Democrats Euphoric! Election Night After
What Happened that Night was that Americans Finally Realized the Emperor has no Clothes
Democrats Abroad Austria (DAA) had decided to hold its election night party the evening after the election this November. What was the point in staying up on election night? Even with the early returns in, there would be no definitive answers till morning Vienna time. Might as well get some sleep.
However, the morning dawned very bright, as there was news of a Democratic sweep in the House, a clear and generous majority of 30 seats that toppled all predictions. In the Senate, too, Democrats had made big gains, but were several seats shy of a majority.
A feisty and radiant speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi glowed across the television screen, gnashing off sound bite after sound bite – putting things into words we thought Democrats had forgotten how to say.
"When it’s time to clean house, you need a woman!" she quipped on CNN.
The interviewer, also a woman, looked startled. "But isn’t that a sexist remark," she asked.
"Sure it is!" Pelosi declared, winking – but not flinching. "We made history today. Now it’s time to make progress!"
So the day was off to an excellent start. Sure, the Senate was still up in the air, with a two seat gap that could go either way. But things hadn’t looked this hopeful in a very long time, and hope is often a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Hours passed, polished to a happy sheen. Democrats pinched themselves to be sure they weren’t dreaming and called each other on the phone for a reality check.
"This is such a relief," said musician Stan Hale, publicist for the DAA, echoing the feelings of many. "We were getting scared! What had happened to America? There was an 11-seat Republican majority in the Senate and a 28 seat majority in the House… no checks and balances. We were heading toward a right-wing dictatorship."
As evening fell, Democrats began arriving at the sprawling Heuriger Beethoven Haus in Grinzing, where a private room had been draped in bunting, guarded by a life-sized cut out of John Kerry, who as in life, somehow vanished mid way through the proceedings. It was a mild evening, belying the hurricane that was sweeping through American politics.
Inside Guiliana Schnitzler was on the phone coordinating, and the first arrivals were settling in at a couple of tables and ordering pitchers of wine. The Montana race was looking increasingly secure for the Democrats; Virginia was still unreadable.
Laura Atkins a petroleum engineer from Dallas was glowing.
"This is way overdue!" she crowed. " ‘W’ is certifiable! And Rummy… Talk about someone whose listening button is welded in the off position!" Atkins grinned. "I’m in a very silly mood."
Nearby, a heated discussion was underway about Montana Senate seat. The challenger was a Democrat, a farmer named John Tester, who had made huge gains on the back of a series of racist and sexist gaffs by Conrad Burns, the Republican incumbent, who also had ties to the discredited lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Tester was ahead, but not everybody was sure that he was such a bargain as a candidate.
"Tester is a bull," snorted journalist and Montana resident Will Snodgrass. "He’s arrogant and poorly informed. And he’s nearly fascist in his attempts to control what goes on in the capital," – tales of obstructionism and crony contracts for public works. "The point is, people who do not respect process are dangerous – especially if they are energetic.
"Besides, he stood me up for an interview."
Patrick Johnson was former chief of staff to the African-American legislator Senfronia Thompson, currently serving her 17th term in the Texas Legislature and whose office happened to be directly over the desk of then-Governor George W. Bush.
"Whenever we got particularly frustrated," Johnson narrated, wide-eyed and innocent, "we’d just start dropping things or moving the furniture." In 2003, Texas Republicans under Rick Perry had been keen to redistrict, so Thompson, with few options, had simply gathered her colleagues and disappeared across state lines. No quorum, no vote.
"The state trooper came into our office, trying to intimidate all the young workers," he shrugged, lingering over the words. "We jus’ didn’t know where she had gone off to, for three long days." Finally, he just took the staff away and closed the office. Thompson and friends had been given sanctuary by the Governor of Oklahoma, and when Gov. Perry called a new session, they went to New Mexico.
"The irony of this election," Johnson concluded with satisfaction, as news came in that the Democrats had Montana, "was that the only seat the Republicans lost in Texas was [former Speaker] Tom Delay’s, who resigned in disgrace. And the person who won his seat was Nick Lampson, the one they had redistricted out in 2003."
Johnson’s friend Kelly Martino enjoyed other ironies, like the Republican ads trying to paint Nancy Pelosi as a left wing, pinko you-know-what. "They said she would ‘impose the gay agenda’!" He laughed. "As a gay man, I think she’s right of center!" And either way, Pelosi won by her biggest margin ever.
People were happy to see Bill Clinton back on the campaign trail, supporting not only his wife, but many other Democratic candidates.
"People love him!" Kelly said. "He walks down the street and people follow him, trying to touch his clothes."
Mid evening, a team from ORF "Zeit im Bild 3" showed up to do a couple of interviews and film the festivities. Song sheets were handed around for a rousing chorus of "Happy Days Are Here Again," a perennial Democratic favourite, dating from the raucous 1932 Democratic Convention in Chicago that nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Katie Solan paused for a second on her way home to relieve the babysitter. One of longest standing and hardest working volunteers with Democrats Abroad Austria she looked tired, but radiant.
"This is so lovely; all these people," she sighed. "Something important has happened."
She remembered how discouraged they had all been in 2004 the voters just didn’t seem to react. She had been in the US in the summer and had made about 100 phone calls in Virginia, Colorado and Pennsylvania for MoveOn.org, the internet-based political action committee. She kept getting voice mail. In the end, she reached 11 people. "I got this image that there was nobody home in America," she remembered.
Maybe the mood had begun to turn with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Or maybe it was in the summer, when things began to go so terribly wrong with the war.
"That was when the people who didn’t want to know, began to see," Solan said. "They knew they didn’t have health care, they knew what the job situation was like, they knew that they were not as well off. And when these guys dropped their ‘stay the course’ line, people knew they had been lying to them."
Sometime later, word came through that the Democrats had won both contested Senate seats, giving them the needed two vote majority. A roar went up through the room as people jumped from their chairs to hug their friends. Toasts were toasted, America was congratulated for finding its way again at last.
Ultimately, it had been a referendum on George W. Bush.
"Next time he’s in Texas, somebody might just go out and shoot him," suggested Johnson refilling his glass.
"He’s too dumb to shoot," barked Kelly. "This man defines dumb!" Johnson nodded.
"What happened last night was that the American people finally saw that the Emperor didn’t have any clothes."