Our topic for today is: looking on the postelection bright side.
The polling places hadn’t even opened before the Senate’s right-wing firebrand, Ted Cruz, was demanding that the majority-leader in-waiting, Mitch McConnell, take a hard line against President Barack Obama or risk losing his new job. Cruz is from Texas, and he wants to re-create the Alamo, if you can imagine Obamacare in disguise as the Mexican army.
Think of that as a plus. The one thing McConnell and his supporters dislike more than the Democratic agenda is Ted Cruz. It could be an important bonding opportunity. Obama has never spent much time with the Republican leadership, but now you can sort of imagine them sitting around, sipping drinks and making fun of what Cruz said on Fox News.
Another potential downer: Republicans have fewer veteran women in the Senate, so when they take over there will be fewer women running important committees. But, on the plus side, the overall number of women in Congress will rise, albeit at a rate that would get us to equal representation sometime around 2078. Once all the votes are counted, says Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, the percentage of women in the House and Senate, now 18.2 percent, will, at best, go up to “maybe 19.3” percent.
“We’re calling it Not a Landmark Year,” Walsh said.
This could be a useful exercise in living with lowered expectations. Washington might actually want to embrace “Not a Landmark Year” as a slogan. If Cruz tries to get the House Republicans to run the country off a fiscal cliff, the moderates could start chanting: “NALY! NALY!”
Let’s try one more positive interpretation of what the election has wrought: There’s a school of thought that believes Tuesday was actually a great day for reproductive rights. Let me take you through it.
The front lines of the anti-abortion movement belong to the “personhood” people, who strive to give constitutional rights and protections to the “preborn” from the moment of conception. When Americans are confronted with this idea, they quickly come to hate it. Personhood amendments have been defeated wherever they pop up, including Mississippi. This year, one was rejected in Colorado for the third time, by around 65 percent to 35 percent. A personhood amendment lost in North Dakota, 64 percent to 36 percent. In addition, the state senator who was its major sponsor lost her re-election bid, as did one of the measure’s more outspoken House supporters.
We are only mentioning those last details because the number of state legislators who are defeated for re-election in this country is about as low as the number of state legislators who are endowed with the power of levitation.
This year, not only were the personhood proposals rejected, candidates who had previously supported the movement started madly backing away. The most famous example was in Colorado, where Rep. Cory Gardner, the Republican Senate candidate, suddenly realized a state personhood amendment was a “bad idea.” In a move that left debate questioners incredulous, Gardner insisted that a personhood bill he had co-sponsored in Congress would have no effect but was “simply a statement that I support life.”
Gardner also announced that he believed birth control pills should be available over the counter. He made a TV ad about it and sent out pink mailings.
Gardner’s turnaround was so swift and strange that the incumbent senator, Mark Udall, made it the center of his campaign. A Denver Post editorial claimed it was Udall’s “obnoxious” obsession. Now to me, obnoxious is a candidate who steals his opponent’s yard signs. Or who opposes abortions except for the one he pressured his mistress to get, like that guy in Tennessee. But whatever. Udall lost.
Planned Parenthood sent out a news release describing Colorado as an absolute triumph: “Voters have made clear that you can’t win statewide elections in Colorado by openly opposing women’s health and restricting access to safe and legal abortion.”
The theory here - and I am really going to go with it - is that the real story is not anti-choice Republicans weaseling around their political history, but voters of America forcing anti-choice candidates to change their positions.
“Cory Gardner ran aggressively as a supporter of women’s issues. It was sort of a miraculous conversion. We’ll be happy to hold him to it,” said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, in a phone interview.
The question is what happens when people like Gardner get into office. McConnell promised that he’d bring up a bill in the Senate banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Would the repentant personhood backers go along? At the very least, they would appear to be obliged to add language vastly expanding women’s access to free birth control.
OK, it’s not an ideal compromise. But then it’s not a landmark year.