It’s time to take that deep breath.
Now look around.
If you swivel your head hard to the left you’ll notice excited liberals batting about party balloons and wearing paper hats, glasses of champagne held high. Swivel an equal number of degrees rightward and you’ll find the conspiracists batting about crazy narratives and wearing tinfoil hats, angry signs held high. Already I’ve heard stories about Democratic-led voter fraud in Ohio (where else?), and FOX is talking about the ways the mainstream media stole this election for Obama. (Spoiler alert: one of them has to do with all that pesky fact-checking.)
I voted for Romney (and most know why) and I agree (mostly) with an opinion I read in the UK’s Guardian: “The Tea Party zealots, homophobes and misogynists hijacked Romney's campaign,” the article says, adding that “Romney proved a better man than his party deserved. He went up in most people's estimation during the campaign. He was gracious in defeat.”
Though the night didn’t turn out quite the way I’d hoped, I’m not at all bitter. Quite the contrary: as a moderate Republican, I’m cautiously optimistic. Part of the reason is that I never bought into the narrative that Barack Hussein Obama was some out-there socialist heretic. He’s no Hugo Chavez. He’s not even a Howard Dean or a Bernie Sanders, and it’s nice to see that most of the country gets that. Truth is, in the grand scheme of things, he’s pretty much a centrist.
In looking forward (and because I truly want the country—our country—to succeed and grow), I offer these three reasons for why moderate Republicans should be cautiously optimistic about last night’s results:
- The Tea Party got spanked pretty good last night. While they weren’t thoroughly thrashed (as I had hoped), the pretenders to the GOP’s crown jewels were certainly given fair warning. Eleven members of the 2010 Tea Party caucus are out, including the most hair-raising examples, Todd Aiken (who left to lose a Senate race), and Florida’s once-anointed Allen West. Joining these two on the outside looking in are such names as Sandy Adams (also from Florida) and Denny Rehberg from Montana. Even Michele Bachmann, the self-proclaimed caucus leader, had quite the scare, nearly losing her own race after a year earlier trying to convince us she was presidential material. The weaker the tea, the stronger I feel, and every loss in that caucus is a chance for Republican moderates to exercise a little bit more sanity in their approach.
- We now have a president who’s going to care more about his legacy than re-election. Second-term legacies are funny things; they can so easily swivel in either direction. (Even the mythologized Reagan had Iran-Contra to deal with.) Still, not having to worry (too much) about what the electorate thinks always frees up a leader to take some risks. I’m hoping this leads to Obama’s willingness to take on both parties when compromise is required and—perhaps even more importantly—help the moderates in the GOP isolate the crazies. I’m fine, for example, with Obama continuing to meet with Boehner and McConnell, but he shouldn’t bother wasting time pretending to be conciliatory with a Bachmann or a Cantor. We’ve already seen that movie and we know how it ends.
- He doesn’t have to live up to those outrageous expectations any more. We know who and what he is this time, so we can let him be human instead of some version of the Second Coming. We can ignore all the birth certificate and transcript crap and just get on with things. At the same time, he’s already had his Big Idea (health care reform) survive the waiting onslaught, and so in his second term he can turn his attention to cleaning up the mess that still litters the floor without having to worry about redecorating. Afghanistan, the debt, the anemic recovery, tax and campaign finance reform, and a more moderate SCOTUS are all things that deserve his attention even though they’re not sexy. They are, however, quite important.
Note that I said “cautiously,” however. There’s no guarantee that things will work out the way I hope they will. It’s entirely possible that we could be looking at another four years of the same noise, gridlock, and frustration. (The noise, I’m betting, we can pretty well count on. It’s not like FOX and the Rushlings are going anywhere anytime soon…). That brings me to the one reason not to be cautiously optimistic: The Baby-and-the-Bathwater problem.
While it’s great that about 15% of the Tea Partiers lost their bids or rebids last night, so did a number of moderate Republicans. Charlie Bass (R-NH), for example, is a solidly moderate GOP’er who fell by the wayside, losing to a very liberal and very inexperienced Democrat. Scott Brown also lost his re-election bid to the very qualified Elizabeth Warren. Still, her victory can’t change the fact that the GOP lost another moderate.
In the desire to send a message to the Republican Party that it had gone too far, the electorate threw out some of the good ones. The result is that the 113th Congress is likely to be at least as polarized as the 112th, if not more so. Though picking up some seats (just how many is yet to be finalized), the Democrats will still be in the minority in the House while retaining their non-filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. So it’s basically 112th redux, only with fewer moderates. This situation will prove, perhaps, Obama’s greatest challenge.
So there you have it. With luck the country will figure out how to meet in the middle (the real middle, not the GOP’s current definition)—but it’s far from a sure thing….