The End of the Beginning: Rumsfeld is Done
by Matt Stoller, Wed Nov 08, 2006 at 08:05:34 AM EST
The Bush administration knew what this election was about, and that's why Donald Rumsfeld is out of office.
Democrats pushing the conservative line, or giving credit to Rahm Emanuel, don't get it. Rahm Emanuel did everything he could to lose the House. His recruiting and use of money was strategically unwise, and he was bailed out by a national trend that brought us the Senate, the Governorships, state legislative chambers, and state constitutional officers all over the country.
Democrats have won back the House. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), nearly tripped over himself on the way to the microphone to claim the credit. In fact, while the tidal wave in the House looks like a bit of strategic genius by Emanuel--and pundits are starting to call it that way (Howard Fineman on MSNBC noted that the Democrats even picked up a seat in Kentucky, where the 3rd District candidate was John Yarmuth--"Emanuel's fourth choice!" Fineman exclaimed, as if in awe of the power possessed by Emanuel's mere table scraps)--in race after race, it actually represents the apotheosis of forces Emanuel has doubted all long: the netroots.
In two competitive House races in the Bluegrass State, Emanuel's first choices lost by 9 and 12 points. In the 2nd District it was Colonel Mike Weaver, the cofounder of Commonwealth Democrats, a group of conservative Democratic state legislators. In the 4th, it was Ken Lucas, a former congressman whom Robert Novak recently called "moderate conservative" in a column Emanuel's "recruiting coup" in coaxing Lucas out of retirement. Both were the kind of candidates Emanuel has favored in his famous nationwide recruiting drive. Yarmuth, meanwhile, was founder of the state's first alternative newspaper, said things on the campaign trail things like "the No Child Left Behind Act ... is a plan deliberately constructed to create 'failing' schools," and called for "a universal health care system in which every citizen has health insurance independent of his or her employment."
It was a pattern repeated across the country. New Hampshire's 1st District delivered Carol Shea-Porter, a former social worker who got kicked out of a 2005 Presidential appearance for wearing a T-shirt that said turn your back on bush. That might have been her fifteen minutes of fame--if, last night, she hadn't defeated two-term Republican incumbent Jeb Bradley. For the chance to face him, however, she had to win a primary against the DCCC's preferred candidate, Jim Craig--whom Rahm Emanuel liked to much he had the unusual move of contributing $5000 to his primary campaign. Shea-Porter dominated Craig by 20 points--and then was shut out by the DCCC for general election funds.
Not all Emanuel's losing recruits were beaten in primaries. Some were beaten in the general election. Christine Jennings, a banker and former Republican gunning for Katherine Harris's former House seat lost in a squeaker to conservative Republican Vern Buchanan. Dan Seals, a black moderate in the Barack Obama mold who criticized the Democratic Party even in speeches to Democratic crowds, lost to the Republican incumbent in Emanuel's backyard, Illinois's 10th District--as did the DCCC's most talked-about recruit, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois's 6th. Emanuel poured as astonishing $3 million into her campaign. It bought her a four-point defeat. Activists say the money would have been better spent on all the promising candidates to whom Rahm wouldn't give the time of day.
Many of them won anyway. John Hall is poised to become the Democrats' version of Sonny Bono--a former environmental and anti-nuclear activist and co-author of the hit 1970s hit "Still the One," he just won New York's 19th District House seat. Chris Carney, now heading to Washington to represent Pennsylvania's 10th, beat beleaguered incumbent (and alleged-strangler) Don Sherwood. "Until Carney was ahead by double digits," complained Howie Klein of DownWithTyranny, a blog that backed his candidacy, "Rahm wouldn't take his phone calls." Larry Kissell, a high school social studies teacher, is, as of this writing, in a statistical dead heat with an incumbent Republican from of all places, North Carolina. Says Klein: "If Rahm had a little bit of foresight to see this guy was for real, and to see that he was a candidate who could have won, a little bit of money would have made all the difference for him."
Rahm Emanuel did his best to force Howard Dean to move money out of party building and into his terrible TV ad program that lost IL-06. He sniped at Dean, at Moveon, at George Soros, at blogs, at anyone he could. He ran scared, and he put his thumb on the scale against liberal Democrats. He couldn't even win in his own backyard, with the milquetoast Dan Seals and charismatically moderate Tammy Duckworth. Most significantly, for a good amount of time he didn't want Democrats to mention Iraq, period. If Rahm Emanuel were actually been a loyal Democrat instead of someone hellbent on sabotaging liberals, imagine how many seats we could have picked up.
It's clear that what happened last night was a repudiation of Bush and the Iraq war, and the beginning of the era of partial power for the progressive movement. It's the very very beginning. Realize that the 'victory for conservative Democrats' meme is being pushed all over Limbaugh and by the White House. It's false. Economic progressives won, some of whom are more conservative on social issues, and some of whom are not, did extremely well. A wave of liberals won in the Northeast. And the South is not part of our governing coalition.
Now that we've come so far so fast, there will be a vicious reaction against us, against the liberal blogs and the progressive movement. Consultants will gather and snicker and collude, and we're going to be sold out by our seeming friends. DLC backwash groups are already having meetings figuring out how to strike at us, and Joe Lieberman is going to be their main weapon.
But at the end of the day, all the narratives and bickering can't disguise the fact that there are a lot of new liberals and populists in the House and Senate. Senator Tester and his incoming crew will hopefully make DC look a little more like Montana.