Very Happy but Not Gloating
There are a lot of reasons to be thankful for Tuesday night's election results. The most important are, not in any particular order: The ACA gets a new lease on life, probably irreversable--most of its protections kick in 2014; marriage equality wins in Maine, Maryland and Washington State, also likely irreversable--even though another vote in another year could technically reverse these outcomes, it would be much harder to take away someone's marriage once granted; a continuing Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, which hasn't looked at all likely since 2010; and critical opportunities to ensure the Supreme Court doesn't shift dramatically to the right if Obama needs to replace one or more justices in the next four years.
Beyond that, though, there are good reasons for caution. Some of this comes from having felt greatly chastened in 1994 and 2010 (and to a certain extent in 2000 and 2002) by elections in those years after Democratic presidential wins. Although unemployment was still high (7.9%), Obama was the incumbent running for his party's second consecutive term, and only one such incumbent lost in the 20th century (Carter; GHW Bush and other incumbents lost seeking their party's third or fourth consecutive term). So Obama should have been the favorite.
It's also worth considering the relative closeness of this election and the electoral vote circumstances that frame any presidential election. Narrow wins in Ohio, Florida (likely) and Virginia, suggest how the shifting of a few thousand votes in such places can dramatically alter outcomes. That states which turned blue for us in 2008 (Indiana and NC) flipped back this year should also provide reasons not to be overly optimistic next time.
Additional reasons for caution lay in the country's fiscal situation. There is a wide and deepening chasm between what the country spends or will need to spend on income support and defense and the tax levels it seems willing to pay for them. Obama's stance on wanting to raise taxes on incomes only above $250,000 is not encouraging. Much more revenue than this will be needed if Social Security and health care are to be fully or reasonably funded in the next decades. Our party's unwillingness to address this has perhaps helped in the short term but could be costly in the years ahead if not changed.
It is true that the economy should improve, however, which should both help Democratic prospects in 2016 and help the country's revenue projections at least somewhat.
But by 2016 it also seems likely voters will nevertheless be more inclined to a Republican messenger (as they proved to be in 2000 after eight years of Clinton/Gore), and there are an infinite number of things that can go badly in the next few years to make that inclination greater. And I think this remains true even given the new demographics. Republicans will get better at fashioning themselves for a shifting electorate, whether that consists of more stringent voter eligibility requirements (which we've already witnessed) or the nominating of minority candidates, or both. In short, by 2016 the country might just well be sick of us in a way they weren't yet this year.
We Democrats have also been mighty fortunate. Republican conservatives have proven very adept at shooting themselves in the foot with ignorant and stubborn candidates (Akin and Mourdock this year, Christine O'Donnell last time), which we might not always be graced with.
Finally, while the U.S. Senate continues to be led by Democrats, some of these Democrats represent very red states (ND, Montana, and Indiana, etc) and their votes will not always be with us.
While there's a lot this election accomplished, there's much it did not. So I leave you, happy but not gloating.