Time for a very short, very big picture look at the American political scene. There have been three major trends in American politics over the last year and a half:
1. A legislative session filled with historic progressive reforms.
2. An economic crisis that has overwhelmed the political willpower to fight it, and the rising risk (described in Paul Krugman's column today) of either very high lingering unemployment or a double-dip recession.
3. A Republican Party that has sharply accelerated its rightward swerve of the last three decades.
There's been a lot of attention between the interaction between 1 and 2 -- high unemployment has soured the public on Washington and the in-party Democrats. There's been little attention to the interaction between 2 and 3, but that may eventually turn out to be the most important result of this period.
If economic conditions remain terrible, it's likely that the Republican Party will regain power. 9% unemployment would give even a radioactive figure like Sarah Palin a decent chance to win the presidency, and a double-dip recession would give her a very strong chance of success. This means there's a significant chance that by 2013 the country will be governed by a Republican Party that makes the Bush-era version appear benign by comparison.