`We now clearly are not the country that was 49-49. We're now at 51-48 and may be trending to 51-47. It is incremental but small, persistent change. We saw it in 2002, and we saw it again this year. ... It tells me we may be seeing part of a rolling realignment."
—Karl Rove, November 7, 2004
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 fordecades."
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 over represented 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 beenbefore the voters four times now. Twice (in 2002 and 2004) a narrow majority of voters supported him; once (in 2000) a narrow majorityrejected 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 thepathological insularity of the administration's foreignpolicy-making. It has long been obvious to every sentient being,along with many members of the Bush inner circle, that DonaldRumsfeld was an epic disaster as defense secretary. That Bush couldnot take even the minimal step of acknowledging this glaringlyobvious fact made it difficult to believe he could take theimmensely more difficult step of coming to grips with Iraq. Aglobal 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 peculiarform of one-party rule that has so corrupted American politics.Until the present administration, the modern American state had notrue experience with one-party rule. Even during those times whenDemocrats controlled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, they were afractious assortment of Northern progressives and Southernconservatives, more coalition than true party. President Clinton'stoughest battles during his first two years came with the Democratsrunning Congress. When Bush won the presidency, there was at last asingle party with total control of the levers of power and arelatively coherent vision of government's role. They keptinventing new ways to turn their power into a self- perpetuatingmachine. It was a frightening thing to behold.
From the moment they took control of Congress in 1994, Republicanshanded over astonishing power to the business lobby to rewriteregulations and the tax code to its liking. Republicans held votesin the dead of night, let lobbyists author legislation, andelevated the pork barrel to the central operating principle ofgovernment. Their entire legislative program was a massive payoff.
The Republican- K Street nexus, along with the slanted districtingof 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 Republicanfingers.
When they won Congress in 1994, Republicans hubristically called ita "revolution." November 7, 2006, was not a revolution, and nobodyshould expect unbroken sunny days to follow. But it did end adismal period in American political life, and for that we can onlyrejoice.