Sunday, November 19, 2006


Two years ago, Republicans managed to spin a 51 percent victory over a weak opponent into something very big--not quite a landslide, but a mandate, a "rolling realignment," perhaps even (as Newsweek breathlessly speculated) "a political dominance that could last for decades."

By that standard, what would you call what the Democrats accomplished Tuesday? They won the aggregate House vote by a margin of some ten percentage points, nearly four times the margin Bush ran up against the hapless Kerry in 2004. Their gain of more than two dozen House seats may be modest by historical comparison, but that is only because demography and gerrymandering have compressed the field of contestable seats to a bare minimum.

The same holds true of the Senate. Yes, the Democrats will likely have just a bare two-seat majority. But this is only because the overrepresented low-population states tilt so heavily Republican. If you assume each senator represents half his state's population, the 51 senators caucusing with the Democrats will represent some 58 percent of the United States.

A lot of things have come crashing down with this election. One of them is the absurd cultural prestige enjoyed by President Bush and his supporters. Since 2000, they have continuously bludgeoned their critics with the notion that the only authentic Americans are those living in the red states. Democratic voters have been endlessly told that they are nothing more than a tiny, alien coastal remnant, and many of them started to believe it.

Well, it's hokum. Bush and his vision for the country have been before the voters four times now. Twice (in 2002 and 2004) a narrow majority of voters supported him; once (in 2000) a narrow majority rejected him; and now a substantial majority has rejected him. Bush is not the incarnation of the popular will, and his critics are not anti-American freaks.

Another casualty of the election, we hope, should be the pathological insularity of the administration's foreign policy-making. It has long been obvious to every sentient being, along with many members of the Bush inner circle, that Donald Rumsfeld was an epic disaster as defense secretary. That Bush could not take even the minimal step of acknowledging this glaringly obvious fact made it difficult to believe he could take the immensely more difficult step of coming to grips with Iraq. A global strategic disaster was not enough to shake Bush into action. It took a Republican political disaster as well.

Finally, and most proximately, the election should bury the peculiar form of one-party rule that has so corrupted American politics. Until the present administration, the modern American state had no true experience with one-party rule. Even during those times when Democrats controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, they were a fractious assortment of Northern progressives and Southern conservatives, more coalition than true party. President Clinton's toughest battles during his first two years came with the Democrats running Congress. When Bush won the presidency, there was at last a single party with total control of the levers of power and a relatively coherent vision of government's role. They kept inventing new ways to turn their power into a self-perpetuating machine. It was a frightening thing to behold.

From the moment they took control of Congress in 1994, Republicans handed over astonishing power to the business lobby to rewrite regulations and the tax code to its liking. Republicans held votes in the dead of night, let lobbyists author legislation, and elevated the pork barrel to the central operating principle of government. Their entire legislative program was a massive payoff.

The Republican-K Street nexus, along with the slanted districting of the House, made the ruling claque appear almost unbeatable. And, indeed, it took a staggering combination of factors--a failing war, stagnant wages, endless scandals, the near-loss of a major U.S. city--to finally pry the levers of power out of Republican fingers.

When they won Congress in 1994, Republicans hubristically called it a "revolution." November 7, 2006, was not a revolution, and nobody should expect unbroken sunny days to follow. But it did end a dismal period in American political life, and for that we can only rejoice

[Taken from here]

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