A national left turn?

Dems, GOP battle to a draw, but liberals romp

Politically, it was a status quo election.

Democrats held on to the White House and their majority in the U.S. Senate in Tuesday's voting. Republicans preserved their majority in the House and increased by one their hold on the majority of state governorships. Steady as she goes.

Philosophically, however, it was a change election. From coast to coast, on issue after issue, in race after race, liberals beat conservatives and signaled that, contrary to conventional wisdom, we're no longer a "center-right" nation. Leftward ho!

Consider:

Voters in four states considered ballot initiatives on gay marriage, an idea with a 0-32 record at the polls dating to the 1990s. In Minnesota, they rejected a proposal to amend the state's constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and woman. In Maine, Maryland and Washington state, they OK'd proposals to legalize same-sex marriage.

Wisconsin elected the first openly gay U.S. senator in history, Tammy Baldwin.

Iowa voters rejected an effort to oust Iowa State Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, targeted by social conservatives for his vote in 2007 to legalize gay marriage.

"Calls for a constitutional amendment against (gay marriage) are now quixotic," conceded the right-wing National Review in an editorial Wednesday. That essay began, "Conservatives suffered a terrible defeat last night, and there is no point pretending otherwise."

Voters in the states of Washington and Colorado OK'd recreational use of marijuana, a libertarian initiative fueled by support from liberals fed up with malignantly punitive drug laws. Massachusetts voted to become the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana.

Two red-state Republican U.S. Senate candidates whose blunt rhetoric on abortion as it relates to rape identified them as extremists on the issue — Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana — lost what were once considered easy races for them.

Elsewhere, voters gave the heave-ho to two high-profile tea party Republican congressmen — Allen West of Florida and Illinois' own Joe Walsh — and thwarted the congressional bid of rising tea party star Mia Love, the small-town African-American mayor from Utah who spoke in prime time at the Republican National Convention.

A "DREAM Act" proposal passed in Maryland, so now the state's undocumented high school students will be eligible for in-state tuition discounts at its public colleges and universities.

Florida voters rejected proposed amendments to their state constitution that would have banned the use of public funds for abortions and tried to hinder the implementation of Obamacare by prohibiting compulsory participation in health plans.

In California, voters approved a referendum measure to soften the state's harsh "three-strikes-you're-out" law that has seen repeat offenders given life sentences for such non-violent crimes as burglary and possession of illegal drugs.

Tuesday wasn't a clean sweep for progressive causes, to be sure. Californians rejected a proposal to abolish the death penalty, Oregonians said no to recreational marijuana, Arkansas residents voted down medical marijuana and Montana voters added new restrictions to the medical use of marijuana. Anti-Obamacare measures were approved in Alabama, Montana, Wyoming.

Too late for that, though.

President Barack Obama's re-election means Obamacare is here to stay. All its provisions and protections will be in place by the halfway mark of his second term, after which the program will be too entrenched and too popular to repeal.

No doubt conservatives will revise it when the pendulum swings back their way, as it inevitably will, but they're just going to have to get used to the bitter idea of near universal health care coverage.

The fight over abortion rights will continue without resolution, and it remains to be seen whether even liberals will abandon the experiment in legalizing pot. Conservative firebrands will rise again.

But marriage equality is here to stay. A few more ballot measures, a few more court rulings and a few more bills passed through Democratic legislatures — ahem! Illinois? — and we won't even be debating it seriously anymore.

A Republican will be elected president again sooner or later, to be sure. But he or she will take charge of a changed nation that isn't ever going all the way back.

Comment on this column at chicagotribune.com/zorn.

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