Looks like the $30 bucks I contributed to Jim Webb's senatorial campaign in Virginia put him over the top. At 3 pm today Virginia Senator George Allen, who had been name-dropped by Republicans on every TV show through late 2005 and early 2006 as a successor to George W. Bush, conceded the race, losing to Webb by about 8,000 votes.
The choice of supporting Webb's campaign was an interesting one for me. While I flirted with Reaganism as a kid (embracing materialism and big stick foreign policy ideas) I come from a Democratic family and so I never thought that I'd wind up doing a victory dance for a guy who used to be Secretary of the Navy for Ronald Reagan. But as I have matured, and due greatly to the events of the last five years from September 11, to the Iraq Invasion and subsequent bumbling and bloody occupation, to the total lack of ability for our government (at all levels) to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina, led me to realize that it was time to grow up and put the pet Democratic issues aside and vote for one thing -- responsive government.
Many people have wondered what exactly a Democratic victory will mean for America. Some criticize American politics as being one big party of Republicrats where both sides act to maintain the status quo. The common line heard today is that the Republicans deserve to lose, but what makes the Democrats more worthy of office.
But rather than implementing a step-by-step agenda - like a Socialist party might do in a European country - I think what this means is that the debate on our future is now open. That's important. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's departure is important. People have been calling for his resignation for years. Ex-military leaders, retired and free to talk, openly questioned his decision making. And yet he stayed put. There was zero accountability. There was no response. There were mistakes, criticism, and no response. Americans began to wonder - are we really the masters of our own country?
Meanwhile, Bush's congresses have been "rubber stamp" congresses - policy is formulated in the inner Bush circles, talking points are distributed to 'trustworthy' media (and from 2002 to 2006 this included outlets like CNN and MSNBC), and the Republican party worked from the top down. Think of the Center Party in Estonia. The Republicans ran things like Keskerakond. They were organized and uncompromising, which sounds great in political advertisements but did not allow them to start coming up with their own solutions for the Iraq War.
But what will Democrats do? They'll most likely articulate what I am calling 'organic policy.' The current leadership is weak. Democratic party leaders don't have the kind of control that people like former House Majority leader Tom DeLay once had. They'll have to talk to one another. They'll have to create policy by debating the ideas amongst themselves. Americans will finally get an opportunity to allow their talented citizens represent them in Congress. There will be a greater need for consensus building and actual debate. That is a good thing.
The Republican Party has been controlled by a handful of figures leftover from the Nixon and Reagan-Bush administrations for years. Bush named Reagan-era official Bob Gates to be the new Sec of Defense yesterday. Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush have known each other for decades. And most of all they tended to agree on the same things. As you can imagine it's very hard to have a flexible, response policy in a time of war with that set up.
The Democrats don't have a backbench of officials leftover from the Carter years or Clinton years to run things. Therefore you will see more a 'organic' policy than before. They'll be forced to make things up as they go along, both out of necessity and by the knowledge that they have been trusted with power by the American people for the first time in 12 years.
Now, many criticize the Democrats for not "having a plan" - ie. "we will get out of Iraq by this date and this way." But their victory means a few important things:
1) Long awaited and "no brainer" reforms will be carried out. The 9/11 commission recommendations will be enacted. The minimum wage will be raised. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy will not be renewed.
2) The culture wars are in remission. The Democrats that came into congress this year have no plans to enact federally-recognized gay marriage. Instead you see each one in his or her state running to meet the special needs of their state. You'll have real liberals like Shel Whitehouse in Rhode Island serving alongside conservative Democrats like Bob Casey in Pennsylvania. So you can stop worrying about the federal government trying to legislate culture. As we have seen through state marriage amendments and civil union rulings, the states are managing to work out their own cultural issues. The idea of using the federal government to do something as short-sighted as ban gay marriage has failed.
3) There will be a real debate on Iraq. Many of these candidates ran on the war. Getting us out successfully is their main objective. The solution may not have manifested itself yet, but I expect many of the new senators, for example, to start coming up with solutions. I don't expect Jim Webb, for example, to sit on his hands.
Overall I don't think this is some magic fix for our problems, but one party government wasn't obviously working.
Politically I am open to new solutions. I welcome Bernie Sanders, our first socialist senator, as much as I'd welcome a libertarian candidate to the senate, perhaps from New Hampshire in the future?
Let's be honest, I do have social democratic values. I believe in all the good stuff - a clean environment, quality health care, education, tolerance - but I don't believe that one size fits all or that the state has all the solutions. That's why, when it comes to Estonian politics I can safely say, that yes, the Reform Party is right to support Estonia's economic policy, while at the same time, yes, the Center party is right to remind voters that vanaema and vanaisa out in the country are still living in poverty. In other words, I'm flexible.
For example, I think the new conservative government in Sweden is a good thing. The same in Germany with the rise of Merkel. Change is good. New blood is needed for a healthy democracy.
Over these years I have become more patriotic, not in your traditional idea of American nationalism, but in that I 1) recognize that my country is both large and important and 2) strongly want to see it make the right decisions.
For those reasons, I contributed to a campaign that seven years ago I would have seen as "too conservative" because Jim Webb is a truck driving, gun-toting Virginian who is strongly affiliated with the military. But those kind of cultural trappings don't matter anymore because he won my respect by 1) acknowledging that our Iraq policy is a mess; 2) switching his party membership to challenge a man who has enabled that mess; and 3) Ran a take no prisoners campaign where he showed that he wasn't going to take sucker punches from the Allen campaign lying down.
Webb is a Jacksonian Democrat if there ever was one. I'm not too fond of our 7th president who signed the Indian Removal Act. But I have come to believe that he and his fellow incoming class of Democrats will be a healthy dose of reality for a government that has been unable to govern well.