Election-night graphics had barely faded from TV screens before the media rushed in to explain what the vote meant. One narrative was that the Republican base turned against its party because it felt betrayed. Another was that the electorate was registering its disgust with the war. But Time.com Washington editor Ana Marie Cox tells Bob that many of those explanations are, in fact, myths.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone. BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. The election night graphics had barely faded from our TV screens before the media rushed to explain what the midterm vote meant -- that say, the Republican base voted against their party because it felt betrayed, or that a majority of voters had simply registered their disgust with the war.
Other explanations played on the failure of earlier predictions. For instance, the Net Roots, the online community of liberal activists, was supposed to carry Connecticut Democrat Ned Lamont to victory over Joe Lieberman. So when Lamont lost, the pundits said that the Net Roots wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
But Ana Marie Cox, the Washington editor of Time.com, observed recently that many of those explanations are, in fact, myths. She says that to piece together the real picture consider, for example, how the Net Roots candidates actually fared overall. ANA MARIE COX: While it's true that the Net Roots became very closely identified with Lamont, they really were more helpful and actually raised more money for other candidates, including Tester in Montana and Jim Webb in Virginia. These are both candidates, by the way, that probably wouldn't have even gotten on the national radar if it weren't for liberal bloggers who really fell in love with them early on.
And I think if you look at the results of the races that the Net Roots choose to identify themselves with, you'll see that either they're doing a better job of picking winners or they have more influence. Either way, that's a significant step forward for them. BOB GARFIELD: Another myth that you observed, as proliferated on C SPAN and MSNBC, is the idea that conservative Democrats were elected. You say, not so fast. ANA MARIE COX: Well, there were definitely some conservative Democrats elected. Heath Shuler and also, to some extent, Jim Webb, who actually has a conservative line on immigration, of all things. And there were other people, that there were some pro life Democrats -- Bob Casey in Pennsylvania.
But, on the other hand, there was a bunch of Democrats that got elected that are way to the left or, at least, they're part of the sort of old, traditional Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, as Howard Dean might say.
There's a liberal alternative newspaper editor that got elected. There's a woman who was elected, I believe, in New Hampshire who was actually once thrown out of a Bush rally for wearing an anti Bush tee shirt. So these are people you can't actually point to as being very moderate. BOB GARFIELD: There's another idea floating out there, mainly because Karl Rove and the GOP have been floating it, and that is the inevitability of the results, because in any president's sixth year in office, the House of Representatives tends to revert to the party not in power, enabling us all to shrug at these results. ANA MARIE COX: I think that actually this is still a pretty stunning upset for the Republicans, even taking into account the traditional swing back to the minority party in a mid-term. And the Republican Party worked very hard for the past two years, even four years, to gerrymander themselves into a position of permanent power.
I don't know if anyone recalls all the reasons why Tom DeLay was disgraced, [LAUGHS] but one of them had to do with gerrymandering Texas. This was done all over the country. And the fact that Democrats got this majority despite having literally, you know, the lines against them -- I mean, it's actually really, really significant. BOB GARFIELD: Your number four could be number one on a lot of lists, and that is the 2006 mid-term election being a referendum on Iraq. ANA MARIE COX: Well, exit polling showed that the clear winner, when they went into the booth, was corruption. And the fact that the war isn't going well, I think, is something that a lot of people definitely feel and feel deeply, and definitely something that a lot of candidates talked passionately about.
But I think in the end, those swing voters weren't thinking so much about the Iraq war; they were thinking about wanting a change for a lot of different reasons. BOB GARFIELD: Now, your fifth myth is the one that, to me, is the most provocative, the idea that Republicans lost their base by straying from conservative values. I think it's provocative because I pretty much totally bought into it. ANA MARIE COX: Well, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity both, the day after the elections -- this was part of their post midterm monologue -- when they said, the Americans didn't abandon the Republican Party, the Republicans abandoned the Republican Party -- you know, they abandoned their principles.
Mike Pence, who's a very conservative congressman from Indiana, ran for minority leader under the idea that this was what was going on.
I think that, as with many myths, there's a grain of truth to this. There are probably conservatives who look at what happened in Congress in the past six years and feel like their leaders did stray. They overspent and they became part of the "culture of Washington" is the catchphrase that a lot of people like to use.
However, that explains perhaps why certain base Republicans didn't vote Republican. That doesn't explain why the large majority of Independents broke for the Democrats. The Republicans actually turned out. There was a fear that they wouldn't, and they did.
What happened was that Independents just acted and thought like Democrats. BOB GARFIELD: Now, among the news organizations that got suckered into the conventional wisdom, was --what do you call it, Time Magazine? ANA MARIE COX: [LAUGHS] BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Now, you're a Time.com contributor. Time Magazine -- one of its star political writers, Joe Klein, wrote an analysis piece that you say is -- really not right. ANA MARIE COX: Well, I think that Joe is a provocative thinker and a great reporter. He was really early out of the gate trying to put a narrative around this election. There was a very unusual mid-term. There were races that came out of no one's playbook. I think people are still kind of struggling with how to make it all make sense. And the best that we can do here at Time Magazine or Time.com is tell you what doesn't make sense. BOB GARFIELD: Ana Marie, thanks very much. ANA MARIE COX: All right, thank you. BOB GARFIELD: Ana Marie Cox, the pundit formally known as "Wonkette," is the Washington editor of Time.com.