On a panel that the moderator joked was "fair and balanced in the way that Fox News is," liberal netroots leaders and scholars gathered Thursday night in Berkeley, and made predictions about the November election.
"I've never been right," said Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of Daily Kos, inspiring laughs from the rapt crowd of hundreds of students and political activists at U.C. Berkeley's Wheeler Auditorium. But Moulitsas said that should mean good news for the Democrats on Nov. 7th, because "I'm pessimistic this year." That said, his predictions cut a wide swath; he suggested that, on the low side, Democrats will take seven to 17 seats in the House, but the party could take as many as 30 to 45 seats -- and he expects a 50/50 split in the Senate.
Paul Pierson, professor of political science at U.C. Berkeley, forecast that the Democrats will take 22 to 25 seats in the House, and also sees the Senate split 50/50. But Pierson asked the audience to consider: "Where would we be without Iraq?" He suggested that if the election goes well for the Democrats this November it will be a response to the Bush administration's failures in the war, not a ringing endorsement of any alternative the Democrats are offering.
Joan Blades, co-founder of MoveOn.org and Momsrising.org, called herself "unreasonably hopeful," because of the two million phone calls that MoveOn's three million members have already made this election season to get out the vote. She predicted that Democratic voters will turn out while dispirited Republican voters will stay home.
George Lakoff, a U.C. Berkeley linguist best known for his work on framing, was not so optimistic that grassroots, liberal get-out-the-vote efforts will outdo the Republicans'. He cited an email he'd received noting that in California, 60,000 Republicans have already been enlisted to make phone calls in the 72 hours before the election to increase turnout. He implored the crowd to do the same for their candidates: "We need you out there making those phone calls."
Yet, if the Democrats do succeed in taking back the House, netroots leaders were realistic about what that will mean. In a word, "gridlock," said Blades. But she noted that it would at least bring "real accountability," allowing for investigation of the many scandals surrounding the Bush administration, a responsibility which she says the Republican House and Senate have abdicated. She's also hopeful that even with gridlock, legislation raising the minimum wage and establishing a good energy policy could pass.
Lakoff expressed skepticism about what the centrist Democratic leadership could achieve, even with control of the House, which he hopes they win. After professing his love and respect for Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the likely House Speaker, Lakoff said he doubts that the Dems will do anything really innovative if they do take power there: "They're going to keep doing all the lame things that they've been doing to stay in position."