22 September 2014

In the days and few weeks immediately following the election last year, the
media pronounced gloom and doom for the Democratic Party and its constituents,
such as gay rights advocates. Journalists and media outlets of the left and the
right, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and Newsweek,
among most others, announced that the Democrats were down and out, and that the
evangelical Christians and the Republicans were the rising power. They divided
the country into red states and blue states, and offered up glossy maps to show
that most states were red and therefore Republican strongholds.

The New York Times, in a special news analysis, announced that “President Bush’s
is the clearest confirmation yet that America is a center-right
country.” Newsweek was even bolder, reporting not only that the “GOP may be the
majority party for the foreseeable future,” but that “red-state Democrats are a
diminishing breed.” The media even succeeded in encouraging the venerable
Democratic strategist James Carville to say, in an interview only forty-eight
hours after the election, “We are an opposition party and not a particularly
effective one. The Democratic Party died Tuesday.”

Now that two months have passed, the dust has settled, and the election has
finally been concluded (Washington’s gubernatorial election was not decided
until December 30), perhaps it would be worthwhile to look at a few of those red
states. Did the media get it wrong, or at least exaggerate a bit? Were the
Democrats and their values trounced in the election?

Arkansas was one of those red states on election day. Bush won the state by a
healthy nine percent margin. Yet the state re-elected Democrat Blanche Lincoln
to the Senate by a 12 percent margin, and of the four House seats up for grabs,
Democratic incumbents won three, and by an average margin of 24 percent. And
while the state voted against same-sex marriage, last month the Arkansas courts
ruled that a state regulation banning gays from being foster parents was
unconstitutional. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Timothy Fox ruled that a 1999 ban
by a state agency had nothing to do with protecting the health and welfare of
children, but was an attempt to regulate “public morality,” which is beyond the
agency’s power. Judge Fox also found that the children of gay parents are as
well-adjusted as any other children. Red, you say?

In Colorado, Bush won by a comfortable five percent margin. Yet the state
preferred Ken Salazar, a Democrat, over his Republican Senate opponent, Pete
Coors, by four percent. And of the seven House elections, Democrats won three,
and one was not even the incumbent, John Salazar, Ken’s brother.

Montana is presumably the most red of the Western states. Bush handily won there
by 20 percent. But a Democrat, Catholic rancher, Brian Schweitzer, won the
election for governor, the first time a Democrat has in 20 years. And in the
state legislature, the Democrats picked up seats, giving them control for the
first time since 1977. And on the ballot initiative to legalize the medicinal
use of marijuana, 62 percent voted in favor. Although the state voted to ban
same-sex marriage, last month Montana’s Supreme Court ruled that the state’s
public universities must provide health insurance benefits to gay employee’s
partners. Writing the majority opinion for the court, Justice James C. Nelson
noted that “sadly, many politicians and ‘we the people’ rarely pass up an
opportunity to bash and condemn gays and lesbians, despite the fact that these
citizens are our neighbors
and serve their communities in the same manner as
heterosexuals.” That doesn’t sound very red.

Although North Carolina, another so-called red state, voted for Bush by a 12
percent margin, the state also re-elected Democratic Governor Mike Easley by a
12 percent edge over his Republican opponent. And while they preferred
Republican Richard Burr for the Senate by five percent instead of former Clinton
Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, of the state’s thirteen House seats, Democrats
won six .

Bush won North Dakota by a 27 percent margin. Yet the state re-elected Byron
Dorgan, a Democrat, to the Senate by an even greater margin, 36 percent. And the
state’s only House seat was won by the Democratic incumbent by 20 percent. It
would seem as if the Democrats did pretty well for a red state.

In Texas, surely the most red of the Southern states, given that it is Bush’s
home turf, things were not as bad as one might have expected for the Democrats.
While Bush won by 23 percent, the Democrats won a third of the House seats. Of
those, two were by non-incumbents, no small feat in and of itself, given that
the state’s legislature gerrymandered the Congressional districts such that
Democrats were at a huge disadvantage. Even Bush’s own district in Waco went to
a Democrat. And in Dallas County, the residents elected a female, Hispanic,
openly-gay Democrat, Lupe Valdez, as sheriff.

West Virginia, where Bush won by 13 percent and the Republicans maintained
control of the state legislature, the Secretary of State, Democrat Joe Manchin,
won the governor’s election by 29 percent. Of the state’s three House seats,
Democratic incumbents won two, by 36 and 30 percent margins. And while neither
of the state’s Senators were up for re-election, it is worth noting that both
are Democrats.

In retrospect, it does seem as if the media’s announcement of the fall of the
Democratic Party was overstated. While John Kerry did not win the presidency on
behalf of the Democrats, they didn’t really do as poorly as was reported. It’s
true, they lost four Senate seats and a small handful of seats in the House of
Representatives. But they maintained the balance of power in many states, and
even gained control in others. Given that, why would the media, which as
conservatives are fond of saying is left-leaning, if not liberal, report
otherwise? Perhaps because the media just isn’t that liberal.