The year 2006 will long be remembered as the Great Retribution--or perhaps the Deliverance Election. George W. Bush's presidency is toast. Bush's potential to further harm the Republic has been greatly reduced. Most Americans stopped believing anything he said a good while back. This was their opportunity to tell him to his face. And they did, with such force and breadth that maybe even he and his cronies heard them.
Much credit goes to the voters and the Democratic Party. Not many off-year elections move history in a fundamental way, but this one did. Americans have elected an opposition that can now check the Administration's destructive policies and investigate its actions at home and abroad, while at the same time putting forth policies that begin to reverse the damage of the past six years. African-American and Latino voters were crucial to the Democratic victory, with a significantly higher percentage of Latinos than in the last midterms voting against the Bush agenda.
The losers, starting with Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, who resigned immediately, deserve no sympathy. They have "ruled"--not governed--with cold arrogance and a frightening willingness to ignore the law, including the Constitution. Their Republican legions marched along in lock step, collecting boodle for themselves as they went.
By expressing their disgust, voters have made three great gains. It's true these gains are not yet fully secure. Bush still holds power. The Senate results are not yet settled. But power relationships in Washington have been utterly altered.
The first is the repudiation of Bush and his corrupt presidency, in which everything was for sale, and scandals--corporate and personal--became commonplace. Bush is now naked in his weakness. In some ways this could make him more dangerous in the two years ahead, but Democrats have the power to stop his outrages and excesses. There will be talk of "bipartisanship," as there is after every election. But this fight is not over, and there is no room for compromise with boneheaded intransigence.
The second is the antiwar victory. Candidates of all types ran against the war and won everywhere, demolishing blue state- red state stereotypes on this great issue. Americans want out of this disastrous war--now, as soon as possible. Bush will no doubt hold out for a fig leaf to cover his decisions. But Democrats must not forget the voters' message. If they collaborate in allowing continued bloodletting in Iraq, they will pay the price themselves in future elections.
The third is the collapse of the conservative order--the right-wing economic agenda that has reigned for a generation and produced so many great injuries to society and the general well-being. Republicans will argue among themselves about how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, but the "market ideology" cannot be repaired. This year, unlike in previous elections, many Democrats ran on the economic issues vital to ordinary people--trade, declining wages, the destruction of the middle class, corporate greed. Led by Senator-elect Sherrod Brown of Ohio, these Democrats will be a new force in Washington--committed to pushing real solutions instead of stale palliatives.
Elections do not resolve large issues, but they can open doors to new politics. That's what happened this year. This election created a new landscape in which long-suppressed ideas and neglected public concerns are once again in play. Despite conventional wisdom, this election is also a victory for progressive voices. And we are celebrating--not triumphant, but eager to press for genuine change and to hold Democrats accountable if they fail. No time to rest. This struggle is going to be spirited.