5 Ways the Election Changed Politics
The midterms were not just about beating down the Democrats. Some of the results that will affect us for years didn't get much discussion.
3. 2008 May Have Been a Singular Moment
With Pennsylvania, Florida and Indiana going Republican in both the governor's mansion and the U.S. Senate, the coalition that elected President Obama in 2008 may be a thing of the past. Obama's ability to pull voters in these key swing states -- first from Hilary Clinton in the primary, and then in the general election -- was one of the most exciting and extraordinary accomplishments of the Obama campaign. Aided by Gov. Rendell in Pennsylvania (an early Clinton supporter who switched to Obama in the general election), moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida and even the reluctant support of former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh in Indiana, Obama convinced Rust Belt voters and Latinos in Florida to support his candidacy, showing his remarkable ability to unite disparate voting blocks.
It's too soon to say if these voters will be lost to the president in 2012. There may still be a fair amount of queasiness in the electorate at the thought of giving the White House back to Republicans after the Bush disaster. But with Republicans controlling the governorships and Senate seats in these states, it's clear that President Obama will need to virtually start from scratch in swing states if he's to rebuild that coalition.
4. Tea Party Voters Are Weeding Out the Crazies
A lot has been said about the Tea Party's successes in this election. It's been estimated that more than 80 percent of Tea Party-backed candidates won election. But it's also worth noting that certain Tea Party candidates didn't win. Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle and Carl Paladino were all candidates who raised a great deal of money in their attempts to unseat strong establishment candidates in Delaware, Nevada and New York, respectively. These three collectively received more media attention than all of the Tea Party candidates running across the country. But it turns out that having to deny that you're a witch, telling Hispanic schoolchildren that they look like Asians or threatening to take out your opponents with a baseball bat is still frowned upon by most voters.
This is good news for the Tea Party movement. As opportunistic crackpots running as Tea Party candidates are rejected by voters, the Tea Party will hasten its inevitable transition into a more predictable libertarian block of the Republican Party, wielding real and powerful influence on the GOP establishment. This should serve as a wake-up call to Sarah Palin, who has hewed closer to the crackpot wing of the Tea Party. If she's serious about running for president in 2012 (and it's unlikely she is -- why work that hard when you can make lots of money and wield political influence without having a real job?), then she'll need to clean up her act. Putting crosshairs on Democratic-controlled districts on your website and encouraging Dr. Laura not to retreat but to "reload" after the radio provocateur used the n-word repeatedly is the kind of conduct that Palin may discover is going out of vogue among voters who are otherwise supportive of Tea Party aims.
5. The Next Move Is Up to the Republicans
Without question, this election is a sobering one for President Obama, just as the 1994 midterm election was for President Clinton. It's worth remembering that it was after 1994 that Clinton supported some of the most corrosive and shameful pieces of legislation of his presidency. The welfare-reform bill and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, enacted in 1996, introduced policies that continue to resound negatively in the lives of African Americans, the poor and criminal defendants.
But judging by the stammering responses of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and the fear I think I saw in the eyes of the putative new speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-Ohio), in the first 24 hours after this election, it's clear that Republicans in the House have no real plan to do anything constructive. Their agenda is one of "undoing": undoing health care, undoing what they call "Obama's policies."
But as has been said over and over, "It's the economy, stupid." The American public wants jobs and a stable economy. Keeping this country moving forward and providing jobs requires that our elected leaders actually do something. The most important poll number of this is election is 60 percent. That's the percentage of Americans just one month ago who disapproved of the Republican leadership. It's safe to say that this number hasn't moved much in the last month. That means that the Republicans are skating on thin ice. They've been given a chance -- a two-year window -- to make things better. It's not clear that the party of "Hell, no!" has anything to offer Americans who want solutions to our country's problems.
Sherrilyn Ifill, who teaches law at the University of Maryland, is a frequent contributor to The Root.