Election 2006: A Victory For Conservatives?

Ken AshfordElection 2006Leave a Comment

That’s the spin.  Conservatives are trying to argue that the election results point to a victory for conservatism.  This morning, for example, George Will writes that "conservatism continued its advance Tuesday."

What’s the basis for this argument?  Apparently, it’s because some of the Democrats who won were not actual socialists*.

They point to people like Lieberman, who won out over the more progressive Ned Lamont.

Well, that’s true, but it’s also true that the conservative Democrat Harold Ford failed to win in Tennessee.  South Dakota, a very red state, rejected an abortion ban.  And on and on. For every example of a so-called "blue dog" Democrat, there’s a dozen or so counter-examples of Democrats-acting-like-Republicans who got ousted

And when you look at the map, you’ll see lots of blue in formerly red states, like Kansas and Montana, compared to two years ago.

Ezra Klein has the takedown of the meme:

The ideological spectrum is a tricky thing. Take Heath Schuler, exhibit A in the rightwing Democrats meme. He’s a cultural conservative, no doubt. But however far right he drifts on those issues — which, under a Democratic Congress, he won’t be voting on because they won’t be brought to floor — he’s notably left on economic issues. Today, for instance, he’s giving a press conference under the auspices of the United Steelworkers with Great Liberal Hope Sherrod Brown, where they’ll discuss the need for new trade policies and their success in making active opposition to NAFTA a winning issue. That’s not centrist Democrat. It’s not moderate liberal. That’s populism, kids, and it’s leftier than polite company has allowed for quite some time.

So is Shuler rightwing? Seems like a tough case to me. Sherrod Brown? Liberal as they come. Defeating South Dakota’s abortion ban initiative? Passing Missouri’s stem cell initiative? All those progressives who toppled liberal Republicans in the Northeast? Somebody think they won in the blue bastions with roaring conservatism? Meanwhile, the most conservative of the serious Democratic challengers this cycle, Harold Ford, went down to defeat. Bravely fought race, tough environs, etc. But with an out-and-out liberal winning Ohio and a right-of-center Democrat losing Tennessee, we’re really going to call this election for conservatism?

I don’t think so. That distorted interpretation is being promoted by an array of rightwingers and self-styled centrists anxious to constrain the new majority’s perceived range of motion. Some of them are conservatives trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Others are "centrist" Democrats look to grad defeat from the jaws of victory. Both are, for ideological reasons, afraid that a Democratic majority will govern like…Democrats. And make no mistake: They’ll convince no small number of Democrats to eschew any such legislative style. But if the country had wanted a continuation of conservative rule, they would have voted for it. Instead, they voted Democratic. And their elects should give them what they asked for.

Kos does a breakdown:

In the Senate:

Bernie Sanders, VT: So conservative that he’s a "socialist". His National Journal "liberal" rating is 89.7 (out of 100).

Sherrod Brown, OH: NJ liberal rating is 84.2. For comparison’s sake, Harold Ford — a real conservative Democrat — had a 58.3 rating.

Sheldon Whitehouse, RI: An unabashed liberal in every definition of the word. I mean, he defeated a liberal Republican.

Claire McCaskill, MO: She’s a progressive on every major issue. In fact, it was one of the GOP’s lines of attacks against her. As the conservative Real Clear Politics wrote in its race summary:

State Auditor Claire McCaskill lost a close governor’s race two years ago to Gov. Matt Blunt 51% – 48% and thus starts out of the gate with a high level of name recognition and a solid base of support. However, McCaskill lost 90 out of 97 counties statewide and has a problem of being perceived as too liberal outside of metro St. Louis and Kansas City. Missouri is a relatively, culturally conservative state that President Bush won by 3% in 2000 and 7% in 2004 and running the standard Republican playbook hitting McCaskill as too liberal on judges, the war, and taxes should be enough for Talent to carry the day.

Amy Klobuchar, MN: There’s nothing "conservative" about our newest senator from one of the bluest states in the union.

Jon Tester, MT: One of the people accused of being a "conservative" Dem, yet he’s against flag burning amendment, against an amendment banning gay marriage, against the Patriot Act, and against the war. He’s an economic populist, social libertarian, pro-choice Democrat. He may be one of the very few senators who actually lives paycheck to paycheck. He’s an organic farmer.

He’s not Bernie Sanders or Sherrod Brown, but a "conservative" Dem? Ridiculous.

Jim Webb, VA: Politically very similar to Tester. He’s libertarian on social issues, an economic populist. He wants out of Iraq and he has a personal stake in the war — his son is actually deployed to Iraq. Sure, he served in the Reagan Administration, and sure, he can be classified as a "moderate" (whatever that means), but he’s no "conservative".

In the House:

Yarmuth in KY-03? An unabashed liberal. The kind, in fact, that Rahm said couldn’t win in the South.

We picked up two seats in blue country in Connecticut, four in Pennsylvania (two in blue territory, and the other two not "conservative" by any real definition of the word). KS-02? Boyda is no conservative. The two Florida seats (16, 22)? Not conservative. The three New York seats? Not conservatives. The two in New Hampshire? True progressives.

I mean, going down the list, the only Democrats out of 28 officially confirmed
victories that could be called "conservative" are Shuler in NC-08, Lampson in TX-22, and the three Indiana Dems,

That’s it.

Are there moderates? Yes. Is the country moving to the center? Of course. The Democrats will push it there from the far right. If you define the "center" by where the American people reside, we are the center party.

But the notion that it’s "conservative" Democrats who won last night is utter hogwash, a desperate gambit by Republicans to try and spin something good from the election.

But they’re wrong. What we saw last night is that despite the institutional advantages the GOP had — more money, incumbency, redistricting, the VRWC, and the bully pulpit of the White House, the Speaker’s Gavel, and the Senate Majority Leader’s office — Republicans still suffered epic loses.

This was a progressive victory.

*  Actually, all kidding aside, one winner is a socialist — Bernie Sanders, the new senator from Vermont.