It was indeed a bummer, nationally. I thought we’d end with 48-49 in the Senate, not 46, and that we’d certainly at least boot Tea Party governors in Maine and Florida. But it did take Minnesotans – enough Minnesotans, that is, not all, by any means – two terms of Gov. Pawlenty to realize that it’s really better to have a superior quality of politician, and human being, in the governor’s office. And if 2011 is any guide, the left blogosphere will continue to be dominated by over-the-top doom and gloom at least into the middle of next year. I’m not here to be part of that. We’re nowhere near high enough yet, in collective political IQ in this country, to where Democrats, much less progressives, can reasonably expect to win ‘em all. Note that important long-term trends, potentially positive for progressives though it will take a while yet, didn’t change.
While in many respects I’m certainly a nerd, I’m not very into academic types talking about “political narrative” and “messaging.” (I’m not saying they’re wrong; it’s just not my thing.) I’m suggesting a more fundamental explanation: our voters simply weren’t irritated/annoyed/angry enough to turn out.
Our voters don’t turn out in non-presidential years unless they feel a need to kick out bums who seriously piss them off, like in 2006 and 1998. They didn’t feel that way this year. The economy is actually more than halfway decent (at least, that’s their impression) in much of the country, our soldiers aren’t getting killed every day in Iraq and Afghanistan, and gas prices are down. They don’t think it through, that that’s all in spite of right-wing efforts to screw things up in every way that they can.
Note that we’ve only done well in two midterms, in the last two decades. In 1998, Dems were disgusted by the impeachment fiasco, so the Democratic Party was able to hold its own, in that one. In the 2006 wave, it was outrage at the worst (because the most conservative, relative to its era) presidency in American history.
To many of us on the activist left, it seems that the vast majority these days are basically living lives of wage and debt servitude, and don’t seem willing to try to do much about it, either because they don’t really care, or don’t think there’s anything they can do (except complain, in a vague, routine kind of way), or they don’t even realize it. Most people don’t really see it that way, at least not explicitly. They are by no means unhappy with their lives, and things have to be looking pretty ugly for them to feel like they want big change, in DC, or their state governments.
So, how do we get our voters good and pissed, for every midterm? Many right-wingnuts seem programmed to go around in a constant state of bitter resentment, and that certainly works to their politicians’ advantage. Our side doesn’t have that perversely going for it, and I for one have yet to develop any genius ideas for how to compensate.