The Return of Sanity

The common thread in yesterday’s unbroken string of Democratic and progressive victories was the popular rejection of right-wing overreach. From Ohio, where voters overturned by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent Republican Governor John Kasich’s law stripping public employees of collective-bargaining rights; to Maine, where voters overturned by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent Republican Governor Paul LePage’s law abolishing Election Day voter registration; to Arizona, where voters recalled Republican state Senate Leader Russell Pearce, the most vehemently anti-immigrant state legislator in the nation; to, will-wonders-never-cease, Mississippi, where voters rejected an initiative declaring a fertilized egg a person from the moment of conception, effectively outlawing abortion and just maybe birth control as well, by a decisive margin of 57 percent to 43 percent, voters shouted a resounding STOP to the rightward gallop of public policy at the hands of the radicalized Republican Party.

The series of elections held across the country yesterday weren’t supposed to yield a coherent narrative. The key ballot measures concerned very different issues, and they were on the ballot in very different states. Yet a common theme emerged: Radical-right Republicans hit a wall last night all over the country, even on a conservative social issue in what may be the most socially conservative state in the nation.

Like many Republicans elected one year ago, John Kasich and Paul LePage stormed into their respective statehouses aiming to transform their moderate states into laboratories for diminished democracy, with Kasich proposing to curtail the right to bargain collectively and LePage proposing to curtail the right to vote. Clearly, they did not bring their states’ voters along with them, and Kasich, in some polls, has become the least popular governor in the nation by turning so deaf an ear to his constituents’ beliefs.

In Mississippi, radical-right anti-abortion activists thought they had found the way to circumvent Roe v. Wade. But their proposed solution was at once so restrictive and ridiculous that anti-abortion Mississippians nonetheless rejected it out of hand. A similar story emerged in the Arizona recall of Russell Pearce, in which voters in a conservative district nonetheless recalled Pearce, who had authored the state’s notorious anti-immigrant statute and persisted in waging an anti-immigrant jihad so extreme it repelled many of the voters who had supported him in previous campaigns.

If yesterday’s elections do mark a rejection of the Republican right, they would confirm some other recent developments in American politics—chiefly, the decline in support for the Tea Party movement and the surprisingly high level of agreement that most Americans show for the causes advanced by Occupy Wall Street. I suspect as well that Americans who do not dwell on the radical right have looked on with increasing bewilderment, horror, and amusement at the Republican field of presidential candidates—the relatively normal Mitt Romney excepted—who collectively constitute the kind of freak show Americans are unaccustomed to seeing at the highest levels of national politics. In that sense, yesterday’s elections were a rejection of a party that’s been defined for the past few months by Michelle Bachman, Ron Paul, and Herman Cain.

So can Democrats take some hope from last night’s results? Provisionally; sort of. If Barack Obama can make next year’s election a choice between his ineffectual moderation and the Republicans’ wacked-out lunacy, the Democrats should do well. If next year’s election is a referendum on his stewardship of the economy—and none of yesterday’s contests were anything close to that—the Democrats will likely get clobbered. It’s clear that Americans have had it with Republican extremism. Whether that will be a decisive issue in 2012 is not yet apparent.

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