It was a rainy night. When I got there, I thought this was the last place on earth I wanted to be. Within minutes of hearing exit polls predicting the eminent defeat of two-term Democratic incumbent Senator Mark Pryor, it was clear where one of the biggest stories of the night was unfolding, and it wasn't at Pryor's victory party. Avoiding the shell-shocked looks of Pryor supporters, we packed up and headed down the road. In politics, victory doesn't require apologies.
We had not been credentialed to attend Arkansas Republican U.S. Senatorial candidate Tom Cotton's election-night rally. Thankfully, it didn't take too much for us to talk our way into a spot inside the Cotton celebration. With Kid Rock's pseudo-country anthem "Born Free" blaring out of the speakers in the ballroom, even grinning Cotton supporters were expressing surprise at the speed of the results and the solid margin of victory their candidate had posted. The crowd was a mixture of older people, white middle-class, with a sprinkling of young and minority backers. All seemed genuinely behind their native son, a Harvard graduate, military veteran, and first-term Congressman, who'd been primarily funded by millions of dollars in out-of-state contributions from conservative super PACS. But, nobody in the room wanted to go into any discussions about that.
Finally, a beaming Cotton and his stunningly attractive wife joined his family on the podium to deliver what we were told would be no more than a 10-minute speech. I'd heard snippets of Cotton's less-than-electrifying oratory before, but this time I really wanted to listen. Besides, I had no place else to go.
First, Cotton is no Bill Clinton. There were no opening jokes; no sentimentally touching stories about people he'd met along the campaign trail; no swipe at his vanquished opponent, who he admitted was a good man. Cotton graciously thanked Pryor for his service to the state. However, without mentioning names, Cotton got in his digs against the Washington elite and their misguided dominance at the expense of the people. He somberly analyzed what his victory meant by declaring, "We have chosen a government that aids our fellow citizens who are struggling, without overwhelming them or taking away their freedom, or everyone else's freedom, in the process."
This outpouring of concern for "struggling" fellow citizens, coming from a Congressman who voted against a needed farm bill and a measure giving protection to women who are victims of domestic violence, rang hollow to me. But, if any in the audience thought the same, they wouldn't have been heard over the eruption of raucous cheers. This was a Red State, red-meat crowd.
In our own state, after the passage of Constitutional Amendment 1, Tennessee General Assembly super-majorities in the House and Senate stand ready to legislatively implement new, stricter abortion laws when the session convenes in January. Amendment 1's proponents asserted they were defending the rights of the unborn. Yet, this is the same governmental body that's time and again expressed its disdain for welfare, food stamps, and all other alternatives currently available to help those who in Cotton's words are "struggling." It's like saying, "You've got to have that baby, but don't expect us to do anything to help you try to raise it."
Cotton's victory also started me thinking about the ruination of the Democratic Party. Just four years ago in Arkansas, Pryor's former colleague, Senator Blanche Lincoln, tried to run away from votes she cast in favor of Barack Obama's policies and initiatives. It failed miserably, but Pryor tried to do the same thing. Instead of running on his own record, which was formidable, he back-peddled. And it looked weak when compared to Cotton's single-minded attack on the president's decisions — and tying Pryor to them.
The ability of Republican conservatives to get their message of minimal government across to voters is both impressive and demoralizing to Democrats. When one-note candidates such as Cotton can mold an entire campaign around simple buzz words like "elitism" and "freedom," without ever advancing alternative and meaningful proposals of his own, it should be frightening to those of us in the electorate who still believe in ideas instead of ideology. But, you can't blame Cotton and his backers for taking advantage of what's handed to them on a silver platter.
In victory there are no apologies.