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A red mirage 

On Nov. 8, voters delivered their verdict on the first two years of the Biden Administration. Conventional wisdom pundits had predicted a "red tsunami": The GOP only needed to flip a net of five seats to seize the majority in the House, and one seat in the Senate. Most observers had projected that they would take at least 30 House seats and easily capture the Senate. Some even suggested that Republicans would surpass their historic gain of 63 seats during the 2010 midterm of Barack Obama.

By now it's obvious that the "Red Wave" turned out to be a Red Mirage: Republicans have so far won a net of only seven House seats, barely a majority.

By far, most candidates endorsed by the SLO County Democratic Party won their races, including the 30th Assembly District where Dawn Addis of Morro Bay received more than 60 percent of the vote. It'll be the first time since 1968 that San Luis Obispo will be represented by a Democrat.

How is it, then, that Democrats pulled off this virtual draw with the GOP against the headwinds of high inflation and low approval ratings for President Biden? Biden cast this election not as a referendum on his presidency, but a choice between democracy and violent extremism. Democrats focused on the issues of abortion rights, economic fairness and poverty, climate change, and sustainable solutions to our crisis of housing affordability.

Even while they may not yet give Biden credit for his achievements, most appreciate his low-key style, his soft-spoken civility and devotion to rational discourse, and his strong faith and love for our country. Biden is plodding, but he is persistent: That's produced a series of legislative triumphs that already earn him a place among the most successful first-term records of any American president.

In contrast, the GOP suffers from a complete lack of policy ideas that could serve to attract moderate voters, especially those who are younger, female, or minorities. In fact, Republicans seem to be more interested in offending these constituencies: At every turn, they fight President Biden's modest proposal for debt relief for college students, thereby condemning millions of young households to decades of poverty. Their extremist Supreme Court majority has stripped women of reproductive rights guaranteed by a half-century of constitutional interpretation. This Republican Party has been wholly captured by the racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric of Donald Trump, who dines with anti-Semitic white supremacists like Nick Fuentes.

Democrats have an excellent chance at retaining the White House and winning back the House in 2024: They have positioned the nation's economy for continued steady growth with aggressive COVID-19 relief packages and the bipartisan infrastructure bill. This administration achieved a modest but significant breakthrough on reducing gun violence, closing the infamous "gun show loophole," and Biden is calling for an assault weapons ban in the wake of the tragic epidemic of mass shootings.

In foreign affairs, what a difference two years have made: Nobody seriously disputes our nation's leadership anymore. The U.S. and our allies are expanding NATO instead of threatening it; we're challenging Russia in Ukraine; and we are finally (though belatedly) tackling climate change in concert with developing nations.

It may be too soon to suggest that the 2024 elections represent a "return to sanity." There's still entirely too much toxicity in our national discourse. On the day after the election, Fox News pundit Jesse Watters snidely remarked, "There's just not the hatred for Joe Biden that there is for Barack Obama and for the Clintons. There's not a 'hate Biden' vote that's out there."

It's ironic that he should believe this even as "Let's Go Brandon" slogans decorate every GOP office in the land—the not-so-subtle euphemism for the "F**k Joe Biden" chant heard at NASCAR events. For Jesse Watters and his ilk, the problem is clearly that not enough voters are "feeling the hate," in spite of their incendiary efforts to stir up such hostility.

Let's all turn it down a notch. Let's recall those times when our nation was unified behind a common cause.

On Nov. 9, the night after the election, I stayed up past 1 a.m. so that I could witness the launch of the last Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg. It was magnificent, easily visible from my bedroom as it soared into a polar orbit in a clear sky. Its weather observation satellites are already monitoring our entire planet twice each day.

That project, like all of our nation's infrastructure, required the collaboration of teams of American scientists and engineering professionals, all of whom set aside their political differences to perform their assigned roles. There are both Republicans and Democrats on these teams. With the new Artemis program, we'll soon be sending women and minorities to revisit the moon.

Our space program has always manifested the nation's motto, "e pluribus unum" (out of many, one). Let's hope that the split-decision of the nation's voters in the midterm elections will mark a new era of collaboration, a new resolve that despite the bitter hostility of our troubled years in the Trump era, we're ready to choose hope over hate, vision over violence, and—finally—progress over polarization. Δ

John Ashbaugh has been engaged in local politics since arriving in SLO County in 1977. Write a response for publication by emailing [email protected].

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What's the best thing about the Central Coast during summer?

  • Being close to the ocean.
  • Tons of wineries to choose from for outdoor tastings.
  • Big annual events, like the Mid-State Fair and SB County Fair.
  • Looking forward to even hotter weather in October.

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