Everywhere you look, "experts" are sifting through the rubble of last night and offering standard-issue, conventional wisdom-approved explanations for the GOP's defeat. For a perfect example, check out Ron Brownstein's reading of things in the LA Times, where he divines that the "GOP ceded the center and paid the price." Or DLC founder Al From, who -- surprise, surprise -- claimed Tuesday as "a victory for the vital center of American politics over the extremes."
Nonsense. The GOP lost for three reasons: Iraq, Iraq, and Iraq. Period. End of discussion.
Election Day 2006 was an unambiguous repudiation of the Bush administration's failed and tragic policy in Iraq. In race after race after race, Democrats who were unequivocal on Iraq prevailed. Democrats who ran campaigns by the book, listened to their consultants, and veered to Al From's "vital center", lost.
A perfect example of this can be found in Pennsylvania, where Joe Sestak and Patrick Murphy both made strong anti-Iraq positions a key part of their congressional campaigns. Sestak, a retired three-star admiral, called the war a "tragic misadventure" and advocated withdrawing U.S. troops by June 2007. Murphy, an Iraq war vet, praised the leadership of Jack Murtha, and said, "We need to start bringing our men and women home now." Both men won.
Conversely, Lois Murphy, who many pegged as a sure-fire Democratic pick-up, avoided putting Iraq front and center -- and lost. She didn't even mention Iraq in the "On the Issues" or "Making Us Safer" pages of her campaign website.
Then there is Ned Lamont, who paid the price for trying to play it both ways on Iraq. He initially, and courageously, ran on the need to leave Iraq -- and came from nowhere to win the Democratic primary. He then put the war on the back burner for months -- giving Lieberman time to not just get off the mat but to learn his lesson on Iraq and begin muddying the waters by also using anti-war rhetoric. By the time Lamont went back to pounding Lieberman on Iraq, it was too late.
The Iraq dynamic played itself out across the country. In New Hampshire's 1st District, social worker Carol Shea-Porter, who unequivocally said "We have to leave Iraq," defeated incumbent Jeb Bradley, despite no financial support from Rahm Emanuel and the DCCC. In Kentucky, anti-Iraq progressive John Yarmuth, who said that Americans are no longer fighting terrorists in Iraq, "we're fighting Iraqis," unseated five-term incumbent Ann Northrup.
And here are some other Senatorial and Congressional winners on Iraq:
Sherrod Brown, Senator-elect from Ohio, who defeated two-term incumbent Mike DeWine: "From the beginning, I have been an outspoken critic of the Iraq war."
Jay McNerney of California, who defeated seven-term incumbent Richard Pombo: "I'm 100 percent in favor of Congressman Murtha's plan."
Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who beat 12-term incumbent Nancy Johnson: "We must leave Iraq as soon as possible..."
Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who defeated ardent anti-immigration candidate Randy Graf: "My priority is to bring our troops home safe and soon."
Baron Hill of Indiana, who defeated incumbent Mike Sodrel: "We stand for getting our boys and girls out of Iraq sooner rather than later."
Dave Loebsack of Iowa, who defeated 15-term incumbent Jim Leach: "Complete disengagement from Iraq in the next year will serve to enhance America's security."
Sheldon Whitehouse, Senator-elect from Rhode Island, who was even more strongly anti-war than anti-war incumbent Lincoln Chafee: "I support a rapid and responsible withdrawal of our troops from Iraq."
Don't let the DLC and DCCC spin-meisters fool you. This election was not a mandate for the Democratic Party to run to the middle. It was a mandate for the Democratic Party to do everything in its power to get us out of Iraq -- rapidly and responsibly.
And that's why the next thing Democrats need to do is make sure that Jack Murtha becomes the new Majority Leader of the House. He led the charge to make Iraq the central issue of this campaign, and led the charge to keep pressing the issue when other Democratic leaders wanted to tone down the rhetoric or move economic issues to the forefront.
Jack Murtha's leadership sparked last night's victory and has given Democrats control of Congress for the first time in a dozen years. Now they have to complete the end-the-Iraq-debacle mission the voters have given them. And Murtha's the leader who can take them the rest of the way.