidt) -- and they came very close to winning.

Given those facts, the idea that this was some great repudiation of the blog-wing of the Democratic Party or that it was an endorsement of Broder-like, plodding centrism is purely wishful thinking on the part of those who wish it were so. The Democrats who won have one thing in common -- aggressive and unapologetic opposition to what the Republicans have become.

(5) The basic mechanics of American democracy, imperfect and defective though they may be, still function. Chronic defeatists and conspiracy theorists -- well-intentioned though they may be -- need to re-evaluate their defeatism and conspiracy theories in light of this rather compelling evidence which undermines them (a refusal to re-evaluate one's beliefs in light of conflicting evidence is a defining attribute of the Bush movement that shouldn't be replicated).

Karl Rove isn't all-powerful; today, he is a rejected loser. Republicans don't possess the power to dictate the outcome of elections with secret Diebold software. They can't magically produce Osama bin Laden the day before the election. They don't have the power to snap their fingers and hypnotize zombified Americans by exploiting a New Jersey court ruling on civil unions, or a John Kerry comment, or moronic buzzphrases and slogans designed to hide the truth (Americans heard all about how Democrats would bring their "San Francisco values" and their love of The Terrorists to Washington, and that moved nobody).

All of the hurdles and problems that are unquestionably present and serious -- a dysfunctional and corrupt national media, apathy on the part of Americans, the potent use of propaganda by the Bush administration, voter suppression tactics, gerrymandering and fundraising games -- can all be overcome. They just were.

Bush opponents haven't been losing because the deck is hopelessly stacked against them. They were losing because they hadn't figured out a way to convey to their fellow citizens just how radical and dangerous this political movement has become. Now they did, and as a result, Americans see this movement for what it is and have begun the process of smashing it.

(6) This is only one small step towards the restoration of our country and its defining values, not a magic bullet. There is much work to be done, accountability to be imposed, facts to be uncovered, radicalism to be reversed, damage to be undone, and the rule of law to be re-established. And none of that will be easy.

Even Democratic control of both the House and Senate is no guarantee that the abuses will end. Quite the contrary. It is worth recalling that the central premise of this President is the Irrelevance of Congress and of everything else other than his will and his power. Takeover of the houses of Congress and the end of one-party rule is but one weapon to be used in the ongoing fight. It is not the end of the fight. Far, far from it.

But if nothing else, yesterday's results should galvanize everyone who recognizes the danger this country has been placed in by the radical, hate-mongering, deeply corrupt authoritarians who have been controlling (and destroying) it. That movement has been severely wounded, but not yet killed.

UPDATE: I have posts up at C&L here and here. The latter post, which is basically a summary of point (5) above, has generated substantial controversy and anger in the comment section, which was not unexpected. But it is a point that I think really needs to be emphasized, particularly while the emotions from last night are still vibrant.

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