I watched Senator Rick Santorum's concession speech the election night and was struck by his characterization of his office as a "gift." I believe that it is exactly this attitude of entitlement among senior Republican office holders that the voters resent and punished on Tuesday.
Clearly, it is necessary for the Democrats, if we are to retain the trust of the voters to behave and to think as good and faithful servants and approach our time in power as such. We will behave as responsible and prudent stewards of the institutions and powers of our representative democracy. Nevertheless, the results of this election put the Democrats in a very advantageous position vis a vis the GOP politically.
Below is a list of ten strategic political goals that I think we advanced with the victory in the 06 election:
1). The election proved that the GOP maxed out its supporters in 04 and that it is unprepared to recruit voters among the demographic groups that are increasing and who will soon become politically potent: women; Hispanic voters and the threatened middle class. The latter group had been voting in increasing numbers for the GOP because of "values" issues;
2). The GOP saliency on "values" issues has been effectively blunted and the Democratic party's ideals of social equity, compassion and public virtue have been reinforced;
3). The permanent GOP majority that Bush and co., were trying to build as their party achieved numerical parity with the Democrats has been averted. As noted above, the demographic trends favor the Democrats and I predict we will see a period of Democratic gains lasting until 2020 or beyond.
4). Democrats have consolidated gains in the mid-West and in the West that have made previously GOP states increasingly Democratic,- and although there is still no region as solid as Dixie,- Dems won statewide offices in every State but Texas, Idaho and Alabama;
5). Conservatives lost seats- all the GOP incumbents who were defeated were more conservative than their Democratic counterparts, in states like Florida and Kentucky where Democrats tried to run as improved or compassionate conservatives the Dems lost. Even in Pennsylvania, where a pro-life Democrat beat Santorum, the Democrat, Bob Casey, is an old fashioned Hubert Humphrey liberal;
6). The religious right got run out of town;
7). George Allen, the GOP version of Hillary Clinton lost; Rick Santorum the GOP version of Barak Obama lost, Bill Frist the GOP version of John Edwards was erased. The GOP cannot recover from having its top tier Presidential contenders wiped out. They have no recruiting pools and they spent so much money to lose that their credibility with the money boys has got to be tarnished.
8). John McCain will be forced into the national limelight months earlier than he anticipated and forced into the grueling and enervating campaign mode far more intensively than he had anticipated. He is 71 years old; he is not going to hold up to the intense scrutiny that he is about to get. The national political story of 07 is going to be the disintegration of McCain, and this will be bad news for the whole year for the GOP. Romney is not ready for prime time either, but will come out in the end as their nominee, probably with the ticket balancer Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison as the Veep.
9). Best of all, Bush is irrelevant. He retains the institutional power of the office and he is not above using it, but he will be rejected over and over again. Congress will pass laws and explicitly act to offset the signing statements that the President has used so effectively to shape legislation. Congress will revise the Executive budget requests to prevent the runaway growth of government and the governmental funding of conservative political operatives and ideologues that have taken place during the Bush administration. These battles will take place below the surface, but will hurt the GOP politically and set the stage for another good Democratic year in 08.
10). Success breeds success, as the above nine points show, the Dems will be able to build on 06 for 08, 08 for 2010 and redistricting and recruitment of legislative candidates for the state and federal levels. The Dems have moved from parity with the GOP in the total national number of state legislators to a clear majority, reversing a twelve year trend of continuous GOP gains. The Democratic successes in rural areas has shown that the Dems can win in the 60,000 rural jurisdictions whose paid elected officials form the GOP electoral cadre. The Dems can win some of these offices, get more officials and whittle down the GOP advantages: the Dean 50 state strategy has paid off handsomely.
The big thing to remember is that Bush is politically irrelevant: he has gone from lame duck to dead duck status.
The 06 was certainly a watershed GOP defeat. But it has many more characteristics of a milestone Democratic victory.