House Republicans are poised to open the 114th Congress in January with a firmer hold on power than they have had since 1946. CNN projects that after all the ballots are counted, the GOP will end up with 246 seats, the same number it had after the first post–World War II elections, when President Harry Truman’s Democrats lost both Houses of Congress—which they had held since Franklin Roosevelt’s tidal-wave election thirteen years earlier.
If the results of the 2014 election recall those of 1946, it is also true that the lessons the left took away from the earlier drubbing can perhaps help us understand what happened yesterday—and where to go from here.
In an editorial published immediately after the November 5, 1946, results came in, The Nation’s editor Freda Kirchwey wrote that the loss of Congress would allow the left to recognize “how much was vitiated from the start…by the necessity of working through a machine so cynically concerned with power and perquisites as the Democratic Party…
We can trace as if on a military map the retreat of the machine Democrats from advance positions which had become politically exposed into comfortable rearguard posts, sheltered behind the euphemistic camouflage of “bi-partisanship.” The Roosevelt era died bit by bit. Now that it has been officially interred, despite the nominal survival of Mr. Truman, progressives are free to abandon both pretense and illusions and get to work laying the foundation for a new beginning.
Democrats would have to look beyond Roosevelt’s program, beyond the New Deal, if they wanted to regain national support.
Let us not fool ourselves in this hour of appraisal. The routed progressive forces in America are not equipped with a program or even prepared to unite on any program. They have emerged from the election reduced in strength, splintered and dispersed…. No common program; no organizational unity; no effective leadership. Defeated, they must start form scratch, for the fight they have just lost was only the start of a much tougher one ahead….
This was to be expected. Neither the reorientation of ideas demanded by the period we face nor the integration of forces on the left can be hastily improvised. Both will mean hard work by individuals and groups all over the country…In the pages of The Nation we shall analyze the practical as well as the theoretical problems that confront democratic Americans…. Attached to no man or party, we can comment without constraint upon issues and leaders, programs, parties, and strategies. Out of such discussions, in which we warmly invite our readers to join, we shall formulate as the weeks pass The Nation’s program for a new American progressive movement.