Opinion: Election Day was a welcome rebuke to the extremists of both parties

Photo/Matt Rourke/The Associated Press / Democratic mayoral candidate Cherelle Parker, center, speaks during an election night party in Philadelphia on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023. Parker has been elected as Philadelphia's 100th mayor, becoming the first woman to hold the office.

Tuesday was a very good day if you support common sense in American politics.

On both the right and the left, voters and politicians embraced candidates and positions that represent the centrist tendencies that for much of this republic's history have defined its politics.

Most notably, Republicans continued to get waxed at the polls on the issue of eliminating or sharply restricting abortion rights. Ohio voters easily passed a referendum enshrining a woman's right to choose in that red state's constitution.

Kentucky Democrat Andy Beshear cruised to re-election as governor in a state Donald Trump won with 62% of the vote in 2020. Abortion access was a key reason for his victory.

In Virginia, what had been perceived as an opportunity for Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin to propel his party to control the state legislature foundered in part on his proposal to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

For the Republican Party, which already was on notice that Americans overwhelmingly favor abortion access, the results sent a firm message. The hard-right, evangelical push to outlaw abortion, or even restrict it significantly, is a nonstarter, even in Kentucky. With the general election a year away, the GOP, on pain of its own future, must determine a position on the issue that reflects its traditional belief in personal liberty and that the sensible center in this country can accept.

The comeuppance for partisans on the extremes of the political spectrum wasn't confined to the right, though. Self-described progressives took it on the chin Tuesday as well.

Exhibit A was in Philadelphia, where Cherelle Parker was elected mayor on a stark anti-crime platform featuring the hiring of hundreds more police officers and what she described as "constitutional" stop-and-frisk policies — a term that fell into disrepute with Democrats following the aggressive crime crackdowns of the 1990s. Parker joins a growing number of Black, big-city mayors like New York's Eric Adams, Washington, D.C.'s Muriel Bowser and Dallas' Eric Johnson espousing and proposing tougher law enforcement in response to residents' public-safety worries.

It wasn't just voters sending messages.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, while votes were being tallied in the evening, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib was formally censured by her colleagues, including 22 of her fellow Democrats, for her hateful rhetoric. The vote was a reaction to Tlaib's use of the controversial "from the river to the sea" phrase used by Hamas and its sympathizers to describe their goal of wiping Israel off the map.

Politicians don't get to ascribe their own meanings to phrases that terrorists use as rallying cries. Again, common sense prevailed led on the Democratic side by Illinois Rep. Brad Schneider.

The message to Tlaib and other public officials should be clear: Palestinian supporters and critics of Israel can find a way to express their views without using such incendiary words. Moderate yourselves.

All these examples had both Republican and Democratic support.

Ohio's referendum couldn't have succeeded without GOP voters' backing it. Likewise, Beshear earned the votes of many Republicans. Other GOP candidates running statewide in Kentucky easily won, as one would expect. Tlaib wouldn't have been rebuked if she'd had unanimous Democratic protection.

In a political era characterized by division and partisanship, these results offer hope. We don't mean to suggest that the unfortunate devolution of American politics into frequent demonizing of the opposition is over. Far from it.

But we have to begin somewhere in restoring functionality to this democracy. Tuesday was a good start.