What’s next for the Republican Party after last night’s many defeats?

Barack Obama reelected by an overwhelming electoral vote. Both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan lost their home states. All the rah-rah-rape U.S. Senate Republicans defeated. George Allen defeated by Tim Kaine. Scott Brown defeated by Elizabeth Warren. Tommy Thompson defeated by Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate. Gay marriage approved in two, maybe three states. Recreational marijuana approved in two states. All of this forecast precisely in polling, polling that Republicans overwhelmingly rejected the very science of, utterly convinced that, mystically, Romney would win. The nation took a big step to the left, and everybody but the Republican Party saw it coming months ago.

Where does the Republican Party go from here? If past is prologue, it goes farther still to the right, finding yet more sciences to reject, new bogeymen on whom to blame their woes, new RINOs to eject from the party in ritual purification.

But if the grown-ups can step in, perhaps the Republican Party has a different future. They’ve got to tamp down the strong anti-intellectual strain in the party that makes it the welcoming home of Donald Trump, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Sarah Palin. Drop the battle against science and facts. Drop the fight against the demographic tide and stop opposing gay marriage and Latinos. And drop the no-taxes-ever schtick—often the opposite of fiscal conservatism—in favor of the economic conservatism that the Republican Party espoused for a century.

Equally important, Republicans in Congress need to stop putting their ideological opposition to some of the president’s policies before the good of the nation. Taking the nation to the brink of bankruptcy to make a muddled point, Mitch McConnell’s famed “single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president” remark, opposing every little thing just for the sake of opposing it. This is why Congress has a 10% approval rating, which ranks below support for the U.S. becoming a communist nation. They’ve got to start leading instead of opposing.

The country has changed. So has the Republican Party. But the two are moving in opposite directions. This nation needs a second party to participate in the political process. We’re facing some big problems right now, and we need two parties working towards solving them, rather than one working towards solutions while the other works towards undermining those solutions. I hope last night’s defeat will help the Republican Party become that party.

On the proposed constitutional amendments.

A lot of people have been asking me what the deal is with the two proposed constitutional amendments that we Virginians will be presented with Tuesday. Here’s a brief explanation of each.

Amendment 1: Eminent Domain

Shall Section 11 of Article I (Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of Virginia be amended (i) to require that eminent domain only be exercised where the property taken or damaged is for public use and, except for utilities or the elimination of a public nuisance, not where the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development; (ii) to define what is included in just compensation for such taking or damaging of property; and (iii) to prohibit the taking or damaging of more private property than is necessary for the public use?

That’s the question that will actually appear on the ballot. Here’s the text that would be added to the constitution:

That the General Assembly shall pass no law whereby private property, the right to which is fundamental, shall be damaged or taken except for public use. No private property shall be damaged or taken for public use without just compensation to the owner thereof. No more private property may be taken than necessary to achieve the stated public use. Just compensation shall be no less than the value of the property taken, lost profits and lost access, and damages to the residue caused by the taking. The terms “lost profits” and “lost access” are to be defined by the General Assembly. A public service company, public service corporation, or railroad exercises the power of eminent domain for public use when such exercise is for the authorized provision of utility, common carrier, or railroad services. In all other cases, a taking or damaging of private property is not for public use if the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development, except for the elimination of a public nuisance existing on the property. The condemnor bears the burden of proving that the use is public, without a presumption that it is.

This is in response to the 2005 Kelo v. New London decision, in which the Connecticut city condemned private land to transfer it to another private owner for an ostensibly higher economic purpose. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of New London, and the decision was not entirely well received by the public. In the 2007 session of the Virginia General Assembly, they responded to this decision by passing SB1296, which created § 1-219.1—Limitations on eminent domain, providing a narrow interpretation of the definition of “public use” as used in the constitution, so as to prohibit a New London-style taking. That settled the matter. And yet this proposed constitutional amendment.

A lesser problem with this amendment is that it doesn’t fit in at all with the rest of the constitution. Constitutions are for broad, simple statements to be built upon in statutory and case law. This amendment is very, very wordy, and very specific. It’s 250% as long as the Article I, Section 12, which guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government. All too often, the legislature uses Virginia’s constitution as a dumping ground for reelection fodder, converting statutory laws into constitutional law to no apparent benefit (e.g., constitutional regulation of oyster beds—seriously).

This a poorly written, overly specific amendment that does nothing. It’s opposed by nearly every locality in Virginia. I intend to vote against it. It will almost certainly pass.

Amendment 2: Legislative Sessions

Shall Section 6 of Article IV (Legislature) of the Constitution of Virginia concerning legislative sessions be amended to allow the General Assembly to delay by no more than one week the fixed starting date for the reconvened or “veto” session when the General Assembly meets after a session to consider the bills returned to it by the Governor with vetoes or amendments?

The legislature meets in January and February, and then they go home for a while while the governor considers the bills that they passed. Then they get together again in early April, generally just for one day, to vote on whether they want to override any of the governor’s vetoes. They’re constitutionally required to meet on the sixth Wednesday after the session ends.

The problem here is that the veto session date often falls during Passover, the week-long Jewish high holiday. My guess is that there were zero Jews in the General Assembly when this bit of the constitution was written. That’s no longer the case. This amendment lets them pick a different day within a week of the constitutionally prescribed day. This amendment passed the House and Senate unanimously, and there is no organized public opposition to it (or disorganized opposition, that I know about). I can envision no harm in it, and I’m happy to support it.

The New York Times is looking at Virgil Goode.

The only press coverage that Goode is getting for his wacky fourth-party presidential bid is for the possibility that he may be a spoiler for Romney in Virginia. This is another story in that vein. If Romney does lose Virginia by Goode’s Tuesday tally, a lot of people will be upset, but I’m pretty confident that Goode will not be among them. This is his fourth political party in the past decade—if need be, he’ll just join a new one. 

A conservative Virginia activist has been sending anti-Obama SMSes.

Jason Flanary, failed 2011 candidate for the Virginia Senate, had Twitter all a-flutter over the past few days after sending bajillions of really nasty anti-Obama SMS messages to mobile phones in total violation of federal election law. “VP Biden mocks a fallen Navy Seal during memorial. Our military deserves better” and “Obama believes killing children is a right until the umbilical cord is cut” were two of the messages. Flanary, a Republican, is on the board of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, and ran against Dave Marsden for Senate, garnering 46% of the vote. The Romney campaign says that they didn’t know the first thing about what Flanary was up to. Apparently Flanary’s company, ccAdvertising, is in the habit of sending out millions of illegal SMSes in the days before elections, in an effort to influence election outcomes. I’m pretty sure this story will have an unhappy ending for Flanary. 

“Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America.”

In 2008, Focus on the Family wrote this letter from the future, warning their members about life in 2012 if Barack Obama were elected president. It’s hilarious. Comedy gold. Everybody’s gay, children watch porn, electricity is all but illegal, prayer isn’t allowed…it’s a hoot. If it wasn’t for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, I don’t think there’d be any media outlet that would later revisit and evaluate these sorts of claims. I wonder what Focus on the Family is claiming Obama will do with his next four years? And who would believe them? 

The politics of beer or the beer of politics.

National Media has provided a bubble chart of beers, graphed by partisanship and likelihood of turning out to vote. Republicans drink Coors Light, Miller Light, and Sam Adams. Democrats drink Heineken and Corona. People who show up to the polls drink Amstel Light, Sam Adams Light, and Molson. People who don’t bother to vote drink Budweiser Select, Natural Light, and Busch Light. Fosters, Miller High Life, Busch, and Bud Light are equally popular among Democrats and Republicans. 

Don’t average voters deserve a little representation?

Here’s the thing about Rep. Robert Hurt: he’s a perfectly average congressman.

It’s tough to campaign against average. There’s a reason why just a shade less than 100% of Congressmen seeking reelection are successful: they keep their mouths shut and try not to do anything, while their staff dutifully arranges tours of the Capitol, mails out American flags, and expedites agency responses to constituents’ requests.

Hurt is one of these congressman. In his first two years in office, he has passed no legislation, and introduced just four bills. He’s cast no brave votes. He’s taken no principled stands. He’s a standard nobody freshman, and as long as he remains in congress, he will continue to be a nobody in congress. He’s not a major figure in the district, certainly not nearly as visible as past congressmen. I’ll wager that there’s a solid majority of congress who could not pick him out of a two-man lineup.

(Keep in mind, being a nobody in congress still makes you a congressman. There are a few hundred nobodies in congress. It’s perfectly ordinary.)

The other day I got a slick, two-page mailer from Hurt—paid for by the Republican Party of Virginia—and nowhere on it does he mention that he’s a Republican. An informed voter would probably figure out that he’s a Republican, based on some of his positions, but a lot of people would have no idea. That’s the point.

Hurt stands in sharp contrast to our last two congressmen: Virgil H. Goode (D/I/R/C) and Tom Perriello (D). Like ‘em or not, nobody could doubt where these guys stood.

Goode was firmly against NAFTA, Muslims, the United Nations, and Mexican restaurants displaying the Mexican flag. He made national headlines on a few occasions, none for reasons that made the district look particularly good, but most of which I’ll wager he was proud of. Goode routinely took unpopular positions, and his legislative priorities were either bold or Quixotesque, depending on one’s perspective.

Perriello distinguished himself by being quantifiably the hardest-working member of Congress, holding more town hall meetings with constituents than any other member. He met with thousands of constituents to discuss healthcare reform, ultimately becoming a notably important vote in favor of the Obama administration’s overhaul. Perriello suspected that his vote would cost him his seat, and he was right—he was one of a handful of freshman Democrats across the U.S. who were unseated in 2010, losses that were attributed widely to backlash over healthcare reform. Casting that vote, knowing that it would cost him his seat, is the very definition of taking a principled stand, regardless of what one thinks of healthcare reform. Perriello introduced 23 bills in the same amount of time in which Hurt introduced four, with seven passing the House (three resolutions, four bills) and one (the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act) passing into law.

Hurt has distinguished himself among this trio by doing absolutely nothing to distinguish himself.

You’ve got to feel for…Douglass? Is that name of the Democratic nominee? I truly cannot remember the name of the nominee. (I looked it up—yup, it’s John Douglass.) He’s got no purchase on Hurt. Sure, he can run against Hurt as a generic Republican, and that’s what he appears to be doing. This is effective in a wave election, or a demographic-shifting redistricting. but there’s no sign of the former and the latter does not describe last year’s redistricting, which did turn the Fifth District into a sociogeographically bizarre district, but it became only more conservative. Hurt was nominated two years ago by virtue of being the sole non-Tea-Party-aligned candidate, so he can’t even be tied to that fringe group’s fading fortunes.

President Obama has been rising in the polls in Virginia and nationally, and it’s certainly not impossible that he’ll win by the same landslide electoral college margin that he won in 2008. If that’s the case, it’s likewise not impossible that he’d bring Douglass along with him, if only because independents turned off by Mitt Romney’s incompetent campaign decide to toss in for some other Democrats as long as they’re in the booth.

Short of such an event, it’s tough to see how Hurt loses his seat any time soon. He’s got a district that was tailored to him and he’s unlikely to ever do anything interesting. Inertia is a powerful thing.

“TV News Search & Borrow.”

The good folks at the Internet Archive have put together a brilliant, hugely valuable service—a searchable video archive of 350,000 news programs from the past three years from national broadcasts, using closed captioning transcripts as the search data. These sort of indices exist (it’s how The Daily Show does such great research), but access to them is via expensive commercial services. Making the same data available for free is going to let people do some really interesting work atop it. My cousin (well, ninth cousin twice removed…seriously) Tracy Jaquith did a lot of the work to make this happen, and I can see that it’s come a long way since I saw it under development almost a year ago.