Friday, November 10, 2006

The 2006 Elections: First Take

11/10/06

Maybe it's the hangover from four hours of sleep Tuesday night. But America's new political landscape is just beginning to come into focus. Please pinch me if I'm dreaming.

Hyperbole is always a big part of politics. Still, for me, and a lot of people I know, this really was the most important election of a lifetime. I was bracing, I confess, for the worst -- not on the basis of polls or logic but because I was half-convinced someone really would tamper with those untraceable electronic voting machines ending American Democracy as we've known it.

Instead, fragile and imperfect as it may be, the system worked. It will be my most enduring take on the elections of 2006. As much of a blood sport as Karl Rove and company have made campaigning, as bad as their dirty tricks from fake mailers to fraudulent programmed phone calls proved to be, as calculatingly as Republicans gerrymandered congressional districts to skew the vote, the American public won. Mad as hell, they threw the bums out.

Mind you, it took some doing. In this election, nearly 54 percent of the American public voted for Democrats. That's close to an 8 point spread over the Republicans, a blowout in the world of political realities. And yet a lot of the races won and lost by the Democrats Tuesday were real squeakers. In other words, the voters, and Democrats, needed every one of those points to have a chance, to take a step toward righting the equilibrium of a country that's tilted precipitously to the right.

Don't expect the Republicans to disappear any time soon. But it's as if this morning the bullied woke up and the bullies had vacated the block. Likely they've just gone inside to plan their next assault. But they've given the Democrats a chance -- to regroup, to speak up, to lead.

None of it will be easy. Democrats ultimately will need a plan and a voice. But for now at least, I feel secure in this: The rubber stamp Congress has dried up for any of the swaggering, tone-deaf, corrupt or idiotic ideas that wander with regularlity from the White House.

For a few days at least, I feel safe enjoying the parade. For me, its top acts include:

1. The election of Deval Patrick as governor of my home state, Massachusetts. He's the first Democrat in 16 years, the first African-American governor ever. No one really knows how he'll lead. But he's set a magnificent, positive tone and gave a compelling and embracing victory speech, reaching out across divisions of class, race, age and region.

2. The defeat of Rick Santorum, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate and a combative, gay-bashing right winger. He got thumped -- positively pulverized. How do I feel about Rick? He's the guy at every office party you love to see leave early and cross the room to avoid. Bye-bye Rick.

3. The departure of .. guess who. Maybe there actually are two guys you love to see leave that office party. Maybe Rummy should rent a room in retirement at Guantanamo and, while contemplating his next job, take one for the team by acting as a guinea pig for Dick Cheney's theory that a good dunking is a "no brainer." Or maybe Dick could join him and they could take underwater swimming classes together. Bye-bye Rummy.

4. The arrival of the new, bipartisan George W. Bush. Did you catch W's press conference the other day? He did fine with the prepared remarks. But when the questions came, I thought maybe I'd stumbled into a central casting audition for Nixon Redux. Or perhaps the film will be titled George Unglued. Mind you the President has never been a smooth speaker. But his perseverating and dissembling on Wednesday would have been funny if it weren't scary.

5. The arrival of Jim Webb -- the warrior anti-war senator from Virginia, a gun-toting novelist, a Reagan Republican turned Democrat. He's short, positively untelegenic and not terribly articulate. But the guy burns. It's sort of like watching Marlon Brando leading the Wild Ones on motorcycles into Washington. Webb should be interesting to watch.

6. The "Nancy Pelosi comes to lunch" picture in this morning's newspapers. There she sat smiling next the president, who smiles back. And there sat Dick Cheney, looking as though he'd swallowed a really slimy live guppy.

It's OK, Dick. Pelosi isn't an agent of Osama bin Laden, despite Karl's campaign propaganda. She's not even a terrorist sympathizer, though, come to think of it, you may have something to be terrified about. Call them oversight hearings.

In the meantime, my guess is Pelosi will work effectively even with the fellow she once called an idiot. You know, the other guy in that big White House.

Jerry Lanson teaches journalism at Emerson College in Boston. He can be reached at jerry_lanson@emerson.edu.

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