Yesterday’s election returns send a signal for Bush & Co. reminiscent of what John Kenneth Galbraith once wrote about Black Monday 1929, “the end had come but it was not yet in sight.”
The bellwether gubernatorial results in New Jersey and Virginia have been widely reported as important harbingers of Bush’s declining fortunes.
But less renowned local elections were also tremors of a pending political earthquake:
*In the 94th District legislative race in Missouri, Democrat Jane Bogetto stunned locals with a 58 percent victory, becoming the first Democrat to win the seat in 58 years.
*In Erie County, New York, Mark Poloncarz, a young Kerry ’04 activist, became the first Democrat to capture the county comptroller’s race in 30 years, winning easily by 18 percentage points.
*On Long Island, New York, Democrat Kathleen Rice defeated 30 year incumbent Dennis Dillon for Nassau County DA and Brian Foley got elected town supervisor of Brookhaven, Suffolk County’s largest township, after (again) a 30 year reign.
*In St. Paul, Minnesota, Democratic mayor Randy Kelly lost 2-1 to another Democrat because Kelly had crossed party lines to endorse President Bush in 2004.
*In Corning, New York, Democrat Frank Coccho, a self-employed plumber, became the first Democratic mayor in 45 years.
*In California, Republican icon Schwarzenegger bet his incumbency on four referenda, all of which lost. And in Dover, Pennsylvania, all eight incumbent school board members lost to outsiders running on the issue that science, not “intelligent design,” should be taught in science classes.
All these are not so much a wake-up call but a two-by-four for Rove Republicans who ten months ago were crowing about generational political dominance.
If I may slightly alter the hoary adage, “all politics is largely local” -- but not entirely local. No doubt the examples above had local aspects that were important. But in a way eerily similar to Democratic troubles in 1993-1994, it appears that Bush’s falsehoods and failures – on Iraq, on the CIA leak case, on Katrina – are a national anchor pulling down Republican allies as well. (Because there were 80 million reasons for Bloomberg’s victory in New York City, his success is clearly more personal than political and has zero implications for 2006 elections without a billionaire.)
It’s true that far fewer House and Senate seats are competitive and switchable in 2006 than in 1994 – probably no more than three dozen in the House. And as pundits never weary of asserting, an alternative Democratic “agenda” is not publicly obvious. Still, a few point shift, as in 1994, can move a large percentage of swing seats to the rising party – and Democratic leaders in Washington will shortly issue a convincing program on health, education, pensions and growth.
Those Republicans who keep prattling on that Bush has time to turn all this around, as Reagan did, are whistling past the graveyard. For given a depleting war with no end in sight – and an incumbent party with zero agenda beyond taxes and terrorism, which have run out of steam – it’s hard to deny that yesterday’s returns are not persuasive evidence of a progressive comeback in ’06 and ’08.
If Democratic values were a stock, now would be the time to buy.