Last night I just couldn’t make it, crashing around 03:00 despite my best efforts. I watched the colors slowly fill in on the maps, sweeping westward across the nation, but things were still very much up in the air when I turned out the lights.
This morning I woke up, reached over to the bedside table for my iPad, pulled up the New York Times electoral map — and smiled. What a relief to see those numbers.
Then I began checking individual state races and ballot measures, and the smile grew larger and larger. By the time I was done, I wanted to shake my wife awake so she could share my joy. (Fortunately, I am not that stupid.)
This is the best post-election morning I have ever experienced. 2008 pales by comparison, because the thrill of Obama’s first election was blackened by the poisonous bigotry and ignorance on display in California, Arizona and Florida, all of which passed measures to ban equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. Florida’s was expected, but Arizona’s was demoralizing because in 2006, Arizona had become the first state in the union to reject an attempt to enshrine discrimination into the state constitution. The victory of social progress lasted only two years before being reversed. California’s victory of social progress was even shorter-lived, yet vastly more cruel. In that state, gays and lesbians had been given the right to marry — but just five months later, their rights were taken away on the same day that America elected its first black president.
Fast forward four years, and the United States appears to have reached a tipping point of a different sort. Maine and Maryland have just become the first states in the union to award marriage rights to gays and lesbians by popular vote, rather than a legislative act or judicial decision. Minnesota has become the second state to reject a measure banning equal marriage, but unlike Arizona, I think Minnesota’s progress will be stable. (Though they did re-elect Michele Bachmann, whose extremism in both politics and ignorance reach new heights, so there’s that.) Finally, Washington state is currently approving equal marriage rights, but it’s a close race and only 51% of the votes have been counted as of this writing, so it could still flip.
I find it highly ironic that Washington is currently approving the legalization of marijuana by a greater margin than the legalization of equal marriage rights — marijuana is winning by 55% to 45%, while equal marriage rights are only ahead 52% to 48%. Also ironic is the fact that the most vocal voices against Washington’s marijuana initiative are, of all people, the owners of medical marijuana dispensaries. Like the Mafia during America’s period of alcohol prohibition, the people making money off this drug don’t want prohibition to end.
Colorado has also ended marijuana prohibition, with a familiar-looking margin of 55% to 45%. Oregon’s attempt failed, but that is not a surprise as it was the most open-ended version of the three measures being considered. Perhaps a better-written law will pass next time.
And then there are the state races.
In Illinois, Republican US Representative Joe Walsh, a Tea Party activist elected in 2010, was fighting against Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth. It was a particularly ugly race with several highlights, one of which occurred when Walsh was defending his stance against all abortions, without any exceptions for rape, incest, or the life or health of the mother.
This is an issue that opponents of [pro-] life throw out there to make us look unreasonable. There is no such exception as life of the mother and as far as health of the mother, same thing, with advances in science and technology, health of the mother has become a tool for abortions for any time, under any reason.
In other words, women never die during pregnancy, because modern medicine has put an end to all of that nonsense.
Walsh reserved his worst for personal attacks on his opponent, which culminated in this statement:
Understand something about John McCain. His political advisers, day after day, had to take him and almost throw him against a wall and hit him against the head and say, “Senator, you have to let people know you served!” Now I’m running against a woman who, my God, that’s all she talks about. Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it’s the last thing they talk about. That’s why we’re so indebted and in awe of what they’ve done.
The implication was clear: he did not consider Duckworth to be a hero, and wished she’d shut up already about her military service.
Tammy Duckworth was co-piloting a Blackhawk helicopter on a combat mission in Iraq when her helicopter was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. The crash cost her both of her legs and part of the use of her right arm. Apparently, voters did not mind her talking about her service to the nation, but did mind Walsh’s clear ignorance of basic medicine. Duckworth beat Walsh by a 10% margin and took his seat.
In Missouri, Republican Todd Akin was challenging the Senate seat of Democrat Claire McCaskill. Since this was one of the few chances that Republicans had of ousting a Democrat and taking control of the Senate, the national party gave Akin the kind of financial and media resources that most challengers could only dream of. It worked, and he was winning by a good margin — until he made the mistake of telling a reporter what he really thought about rape:
If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
He tried to walk the statement back, but the damage had been done and the entire nation now knew that, in addition to believing that not all rapes are legitimate, Akin had also flunked seventh grade biology. In defiance of the national Republican Party, which now wanted to yank him off the stage, he stayed in the race and went on the full offensive with comments such as this one:
She [McCaskill] goes to Washington, D.C. It’s a little bit like one of those dogs, ‘fetch,’ she goes to Washington, D.C., and gets all of these taxes and red tape and bureaucracy and executive orders and agencies and brings all of this stuff and dumps it on us in Missouri.
Having not yet done enough to piss off the entire female population of Missouri, Akin finished up by stating, after a debate with McCaskill, that she had not been very “ladylike.” Translation: She kicked his butt in the debate.
She kicked his butt in the election, too, keeping her Senate seat by a margin of 55% to 39%. Early returns indicated that tens of thousands of voters crossed party lines just to vote against Akin, casting their presidential ballot for Romney but then voting for Claire McCaskill for senator.
Republicans suffered an even bigger loss in Indiana, where the incumbent Republican senator had lost his seat in a tough primary campaign. That put the seat up for grabs between Republican Richard Mourdock and Democrat Joe Donnelly. So important was this seat that Mitt Romney recorded a TV endorsement for Mourdock — one of only two endorsements the presidential candidate made. (The other was for Senator Orrin Hatch.) Unfortunately, Mourdock also suffered an attack of honesty during a debate with Donnelly.
I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.
He really meant it, but had apparently not stopped to think that he had just legitimized the entire abhorrent human history of using rape as a weapon of war and as a means of terrifying, humiliating and oppressing an entire gender. Once somebody pointed this out, Mourdock realized that honesty was not the best policy and tried to walk his statement back. Again, it was too late. He lost to Joe Donnelly by a margin of 50% to 44%.
Wisconsin made history yesterday by electing the state’s first female senator — and the first open lesbian to the US Senate. (Actually, she is the first openly gay person of either gender to be elected to the US Senate.) But what is truly amazing is that Tammy Baldwin’s sexuality was never an issue in the race. The election was decided on the issues and on the two candidate’s characters, and Baldwin won. Period.
And finally, Massachusetts ousted Republican Scott Brown, who had won the special election of 2010 to serve out the remainder of Ted Kennedy’s term. His victory at that time came from the Tea Party surge that put so many Republicans in Congress in 2010, but Brown quickly disappointed the extremists of his party by proving to be far more moderate than they’d realized. Had he been running against anyone else to keep his seat, I’d have said more power to him, because heaven knows my nation needs more moderate Republicans like Brown, who actually understands the definitions of words like “compromise” and “governing.” But he was running against Elizabeth Warren, one of my heroes.
Elizabeth Warren has long been a champion of the American middle class, and by that I mean she walked the walk, instead of just talking the talk. Her tireless advocacy for the rights of consumers led to the creation of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and she then spent a year working as a Special Assistant to the President to put everything in place before the new agency’s official opening. Consumer advocacy groups and pretty much everyone who was not a Wall Street financier wanted Obama to nominate her as the permanent director. But Wall Street and the entire Republican contingent of Congress fought against her — they knew she would be too effective in protecting the rights of consumers, which could impact the profits of the big banks. Obama gave in and nominated Richard Cordray instead, effectively tossing Elizabeth Warren out with a “thanks for everything, but you’re a political burden now so go away.” (Republicans rewarded him for bowing to their will by promptly blocking Cordray’s nomination with a filibuster, leaving the new bureau unable to perform most of the work it was designed to do because it had no director. Obama finally resolved the battle by confirming Cordray’s appointment while Congress was in recess.)
Though she had lost the directorship of the agency she fought for and built, Elizabeth Warren did not give up the fight. Instead, she raised her flag and ran for US Senator — and last night she won, by a comfortable 8% margin. I am thrilled to see her in the Senate.
I wasn’t watching New Hampshire’s races, but they caught my attention anyway when The Little State That Could made history by becoming the first state in the union to elect an entirely female federal delegation and governor. A black president and a whole state run by women — the Republicans have really had a bad night.
The amount of sheer ugliness in this campaign season has been both breathtaking and depressing. Over and over I’ve been appalled at the misogyny, ignorance, bigotry and just plain cruelty on display, but today has been like the sun breaking out after a storm. American voters decisively rejected the ugliness, in almost every instance. It’s enough to renew my very tattered faith, and that is a marvelous feeling. Of course, I’m fully aware that the 2014 mid-term elections are going to be just as ugly, and probably with worse results. But let me enjoy my glow for a bit.
I’m going to close with a last-ditch campaign ad, which was designed to appeal to the better nature of American voters. If the results in Washington hold up, then all four of the appeals in the ad were honored. It’s unprecedented in US politics, and I can only hope that it’s a sign of things to come.