Two-Party Animal

Why the Democrats’ resurgence is good for everyone—even the GOP.

In the closing days of the presidential campaign, I heard John McCain make an argument for his candidacy that I found appealing. Democrats were in control of the U.S. House of Representatives, he warned, and were within reach of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. If Barack Obama won the White House as well, Republicans would have no way of applying the brakes to Democratic excesses. The system of checks and balances would be upended. That this argument ultimately proved futile in stopping the Obama juggernaut does not detract from its soundness. I know, because I live in Texas, where Senator McCain’s admonition is just as true. Simply scratch out “Democrat” and insert “Republican,” and you have described our world exactly.

Or at least you would have on November 3. The world now looks a bit different. Karl Rove famously entered the Bush White House with a vision of a permanent Republican majority, but following an Obama landslide, major pickups for Democrats in Congress, and a handful of key Democratic victories in Texas, the political edifice he sought to build now lies in ruins. We should all celebrate its collapse, regardless of which party we may vote for. Political parties that have no effective opposition inevitably begin to overreach. American democracy works best when both parties are strong and capable of holding each other accountable.

That has not been the case in Texas for a long time. We have 27 elected statewide officials: the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, land commissioner, agriculture commissioner, three railroad commissioners, nine members of the Supreme Court, and nine members of the Court of Criminal Appeals. All 27 belong to the Republican party, which has dominated state government since 1998.

The Democrats had their time. For a hundred years after the end of the Civil War, Texas was a one-party Democratic state. Industrialization in the forties brought modern economic issues such as worker safety and the role of unions


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