What the 2002 Elections Really Mean

Imagine for a second that you had fallen asleep on Nov. 4th and just woke up today. You would have missed the Nov. 5th elections, the Republican Party's victories, the media blitz, the subsequent change of leadership in the Democratic Party and the windfall of predictions and speculations about what it all means. Basically, you would have woken up in the exact same country your lazy ass fell asleep in a week ago.

Because no matter how much the media hypes up the victories, no matter, what the GOP says it means and no matter how much finger pointing the Democrats do, this election, in the grand scheme of modern politics, means exceptionally little.

First of all, let's take a real hard look at what was actually gained and lost in this election. In the 100-member Senate, the Republicans managed to gain two seats, which in turn gave them a statistical majority with 51 seats. In the 435-member house of representatives, the Republicans gained very little and, depending on the outcomes of some elections that are too close to call, they could gain anywhere from six seats to nothing. Finally, in the various races for State governor, the Democrats were the ones to pull out ahead bringing in three seats while the Republicans actually lost control of one state house (Independents Governorships that changed hands made up the difference).

So as anyone with a calculator handy can see, this so-called Republican thrashing, sweep or trouncing, is really little more than a statistical blip on the radar. Simple math reveals that the Republicans did not gain more than 2% of anything and, in fact, it was the Democrats that took over 6% of the Governorships across the nation. Clearly, a more significant percentage.

"But wait! What about the new Republican majority in the Senate?"

What about it? Sure, the GOP might have racked up a statistical majority in the Senate, but the closest vote in recent Senate legislation was passed with a margin of well over 20. In fact, most important legislation (including many of the anti-terrorism bills) requires a 3/5 margin to pass, not a simple majority. This means, to get anything done, the Republicans are still going to have to reach across the aisle and lure Democrats to their cause.

Also, while it's completely true that if the Republicans could stick together that they would hold a majority, the simple truth is that it isn't likely to happen. With the movement toward centrism, the line between Republican and Democrat has been hopelessly blurred and any realist understands that getting 51 Senators to agree on anything, even if they're all Republicans, is a very difficult job.

Basically, if you're worried or excited about the possibilities of a GOP Senate, you should probably calm down. This isn't the first time America has made a slight shift to the right (or to the left for that matter) and history has shown us that these shifts rarely produce any real results, good or bad. In fact, the very idea of American democracy is designed to prevent radical change from happening overnight (you want radical change, move to Israel) and to bring about any long-term benefits, or long-term damage, the trend would have to continue for several more elections.

And trust me, the next four to six years is plenty of time for the pendulum to swing back the other way…

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