ElephantEarly yesterday evening, when the election returns were just starting to roll in, it looked to me like the results were hewing pretty closely to the pattern of the Presidential contest two years ago.  Well, I thought to myself (from my Democratic perspective), it’ll be a bad night, but not a really bad night.

Nuh-uh.  It was a really bad night.

In the all-important U.S. Senate races, Democrats appear to have won precisely one — uno — of the many competitive seats up for grabs (God bless you, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire), while losing big in several contests thought to be close, and suffering a near-death experience in a Virginia election that wasn’t on anyone’s radar at all.  The GOP won’t just run the Senate for the next two years, they will run it with room to spare, raising questions about Democratic expectations for a counter-flip in 2016 and complicating President Clinton’s ability to govern when her term begins in 2017.

Lots of folks thought that the various races for Governor would offer a kind of alternative storyline of Democratic success, or at least parity.  Not so much.  Yes, embattled Democratic incumbents seem to have held on in Connecticut and Colorado, but when Republicans are winning the statehouses in places like Massachusetts and Maryland, progressives can’t pop any champagne corks.

Democratic losses in the House don’t look all that bad compared to other elections in the sixth year of a President’s term – until you consider that Republicans began the night already holding a sizable House majority and could end up, when all the votes are counted, with their biggest Congressional caucus since Herbert Hoover was in the White House.

In New York State, the results were more mixed.  Governor Cuomo, as expected, won a comfortable victory, although not the coronation that seemed likely at the outset of the campaign. (After watching Rob Astorino’s concession last night, I turned to a couple of friends and said “that would have been a great speech a year ago.”  It’s easier to laugh than to cry.)  At the same time, Republicans picked up several seats in the New York State Senate and will hold the majority there, even if the Democratic caucus is fully united.

The results were similarly mixed in the most important regional contests.  Nita Lowey won solidly, but with her smallest margin in twenty years.  Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney looked shaky in the early returns, but is holding a small lead as of this morning.  And George Latimer, who deserved to win in a landslide, won instead in a squeaker.  On a strictly personal basis, the most disappointing outcome for me was Justin Wagner’s defeat in northern Westchester and Putnam.  Justin is a good friend, who ran a great campaign.  His loss is New York’s loss.

By the way, it seems likely that our great state will have eight — count them, eight — official political parties (these are parties that receive at least 50,000 votes in the race for Governor and are, therefore, entitled to an automatic ballot line until the next race for Governor.)  This proliferation of choices sounds like evidence of a flourishing democracy, but, in reality, is likely only to lead to confusion and mischief in elections up and down the ballot for the next four years.

So what the heck happened?  I can’t add much to the conventional wisdom, which features some combination of the following:

•  when voters are pessimistic, they focus their discontents on the party in the White House;

•  after six years, many people are tired of and/or frustrated by President Obama;

•  national and world events, from the advance of ISIS to the outbreak of Ebola, have raised questions about governmental competence, while also stoking a climate of fear – both helpful to Republicans;

•  an unprecedented amount of “dark money” from undisclosed sources helped bolster GOP candidates in many key races.

It’s just hard for me, from my admittedly biased viewpoint, to square this analysis with the objective record of the last six years.  The President probably saved the country from a second Great Depression and restored us to a path of steady, if unexceptional, growth.  The President extended the security of health insurance to tens of millions of Americans, without any of the devastating consequences predicted by critics.  The President adopted the first serious measures to control greenhouse gas emissions in our nation’s history.  The President has stood consistently for a mature and responsible style of leadership, without the theatrics of government shutdowns or manufactured debt limit crises.

He has done these things over nearly uniform and sometimes hysterical Republican opposition.  And he would have done much more, if he’d had congressional partners who were less dogmatic.

The government in Washington is dysfunctional.  Voters are correct to be angry about it.  But from my perspective, it is the politicians on the right-side of the spectrum who are most to blame for this sorry state of affairs, and handing a victory to these same politicians is like putting an arsonist in charge of the fire department.

But that’s just my two cents.  And, in truth, nothing good comes from complaining about or blaming others for elections that don’t go your way.  To believe in democracy is to accept the verdict of a free and fair vote, and to do it without recrimination.  I comfort myself with a great piece of wisdom from former Republican National Committee Chair Haley Barbour, who said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “in politics, things are never as good or as bad as you think.”  This too shall pass.

There’s a tendency to see all this as some sort of a game.  Certainly, the coverage of campaigns, especially on election night, has the feel of a sporting event, with all the fancy graphics and horse-race commentary.  I’m not pointing fingers here; that would be hypocritical, because I was on TV last night gabbing along with the rest of the talking heads, and, indeed, this post you are reading now is more about political score-keeping than substantive action.

But it’s not a game.  Hundreds of millions of lives in this country, and literally billions more around the world, are impacted by the actions of the American government and, therefore, by the individual choices of every voter.  For all the nonsense that surrounds our political process, all the reasons to throw up our hands in disgust, it is the most serious business there is.  And it still deserves our faith.