Liberals have seldom felt lower than they did after the 2004 election, when a president they despised—and whom they believed had already proven himself to be a complete failure—was re-elected by a nation that somehow didn't grasp who and what Bush was. One of the most pointed post-election analyses was a long editorial in the Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger. Titled "The Urban Archipelago," the piece was an unapologetic cry of anger that captured the way a lot of people on the left felt. "It's time to state something that we've felt for a long time but have been too polite to say out loud," the editors wrote. "Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion--New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on….Citizens of the Urban Archipelago reject heartland "values" like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as the more intolerant strains of Christianity that have taken root in this country. And we are the real Americans."
Bush's re-election seems like a lot more than nine years ago; an awful lot has happened since then. But if you're a liberal urbanite, it's not crazy to think that as divided as the country still is, and even with all the troubles Barack Obama has been having, acceptance of your values is on a steady ascent. To take just one example, remember how in 2004, Bush's victory was supposedly assured by voters angered at the prospect of gay marriage? Well you may not have heard, but the Illinois legislature just made it the 15th state to allow marriage equality, and it's barely news anymore.
As E.J. Dionne points out, you can view every major result of Tuesday's election as a sign the country is moving left—maybe not at a gallop, but at a steady trot. A Tea Partier lost in Virginia, the guy who won in New Jersey wants to pull the GOP back to the center, a real progressive won a landslide in New York, and there was even a special election in Alabama where the nutball conservative candidate was beaten by the merely very conservative candidate. Not to mention the victory of four marijuana decriminalization initiatives, a gay mayor in Seattle ... the list goes on. Perhaps most notably from a cultural standpoint, it is no exaggeration to say that Bill de Blasio's election was made possible by the fact that his family is interracial and his son has a spectacular afro. Unmarried candidates all over the country are wondering if they should get themselves a multi-hued family too, since it's obviously gold at the ballot box. You sure couldn't have said that ten or twenty years ago. Yes, there were some disappointments for liberals, including the defeat of a school-funding initiative in Colorado. The most notable conservative vote may have been the five counties that voted to secede from Colorado, a gesture of mad futility if ever there was one.
There's always a danger that we over-interpret any one election, and what works in New York is obviously not going to work in Topeka. It's also true that things can change fast; don't forget that the extraordinary progressive victory of 2008 was followed just two years later by the extraordinary conservative victory of 2010. As I said the other day, the 2013 results don't tell us anything about what will happen in the 2016 presidential race. But liberals have some good reasons to take heart.