There will be an election tomorrow. It will, in all likelihood, not go well. The marriage equality battle in Maine is a coin toss; Deeds appears doomed to defeat in Virigina; Corzine is an underdog according to several recent polls; the Republican State Leadership Committee expects to make gains; NY-23 doesn't look so good.
It will be touted by the media bobbleheads as a precursor of things to come; shades of 1994 will be seen in the pundits' perpetually opaque crystal balls.
If things do go well for us, I'll be happy as the next progressive. But I don't expect them to.
But in the long-term, I couldn't care less.
Now, before the comments section begins to swell with accusations of defeatism and deflating volunteer enthusiasm and voter turnout, let me state for the record that I'm currently serving as Field Coordinator for the Measure A for Ventura campaign, a local sales tax initiative to save one of our two libraries and other city services. I'm working hard to get volunteers motivated for this off-year, and I'm cautiously optimistic about our chances to win this race. And, of course, given the tightness of many of these races with more national attention, every volunteer hour and vote is huge.
Still, it is critical that we discuss in a rational way what is likely to happen and what it all means, so that we can be prepared for the future and the road ahead on November 4th. The truth is that tomorrow's election has very little bearing on what will happen in 2010 and beyond, but right now is the worst possible time for Democrats to be running for election/re-election. If our candidates do win victories, it will only be a testament to the utter flameout of the deeply unpopular Republican Party, rather than due to any particular strength we currently possess.
There are a few obvious reasons for this:
- The Economy. The economy is starting to improve, but only the investor class is really feeling it right now due to our bailout-happy, financialized economy. I've started to see the green shoots in my own industry (marketing research), but it's slow going. The American People elected Barack Obama first and foremost to address the economy; the fact that he remains so popular is really testament to the extraordinary political and functional incompetence of the Bush Administration, to Obama's deft political skill, and to the eternal optimism of the American People. But local Democrats on the ground are feeling the heat, from city council races on up. It is not surprising that, in a welcome change of pace for equal rights, the marriage equality initiative in Maine is looking better for us than are our Democratic candidates. So long as the economy doesn't improve, people will be upset over the most basic bread and butter issues. But that will change.
Most expect a long, so-called "jobless recovery", and they may be right. But keep in mind that a jobless recovery is defined as one in which it takes jobs years to return to their pre-recession levels; it does not mean that new jobs aren't being created, or that people don't feel an up-swing in the economy. Jobless recovery or no, the American People will in all likelihood feel much more positively about the economy than they do now--which will greatly be to the advantage of Democrats.
- Healthcare. It is the eternal mistake of the activist class to assume that voters know or pay attention to even 1/10 of what we do. The truth is, they don't. Here's what most voters really know about healthcare right now: nothing has gotten done. And while healthcare legislation has been getting bandied about for the last many moons, nothing else of import has been getting done either, so far as they know. That inability to get things done makes Democrats look weak and ineffectual, and dampens the progressive volunteer base. If we can pass a decent healthcare bill with at least some of the provisions taking effect by November 2010, voters will reward us in a big way at the polls. Right now, however, they can't figure out what Democrats are actually doing for them--and I don't blame them.
- Enthusiasm. Right now, the Glenn Beck-watching morans are motivated. They're excited. They're angry. They feel like the Conservative Renaissance is approaching that will wash away both the Democratic and Republican parties. If you don't believe me, try reading some FreeRepublic threads sometime.
Unfortunately, NY-23 notwithstanding, the ultra-wingnut crowd is now at the peak of its effectiveness. They're as motivated as they're ever going to be, which should give them a GOTV advantage. But the civil war has just begun, and the backlash from the more far-sighted Republican establishment is just now beginning. By 2010, Republicans will be even more fractured than they are now, as the know-nothing movement of the Party (many of whom were two-time Perot voters and Ron Paul voters) creates a gigantic headache for the institutional GOP. Meanwhile, positive moves on healthcare, the economy and other issues should significantly motivate Dem turnout in 2010.
- Barack Obama's political skill. Regardless of which side of the now-legendary "Obamabot" argument one falls, it's undeniable that whatever Obama's moves on policy, his personal political skills are extraordinary. A few campaign stops aside, the President is not focused on winning the 2009 elections; he's focused on healthcare and other issues.
But you can be guaranteed that given how hard Obama has worked to avoid another 1994 on the healthcare front, he and his team aren't walking blind into 2010. Expect to see the same sort of deft political maneuvering and campaign theater to win battles in 2010 that we saw work so well in 2008.
In short, whatever happens tomorrow will not, in fact, be any kind of harbinger for things to come in 2010. And if we do pick up more victories than losses, it will mean nothing short of an epic collapse and failed opportunity by Republicans to pick off a few seats while they still can.
Knowing that won't stop much of the fretting across the progressive universe. But at least it can help calm the nerves and steel the resolve of some of our most dedicated activists.