Salon's exit poll

What Lamott, Sullivan, Gitlin, Wilentz and others make of the Republican sweep.

By Salon Staff
Published November 7, 2002 11:09AM (UTC)
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Anne Lamott, author of "Blue Shoe" and a once and future Salon columnist
I think the election shows that America is in a really bad mood. Voters must be really terrified -- and they had to be, or they would not have been so lacking in generosity.

I'm so naive -- I thought we'd hold onto the Senate and maybe even take back the House. Of course, I still keep thinking that they are going to resume the vote count in Florida, and Gore may still win.


I guess the "Rally Round the Flag, Boys" two-step was effective again, with much of America. Everyone I know thinks Bush is an evil idiot. But maybe it's not a bad thing. It proved that opposition is absolutely necessary for the Democrats, if they are going to make a comeback, and be in power again. The Democrats sure gave "Succubus-Partner-of-the-Devil" a try, and it backfired. Maybe now they will be forced to stand for something, for what we've always stood for -- real people, equality, civil rights, social services, the environment, peace. Opposition is better for us.

I'm sad Daschle didn't stand up to Bush, but I guess he had to play by the two rules of politics -- get elected; stay in office. He had to make sure the people of South Dakota were still behind him, and they sort of are, but it's hard to imagine South Dakota leading the way for the revolution. But I don't give up. I'm not saying we'll knock one out of the park next time, but I don't worship a god of circumstance. So many people are doing so much for people with less-than. Everyone I know is giving money and time to take care of others, to save the envirnonment, to do good. Someone who can really lead us will rise out of this, like Clinton did. Right now everyone has an explanation for their cowardly behavior, or has figured out whom to blame for it, but after a while, I think liberal and progressive leaders will stand up to Bush and his policies on war, women's rights, Iraq.

In the meantime, I'm going to go open the last bag of Halloween candy.


Thomas Frank, editor of The Baffler and author of "The Conquest of Cool"
Well, the Democrats have pulled off another epic defeat, this time losing even when all the conditions -- stock market collapse, the shaming of the corporate world, complete capitulation of the GOP on Social Security -- pointed the other way. Democrats have been enduring disasters like this since 1968. In fact, I have no memory of a time when Democrats offered a positive, dynamic critique of their own; it's just been New Democrats accommodating this and neo-liberals being "realistic" about that for my entire life. Democrats used to be able to coast, win certain races without any effort, because older voters remembered what Democrats used to stand for and assumed they still stood for that even though they never said the magic words anymore. But that residual loyalty is long gone these days. The Dems have even assisted in the destruction of the social movements (namely labor) that gave them coherence, gave them a reason for being. All the dynamism and innovation these days is with the other side, with the massive apparatus of think tanks and foundations and magazines and public intellectuals that make up the dishonest pro-corporate right. Until people on the left pull their heads out of their asses, fire the Democratic Leadership Council, and remember how to fight, this might as well go on happening forever.

Greil Marcus, Salon columnist and author of "Double Trouble: Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in a Land of No Alternatives"
Bush now has the mandate he didn't have when he was installed as president. While not making the elections a referendum on him, at least for Republicans he made himself the embodiment of the nation, or their nation, and brought them to the polls, where they won him the election.

In Bush's nation, government at home would exist only to punish, to prohibit, to confine and to execute; elsewhere it would exist to smite, to punish, to seize -- and to execute. Should that nation really come to be, many people who now think of themselves as American citizens, including many who voted on Bush's side and those who convinced themselves nothing worth bothering themselves about was at stake, will find that they are not.


The country has looked this bad before, or worse; so far, it has refused to live up to my worst fantasies, or even come close. As people, though, those who now assume they have title to the republic have no interest in anyone else's fantasies, let alone their needs or desires. There are those who count and those who don't. At the other George Bush put it, on meeting then newly elected Sen. Paul Wellstone at the White House, "Who is this chickenshit?"

Sean Wilentz, history professor at Princeton University
Winning the governor's house in Oklahoma. The defeat of George Gekas (who's that?, you say). Frank Lautenberg's return. No national election lacks a few victories for either party. But last night, the Democrats brought home less than just a few measly crumbs, because the returns also brought their worst nightmare, a mandate for George W. Bush, 50 right-wing judges on the federal bench, and, as far as governing goes, utter irrelevance at the national level for the next two years -- and, it would seem, many more. The party is in its worst shape since 1928, and there's no FDR even remotely in sight.


Karl Rove and company pulled off a great political victory. Iraq worked, sustaining the halo effect from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Money, tons more than the Democrats, worked. So did a vastly superior GOP national political operation, something the Democrats virtually lack with their necessary but distracting focus on raising cash. Best of all for the Republicans, the Democrats lack leaders in Washington who can pull the party together, and then go out and rally the troops. Once they get over their amazement -- that the Boy Emperor and his black-hearted geniuses cleaned their clock -- the Democrats will have to regroup and overhaul their national party, from top to bottom. And begin by facing up to the hard truth that you can't beat something with nothing.

Robert A. George, New York Post editorial page writer
If, two years ago, George W. Bush was a wounded, shrunken figure entering the White House under a cloud following a disputed election, today he's a true political giant astride the land. (What was the name of the guy who won the popular vote in 2000? Al something?)

In key states across the country -- especially those won by Bush in 2000 -- his candidates swept through sitting Democrats.


The Republicans held the House and apparently gained seats; the Senate has, remarkably, gone back to the Republicans (pending potential lawsuits and switches).

The best example of the Bush effect is in Georgia. Peach State Democrats have to be shaking their heads seeing their perceived "popular" incumbent governor Roy Barnes turned. Republicans hadn't held the governor's seat there since Reconstruction. Yet a close look at the vote shows that the numbers of that race closely track the Senate race where Rep. Saxby Chambliss defeated incumbent Sen. Max Cleland. The conventional wisdom was that, even though the Senate race was narrowing, Barnes' machine would be strong enough to push Cleland over the finish line.

It seems the opposite happened. Bush campaigned for Chambliss. Those voters who supported a Republican candidate endorsed by the president also voted for the Republican gubernatorial candidate.


George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove are sitting pretty. Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt and Terry McAuliffe are figuring out what their next jobs will be.

This is Bush's political world. Everybody else just lives in it.

Jeff Madrick, economist and author of "Why Economies Grow"
This wasn't an election about the most important issues of our time. The Democrats agreed with the Republicans on foreign policy and largely accepted the president's argument on tax cuts for domestic policy. As a result, the Democrats had no identity. Worse, they appeared timid to an electorate that typically does not admire that.

The Democrats should have drummed the weak economy home, and talked about what the government could do about it -- in particular, a strong but temporary spending plan to help the unemployed and cash-strapped state and local governments. They should have shown the public they had the courage of their convictions.


But they did little of this. And now we do not know what the people really want. They had too little to choose from.

The stock market will applaud the Republican victory, but only for a while -- maybe only a few days. Expect a weak economy as a result of the electoral decision. Tax cuts, especially on capital, will now be the order of the day. They are not what we need now, or into the future, either. The rich won't spend the money. The cynicism of bigger breaks for the rich will also make the majority of Americans less optimistic.

We need a true stimulus package. We need to do something bold about scandal and fraud on Wall Street. We need to try to understand that the economy has changed and requires government to change with it. And we need a nation that recognizes how unequal incomes now are and that such inequality is bad for all of us. The news about the economy is not good.

Andrew Sullivan, Salon columnist and editor of
I should have trusted my gut. We all should have believed the late polls. We don't have the full results yet, but it seems clear, as I write, that the Republicans will gain in the House and win back the Senate. For a first-term president who didn't win a plurality to win in a midterm election with a deeply troubled economy is, quite simply, an astonishing victory. I guess I'd been too busy telling others not to underestimate Bush that I underestimated him myself. Yes, local issues mattered. But the swing is too uniform to be interpreted solely by particulars. This was a vote for Bush, for prosecuting the war on terror, for the tax cut. More important, it was a vote against the hollow negativism, cowardice and mediocrity of the current Democratic Party. They have nothing to say; and that matters. Their predicament is deeper than this result suggests. Since Bush passed his tax cut and since Sept. 11, the Democrats have been cornered. A purely defensive strategy -- taking both issues off the table -- led them to this result. An offensive strategy -- against war and for raising taxes -- would have delivered an even worse one. Or they could have come up with a tough but different anti-terror plan and a positive economic message. But they didn't. So they lost. One other factor is the blandness and decrepitude of their leaders. Daschle and Gephardt are pathetic. McAuliffe is a nightmare. When the Dems needed new blood, they found Mondale and Lautenberg. This is not a party with self-confidence or much of a short-term future. Bush, because of what he did and what the Democrats did not do, now has a remarkable mastery over the polity. He has enormous leverage against Iraq; and this vote will deeply strengthen his position abroad. I hope he uses that mandate wisely and bravely. I also believe that that is part of the reason the Republicans did so well. People know we're at war. They trust the president. They wanted to show him support. Many factors contributed to tonight's historically rare event. But the president's conduct of the war was surely the central one, as it will be for the foreseeable future.


On lesser issues, I have to say I found the way that Chambliss defeated Cleland and Baucus bested Taylor to be dispiriting events. On the bright side, Mitt Romney was clearly the better candidate in Massachusetts; and voters in that liberal state also voted to support English immersion and came extremely close to abolishing the state income tax. Very encouraging. Townsend and Forrester were both terrible candidates who deserved to lose. I'm pleased the oleaginous Hutchinson in Arkansas got done in as well.

Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University and author of "Media Unlimited"
What to conclude from a train wreck? Reasoning on the basis of slender evidence is always a difficult business, and is at the least premature, but a few conclusions are likely. The Republicans care about power more than the Democrats. They recruit more impressive candidates, fight harder, raise more money, act more ruthlessly. The Democrats weasel -- and it avails naught. They failed to nationalize their campaign to exploit corporate corruption and Bush's connivance in it. Supporting the Bush war resolution proved useless. The Republicans took over the agenda anyway. For Democrats, there's not going to be any automatic recovery. To win is going to take a long time, much energy and discipline -- not yet in evidence.

Salon Staff

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