The Results Are In

So, about that election…

As Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo so eloquently puts it, “Well, that really could have gone better.”

We (I’m a Dem, if you hadn’t guessed by now) lost big yesterday. The Senate races tell the tale of the tape: Ron Kirk in Texas; Jean Carnahan in Missouri; Ted Strickland in Colorado; Max Cleland in Georgia; Walter Mondale in Minnesota (!!!); Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire; Erskine Bowles in North Carolina; and Bob Clement in Tennessee all fell down before their Republican opponents. Some of these were pretty much expected (Kirk, Carnahan), while others were real shockers (Mondale, Cleland). About the only bright spots where Frank Lautenberg’s win in New Jersey, and Mark Pryor’s in Arkansas. And things may get even worse: Mary Landrieu’s headed for a runoff in Louisiana and Tim Johnson of South Dakota is currently leading challenger John Thune by five hundred votes out of 330,000+ cast. That’s right, five hundred votes.

In other words, there’s a lot of donkey carcasses to be swept up and disposed of this morning.

I think this is symptomatic of a broader issue: the Democratic Party’s inability to define itself. They focused almost exclusively on “tactics” in this campaign — in other words, on local issues rather than national ones. Some Dems were for war in Iraq, some against; some for gun control, some against; some for stronger economic stimulus, some against; and so forth. What does it mean to be a Democrat? What connected all these candidates together besides money and a desire to hold office? The DNC never bothered to come up with an answer to that question, and it looks like they’re paying the price today.

This isn’t a new question; the Democratic Party has been unable to articulate what exactly it is for more than a decade. But having President Clinton in the White House let them finesse the issue; they could say “Democrats support the President” and leave it at that. In opposition, though, you usually don’t have a figurehead like that; you have to have a coherent set of beliefs to rally around, or else you stop being a party and start being a mess. We’ve lost two elections now because the DNC can’t be bothered to concern itself with what those issues are or how they connect with the challenges of the new world we’re all living in. And until they get off their duffs and start working on that — or until Dems start voting with their feet and switching to independents, or Greens, or some other affiliation — I have a sinking feeling we’re going to lose a lot more.