Here’s where we are heading into the final weekend:
Democrats expressed growing optimism that their long season out of power might soon end. Sen. Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Democratic Senate campaign organization, claimed strong early voting in a long-shot race in Arizona and said it was “harbinger of a wave” that would benefit his party.
Five days before the election, Democratic strategists said none of their incumbents in either house of Congress was trailing â and Republicans did not disagree.
Republicans disputed Schumer’s claim about Arizona, but even so, the GOP side of the political ledger was far less positive. Strategists already have written off the re-election prospects of incumbent Sens. Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania and Mike DeWine in Ohio, as well as six or more seats in GOP hands in the House. Dozens more Republican lawmakers â powerbrokers and backbenchers, conservatives and moderates â struggled to survive in a campaign shadowed by the war in Iraq and scandal at home.
A few thoughts before the whirlwind sweeps away all perspective.
Not to rain on the parade but all the talk of dramatic Democratic gains in the House has a tendency to downplay a serious underlying structural problem. Even under the rosiest scenarios, the Democrats only pick up somewhere around 50 seats. Realistically, it looks like 25-35 pickups. The House was designed to be the national political institution most politically responsive to the people. I would venture to say that given the massive train wreck that the GOP has created in public affairs, the founders would be stunned to see so few seats change hands. If these are the kinds of political conditions it takes to move 50 House seats, then we’re in trouble.
GOP losses of whatever size are going to trigger a wave of internal backbiting and fingerpointing. No surprise there. But I suspect there is going to emerge a common theme among Republicans, a declaration that the political environment was so toxic that no incumbent party could expect to emerge unscathed. The more brash will declare that the GOP did quite well given the circumstances. What will be missing is any sense that the Republicans made their own bed and were forced to lay in it. The 2006 “political environment” will be treated like a weather phenomenon, something beyond our control, a freak of nature, instead of what it is: a reaction to the GOP’s man-made calamity.
I hope that when the political history of the last half century is written it will show, as it should, that the Republicans engaged in a brand of divisive electoral politics that pitted Americans against each other: white against black, men against women, rich against poor, native born against immigrant, straight against gay. Republicans deserve to be tarred by history for exploiting our weaknesses, our prejudices, and our lesser selves for their own political gain. But those are still our weaknesses and our prejudices. We own them. And it is our lesser selves that have succumbed to the Republican political pitch and been willing to be exploited. Removing the Republicans from power will only be a temporary fix unless we fundamentally fix ourselves so that no one, no party, no movement can exploit those same weaknesses again.