Just Like in 2012, Progressive Ideas Win Big on Election Day

Elizabeth_Warren_Nov_2_2012
Photo: Tim Pierce

After President Obama won reelection in 2012, I pointed out how progressive ideas did really well when put to the vote by the public on ballot measures.  While the Republican party is celebrating their non-surprising gains in the legislative branch, progressive ideas absolutely dominated on the ballot, even in red states.

Taking a look at the 13 initiatives highlighted by CNN, 12 have been decided as of this writing.  In only one case did the progressive side lose and even that was not a majority loss (58% approved medical marijuana in Florida, 60% was needed).  CNN’s list did not include other victories for progressive thought, such as the legalization of marijuana in D.C. or the lopsided defeat of the North Dakota anti-choice measure.  Whether it was marijuana, minimum wage laws, birth control or most other issues, the left won.

The fact is, progressive thought is winning and winning big everywhere in the country, even in the alleged “red states”.  But the Republican wins would suggest a different story.  How to explain this?

The reasons are many but I’m reminded here of something Bill Maher recently asked of Senator Elizabeth Warren: “Why aren’t there more people who talk like you in the Democratic Party?”

Again, there are a lot of factors at play here but there is little doubt Democrats have been (and many still are) terrible at pointing out what is a progressive position and what is a conservative one on so many issues.  And when they fail to do that it not only makes voters ignorant as to who stands where, it takes all the energy out of your base and they will only lackadaisically support you, at best.  Seriously, Democratic candidates.  If you are going to lose, at least have some guts to speak forcefully about what it is your ideology means to the everyday person.  Maybe then you won’t have to watch so many of your candidates lose while so much of your ideology wins.

Obama Won the Presidency But the Left Won Even More

To the shock of no one actually paying attention to the 2012 election, President Obama won his reelection bid along with the popular vote.  This was not surprising to anyone following the polls showing the lead he had in the electoral college vote.  But there was a series of even bigger victories worth noting for progressive ideology and a positive (albeit incremental) move for the country as a whole to the political left.

Four More Years
Four More Years

Taking a look at the highlighted ballot measures for individual states reveals how successful progressive beliefs were in this election and how far and fast the country has moved, particularly on the issue of gay rights.  The most eye-catching measures may have been the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado.  This change in drug policy is long overdue in America and these victories bring the country one step closer to alleviating the problem and cost of incarcerating people for this non-violent crime, not to mention hurting the wallets of the violent drug cartels in Mexico.  There is still work to do here since it is illegal on the federal level but there is little doubt now where the U.S. is heading on this issue.  The prohibition of pot is coming to an end and it is only a matter of time before changes on the national level are made.

The state of Florida delivered two victories for the left on ballot measures.  Voters decided blocking women from obtaining abortions using public funding was the wrong way to go and this highly controversial issue is put to rest for now but certainly hasn’t seen its final challenge.  The other issue voted down was the limiting of the Affordable Care Act, particularly voiding the individual mandate for the state.  This went down in Florida but was successfully passed in three other heavily conservative states.  These measures are just for show, of course, as they are likely to be challenged in the courts and struck down as federal precedent will override intrusive state laws.  Three victories for the right, in some respect, but only short-lived ones at best.

But the biggest progressive victory of the night was, without a doubt, gay rights.  Minnesota voters turned down the chance to put a ban on gay marriage in their state constitution, the first defeat in the country of this type of measure.  What’s important here is the fact most of the previous measures of this kind were passed with 60% or more of the vote.  This will likely be the first of many defeats to come for these state constitution amendments.  Three states also took the further step of legalizing gay marriage.  This group of victories was capped by the election of the first gay Senator in U.S. history, Tammy Baldwin.  It should be noted Baldwin’s election comes in the state of Wisconsin where conservatives were recently celebrating victory in Governor Scott Walker’s recall election.  The tide turned quickly in Wisconsin and has clearly turned on the issue of gay rights in the United States.

Tammy Baldwin
Tammy Baldwin

There was one curious loss for the left on election night and it came in a state believed to be one of the most progressive in the country: California.  A ballot measure to ban the death penalty appears to be headed for defeat by a comfortable margin, a victory for those on the right who believe every life is precious and only God can judge when someone lives and dies.  Now they can properly kill people just as God intended.  I think that’s what was intended.  Seemingly intended.  Wait a sec, I’m choking on the confusion of the right’s rhetoric compared to their policy positions.  Regardless, the state of California has decided to continue shouldering the enormous economic cost of keeping prisoners on death row instead of the cheaper and more moral route of life sentences.  The likelihood of this conservative position lasting over time is still slim despite this outcome.

Overall, election night was good for the Democratic Party and great for the progressive minded.  The United States took a small but significant step in the right direction politically and will assuredly continue this progression in the foreseeable future.