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"This Week's Shellacking Was A Bit Lacking"
By Ed Driscoll · November 10, 2006 09:20 AM · Bobos In Paradise · Democracy In America

In USA Today, Jonah Goldberg places the midterms into perspective:

Now that the midterm elections are over, and the GOP has lost the House and possibly the Senate, the Republicans like the referendum spin after all. This was just a year to throw the bums out, they say, and a few scandal-plagued bad apples cost the barrel a whole bunch. Meanwhile, the Democrats insist that voters made a bold "choice for change," whereas before, change merely meant "not Bush."

Now change means whatever Pelosi, Reid, New York's Sen. Charles Schumer and Co. want. This is a major bait and switch. If I tell my waiter, "I don't want to eat this hamburger," I've made a choice for change. That doesn't mean I've automatically embraced whatever he brings me in its place. A moldering pottage of road-killed badger is no less change than a steak. But it's not necessarily what most diners have in mind.

Republicans will have a tougher time winning the spin war, not because they have the worse argument, but because they have a worse environment to make it in. America has been moving to the right since at least 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan. Since then, the GOP has seen its power and popularity grow as a result, albeit not in perfect tandem. Bill Clinton beat the first George Bush largely because he ran as a centrist Democrat. When he wavered in his centrism, the increasingly conservative electorate punished him with the 1994 Republican takeover of both the House and the Senate, which lasted until this week (not counting the 2002 switch in the Senate caused by the defection of Vermont's Sen. Jim Jeffords). And, of course, in 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush won back to back elections. In other words, the GOP was due for a shellacking, and any shellacking would seem like a sea change. But in a historical sense, this week's shellacking was a bit lacking.

Since the direct election of senators (i.e. the past nine relevant midterm elections), the average losses in a president's sixth year have been 34 House seats and seven Senate seats. By that standard, the Democrats came up just shy of average. Republican losses in the Senate in 1986 were worse, but few now remember those elections as a national repudiation of conservatism. Yet that's how we're supposed to interpret this week's news. That's hard to do if you look at the candidates who put the Democrats over the top.

Sen. Joe Lieberman's win in Connecticut was hardly a victory for the progressive base.

If Sen. George Allen of Virginia loses, it will be partly because he contracted a terrible case of Dukakisitis — a debilitating disease that causes the victim to run cartoonishly awful campaigns — and because Democrats threw in former Republican Jim Webb, a gun-toting, big-military, anti-affirmative action, right-leaning populist type who quit the Reagan administration as secretary of the Navy because it wasn't hawkish enough.

In Pennsylvania, Democrat Bob Casey unseated Sen. Rick Santorum because he's a nominally pro-life Democrat. Indeed, according to data collected by the leftwing Media Matters for America, 16% of the Democratic candidates in the most competitive races described themselves as "pro-life."

There are other telling indicators. A Fox News election day poll suggests that perhaps a third of supporters of the gay-marriage ban on Virginia's ballot voted for Webb, while similar bans passed in several other states as did a ban on racial preferences in Michigan. Shortly before the elections, one in five self-described independents were "very enthusiastically" voting Democratic.

'Fat and lazy'

These are hardly indications of a sudden lurch to the left in American politics. The GOP got thrown out of office because it got fat and lazy and because Democrats — with the help of a transmission-belt media — convinced a lot of voters that they could simply change the channel on the war by voting for "change."

The great irony is that the best thing in the world for the Republicans — though perhaps not the country — would be if the Democrats actually believed their spin and tried to act on a mandate that isn't there. Given the underlying historical trends in conservatism's favor, that would ensure another victory in 2008 for the GOP — as the party of change.

I'm not at all positive that this is merely a two-year timeout, particularly in the Senate, where, as I understand it, far more Republicans are up for re-election in 2008 than Democrats. But on the other hand, immediate post-election actions such as this and this make it sound like it's back to the radical chic 1970s for Democrats, and not towards the center, where the bulk of the electorate seem to be.

Update: More here:

Sen. Evan Bayh, a veteran Indiana Democrat, said Tuesday’s election was a vote against the status quo and not an affirmation of his party’s agenda.

In an interview Bayh, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, said most Americans don’t really know what Democrats stand for, Gannett News Service reported.

“And if we serve up a highly partisan, ideologically extreme, Democratic version of what they just voted against, we’re not going to do very well.”

Gee, you think?

Another Update: Charles Krauthammer adds, "This is not realignment":

As has been the case for decades, American politics continues to be fought between the 40-yard lines. The Europeans fight goal line to goal line, from socialist left to ultra-nationalist right. On the American political spectrum, these extremes are negligible. American elections are fought on much narrower ideological grounds. In this election the Democrats carried the ball from their own 45-yard line to the Republican 45-yard line.

The fact that the Democrats crossed midfield does not make this election a great anti-conservative swing. Republican losses included a massacre of moderate Republicans in the Northeast and Midwest. And Democratic gains included the addition of many conservative Democrats, brilliantly recruited by Rep. Rahm Emanuel with classic Clintonian triangulation. Hence Heath Shuler of North Carolina, antiabortion, pro-gun, anti-tax -- and now a Democratic House member.

The result is that both parties have moved to the right. The Republicans have shed the last vestiges of their centrist past, the Rockefeller Republicans. And the Democrats have widened their tent to bring in a new crop of blue-dog conservatives.

Not surprisingly, I agree with that last paragraph. But Betsy Newmark is quick to add that while that sounds good on paper, it's probably not going to work out anywhere near as smoothly in real life:
This may all be quite true. But that doesn't mean that the liberals who are in the leadership of the Democratic Party won't be in control and they certainly aren't going to suddenly become moderates just because the victory was narrow. Can you see John Conyers or Charlie Rangel holding back on all that they have wanted to do for the past 12 years just because of a narrow victory? That would be the biggest surprise of all from this election.
Nancy Pelosi has her work cut out for her, but unlike the last 12 years, as Speaker of the House, she'll be given lots and lots of room for error by the legacy media.

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