Tuesday's election put the "progress" back in "progressive." Americans pushed the tea party aside and voted for an expansive and egalitarian constitutional vision where government plays an active role in problem-solving. It turns out we're a nation of moderates after all, who care about women's reproductive rights, gay rights and each other. We want to keep religion out of government, and we don't mind taxes to fund essential government services and big projects. "Forward," President Barack Obama's incisive 2012 slogan, sums it up well.
The election's message caused devastation behind the tea party's Maginot Line. The Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Karl Rove, Dick Armey and the rest of the tea party crowd awoke Wednesday morning to find that their wall of money had not held. Overrun and left in the dust was their anti-government, anti-tax, anti-public school teacher, anti-reproductive freedom vision for the country.
The U.S. Senate losses by tea party favorites Richard Mourdock in Indiana and Todd Akin in Missouri with their gaffes about rape were simply the most glaring examples. The seats had been pretty safe bets to go Republican until the electorate decided that conservative is one thing; know-nothing is another.
But the real story of the election is the denunciation of the tea party's constitutional vision through ballot measures: the good ones that passed and the bad ones that failed. Collectively, these public policy statements reflect an emergent progressive streak that will change the conversation if not the direction of Washington, statehouses and the courts.
Florida voters were at the forefront of this trend, not only breaking for Obama but giving the cold shoulder to the Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who has staked his governorship on a fight against Obamacare. An attempt to make a largely symbolic stand against Obamacare — by adding language to the state Constitution banning government mandates for obtaining health insurance — went down in flames. It needed 60 percent approval for passage but only got 48 percent. Fifty-two percent said, "No thanks."
Florida voters also saw through blatant attempts to trick them into voting for public funding of religious schools and institutions and for new limits on abortion rights. They would have none of it.
Public schools and teachers' unions did well in even some of the reddest states. In South Dakota and Idaho, voters turned back measures attacking tenure and teacher unions, including the repeal by voters in Idaho of a law limiting teachers' collective bargaining rights.
The huge gains for marriage equality for gays and lesbians in Maine, Maryland and Washington, along with the rejection of a ban on same-sex marriage in Minnesota, and the election of Democrat Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, the first openly lesbian U.S. senator, are clear signals that the tipping point has finally arrived.
While it's true that not every one of the 176 measures on the ballot in 38 states Tuesday resulted in a vote for social progress, enough did to repudiate the Grover Norquist-led direction the tea party would send the country. Voters approved new revenues and borrowing power to give state and local governments the resources to do their job.
In California, a proposition passed to raise income and sales taxes to help the state avoid billions of dollars in cuts to state services and schools. All but one of 16 bond proposals passed in seven states, authorizing borrowing of more than $3 billion for infrastructure and other state priorities. And in Florida seven of 10 counties, including Pinellas, passed special tax initiatives that will benefit local schools.
Obama's re-election was reason enough for moderates and progressives to breathe a sigh of relief — saving health reform, Medicare and Medicaid, environmental protection, funding for PBS and Planned Parenthood, and Roe vs Wade, etc. — but the ballot measures tell an even more encouraging story: that Americans are no longer in a tea partying mood. Now that's progress.