EDITORIAL: Hail victory, move forward

It was about Iraq, corruption, economic insecurity and the failure of government during Katrina.

And no matter what name was on the ballot, it was about George W. Bush and the disastrous policies of the Republican ultra-right.

Some 90 million Americans voted to change — not stay — the course: for a real timetable to withdraw from Iraq; for a higher minimum wage; for government accountability, checks and balances.

Like the little engine that could, voters from a wide political spectrum yet united in opposition to extreme right-wing rule made it over the mountain to change the balance of forces in Congress. The Democrats won a solid majority in the House of Representatives and — it appears — won the Senate as well.

In a historic development, Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California will become the first woman speaker of the House. “It sometimes takes a woman to clean house,” Pelosi likes to say with a twinkle in her eye. Exit polls showed women, African Americans and union families voting for change in record numbers.

In the end the Republicans’ nasty tone, dirty tricks and legendary voter turnout effort couldn’t counter the flood of corruption engulfing the GOP. Their base was disgusted. “I feel like the Republican Party is not my party anymore,” said retiree Joan Domek after voting in Parma Heights, near Cleveland.

The course set by the ultra-right and their corporate paymasters has been an unmitigated disaster for the country and for working families forced to bear the burden of war in Iraq and war on democracy and the working class at home.

The most reactionary GOP leaders fell hard. Pennsylvania voters kicked with both feet to boot out Rick Santorum — the third in the GOP’s Senate leadership line. Anti-immigrant hysteria-mongerer Arizona Rep. J.D. Hayworth went down to defeat. Some solid Republican seats were overturned — among them Tom DeLay’s in Texas, Bob Ney’s in Ohio, Mark Foley’s in Florida, Curt Weldon’s in Pennsylvania and Richard Pombo’s in California. Democrats won in supposedly solid “red” states like Indiana, Kentucky and Kansas.

Republican moderates couldn’t stem the tide. GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee, an opponent of the war, lost to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse because Rhode Island voters knew the election was more about what party is in power than about which individual.

While some conservative Democrats won, labor-backed antiwar progressives also won big — such as Ohio’s Senator-elect Sherrod Brown, and Minnesota’s Rep.-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress and the state’s first African American congressmember.

With the Democrats now controlling the House, strong pro-labor, pro-civil-rights representatives like John Conyers, Barney Frank, David Obey, Henry Waxman and Charles Rangel will chair important committees. This new Congress, and the movement that voted it in, has to hit the ground running and keep up the momentum for progressive action. Pelosi has already put forward a 10-point program including increasing the federal minimum wage and cutting prescription drug costs. Labor, women’s, civil rights, peace, environmental and other grassroots progressive groups have their action lists ready.

Voters want decisive change on Iraq. That means an exit strategy to bring the troops home, beginning promptly, with start and end dates. The resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before the ink was dry on election results shows that Nov. 7 marked a defeat for the neoconservative policy of unilateral, pre-emptive war and U.S. global military rule, of which Rumsfeld was a major architect.

For the first time in a dozen years, Democrats hold a majority of the nation’s statehouses, including in battleground states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Colorado. Massachusetts made history with the election of Deval Patrick, the state’s first African American governor and only the second African American governor in U.S. history.

Ballot measure results were more mixed. On the positive side, the South Dakota abortion ban was defeated, minimum wage raises were approved decisively, a same-sex marriage ban was defeated in Arizona and numerous local measures passed to bring the troops home immediately. But the passage of an anti-affirmative-action proposal in Michigan and an amendment making English Arizona’s official language, and same-sex marriage bans in many states, shows more effort is needed to build working-class unity and action against racism, discrimination and other divisions weakening the progressive movement.

Before many others, this newspaper said Congress was not only winnable for the anti-ultra- right coalition, but a necessary step for any democratic progress in this country. We hail this victory and will continue to fight this good fight.