Window of Opportunity for Democrats

By Chris Cronin
Staff Columnist

The results are clear: this year’s electoral season has delivered a decisive victory to the Democratic Party. President Barack Obama has become a two-term president, the Democrats have increased their control in the Senate, and although the Republican Party will continue to control the House of Representatives, the GOP’s lead has narrowed slightly. But now that America’s supreme quadrennial exercise in Democracy has drawn to a close, what are the implications? What can we learn from this election?

First, this election was a victory for moderation. Just as 2010 saw a wave of outsider Tea Party favorites swept into office, 2012 has seen these Tea Partiers swept back out. It’s not hard to see why—over the past two years, Tea Partiers have been an absolute nightmare to the Republican Party. By refusing to compromise, these upstarts tied John Boehner’s hands, preventing him from accepting even the most Republican-favoring deals. Tea Party intransigence during the debt-ceiling debacle of 2011 may have played well with the Republican base, but it also led to considerable backlash.

A Pew Research poll in August 2011 found that 42 percent of Republicans saw their opinion of the party drop during the debt ceiling debate. Polling data among Latinos also shows that the Republicans must soften their stance on immigration if they wish to make inroads in America’s largest minority, and already, right-wing pundits like Sean Hannity has signaled that it is time to soften the GOP’s immigration policies.

Tea Party loudmouths like Congressman Joe Walsh and Congressman Allen West also faced a backlash. For the past two years, the two have been making increasingly offensive comments on national news. For instance, Walsh said that Occupy Wall Street protestors were “generally spoiled, pampered, unfocused, clueless young people and a smattering of other people who don’t understand this country and are advocating anti-American solutions.”

West, when asked about seditious members of Congress, claimed that “there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democrat Party that are members of the Communist Party.” Walsh and West were both beaten at the polls. In the Senate, outrageous comments about rape led to the crushing defeat of both Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, the former blowing an early lead.

But just as the more ideological elements of the GOP have been defeated, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has experienced something of a revival. Elizabeth Warren, a consumer-protection advocate and a progressive hero sailed to victory in Massachusetts, and Alan Grayson, a liberal firebrand voted out in 2010, took back his seat in Florida. Historically progressive issues like gay rights and marijuana legalization garnered considerable support through ballot initiatives in a number of states, including swing states like Colorado.

And in the Oval Office, President Obama has been given a clear mandate to govern for the next two years. We should expect a continuation of Obama’s economic and foreign policy and the implementation of some of the president’s signature issues, especially issues which languished in his first term thanks to Republican intransigence. Many Democratic pundits are already claiming that President Obama’s victory gives Democrats a clear mandate to raise taxes, and as the GOP becomes more amenable to compromise, I think we can expect a comprehensive tax bill which will contain small tax increases to top earners coupled with dramatic deficit-reduction measures to ensure GOP support.

Additionally, natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy have shone a spotlight on the effects of climate change on the weather, so I would not be surprised to see the president attempt to pass climate change legislation. The ball is also in the president’s court with regards to the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, and many Americans in those states are nervously awaiting his response.

But no matter what, Democrats have a huge window of opportunity here to implement positive change on a number of issues. Let’s hope they don’t blow it.

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