Congratulations, Democrats. Your 4-year negative, anti-Bush campaign finally was able to score some success and you now own the House (and maybe Senate, that is unknown at the time of this writing--though I personally think they'll ultimately win the Senate, too). After six long years, you have power.
Once the politically-induced "high" passes, however, Democrats are going to have to take a somber look at what they're actually going to do
with that power. The window of opportunity for negative campaigning has now passed: They can no longer just say "We're not Bush" and hope to score any points. They're going to have to produce meaningful results. What will they do? Who knows. There's precious little agreement on Democratic policy other than opposing Bush. That might have been enough to win this election, but it's not enough to govern. And it's not going to be enough to win the presidency in 2008 when Bush is not going to be a useful lightning rod (though there's no doubt that Democrats in 2008 will try to hold Bush against the Republican nominee, whoever that may be).
The fact is, the Democrats have won this election based on a negative campaign which isn't particularly a vote for
them, not even a vote against the Republican Congress (since 59% of voters approved of their
)... it was a vote against Bush. Historically, the president's party loses 29 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate in the sixth year of a two-term president
--and that seems to be almost exactly the numbers we saw Tuesday, making this election quite "average" from a historical perspective. It was far from a "wave" or an indication of a massive ideological shift in the electorate.
And while voters ostensibly prefer the Democrats this election on the issues, that's a very dubious claim since there was virtually no discussion of
the issues this election. What plans do the Democrats have for Iraq? Social Security? The budget? Gay marriage? Taxes? Who knows... because there was virtually no substantive talk on any of these issues. The press was more concerned about investigating an ex-Congressman (and anyone tangently related to him)
, watching Kerry implode with a bad joke
, salivating over the prospects of a Democratic House
, whether Rush Limbaugh or Michael J. Fox was right
, and reporting on an Evangelical leader having gay sex and drugs
. Virtually anything
to keep discussion away from the issues.
But now, for better or for worse, Democrats have control in Congress. The Democratic quote of "Don't underestimate our ability to blow it"
referred to the election, but I suspect it could apply equally well to their ability to effectively use the Congressional power they now have.
Here are some observations and thoughts.
- Investigations. Extremists in the Democratic party have been wanting in-depth investigations into Bush for years. With control of Congress, they can now do that. They could form investigation after investigation and issue subpoena after subpoena on everything that Bush has done over the years that they've been complaining about. WMD intelligence... the Foley scandal... warrant-less wiretaps... Re-open 9/11 investigations. Impeach Bush. Should this be done? Well, Pelosi herself has pledged that impeachment is "off the table" . Will she live up to that pledge? If her party gets blood-thirsty, don't count on it. In the two links just provided, she seems to intelligently state that the Democrats shouldn't focus on Bush if they win control of the House. But since that's just about the only agenda item they can agree on, don't be surprised if there is investigation after investigation, subpoena after subpoena, and allegation after allegation; and don't be surprised if Pelosi's no-impeachment pledge is brushed aside as the liberal troops get investigation-fever; or if Democratic unity starts to falter (and it almost surely will), don't be surprised if a full-fledged impeachment is used as a tool to try to unite the party on the one thing that binds them together. It will be nothing short of a miracle if the next two years are about anything other than more Bush-bashing by the Democrats.
- Iraq. The game is up. Along with Bush-bashing, the biggest issue that the Democrats capitalized on was Iraq--but they used Iraq without actually articulating a solution. They now have to come up with an approach that is not only viable, but that is substantively different than Bush's. If their approach isn't viable or isn't significantly different than Bush's, voters that voted for Democrats out of anger at Bush will be even more upset with Democrats that fooled them into thinking they had a solution. The Democratic approach of simply calling Iraq a failure is not going to be good enough to govern: In 2008, they're going to have to show voters that they offered a good alternative to Bush's Iraq policy. If they offer a good plan and Bush refuses to consider it, Democrats will be able to score some points in 2008. But if no coherent Democratic alternative is forthcoming, or if the Democratic alternative is presented and implemented but leads to an even worse situation in Iraq, voters may end up treating Democrats even worse in 2008 than they treated Republicans this year.
- Immigration. Both parties were all too happy to hold off on meaningful immigration reform until after the elections. Now, however, the Democrats cannot be passive objectors to the proposals of others: They're now going to have to come up with a useful immigration policy and make it law. That's going to be tough for them: If they're too liberal, they're going to alienate moderates and conservatives in 2008. If they're too conservative, they're going to alienate the Hispanic vote that they are so anxious to keep. If they're too moderate or do nothing, Republicans are going to be able to hit them over the head with the issue in 2008. Immigration is politically sensitive for both parties, but it seems nearly impossible for Democrats.
- Terrorism. As with the other issues, Democrats have simply been able to say that the Republican approach to dealing with terrorism was wrong. Now the Democrats have to come up with something better. And it better work. If the Democrats make any significant change to anti-terrorism policies and we get hit again, expect them to be swept out of office in 2008. And they must make some changes because, again, they've been campaigning on the basis that Bush's approach was wrong.
- Taxes. The Bush tax cuts will expire unless they are actively renewed by Congress. And make no mistake, these were tax cuts--and not just on the rich but on the lowest tax brackets as well. Failure to renew these cuts will be a tax hike and will be accurately portrayed as such by Republicans in 2008. But if the Democrats vote to renew the tax cuts, they're going to alienate the radical left that thinks the "rich" should be taxed into oblivion (even if that means raising taxes on the lowest tax brackets as well), and they're going to start looking awfully conservative.
- Democratic Blame Game Over. The luxury the Democrats had in not controlling the legislative or executive branches was that they could point fingers and blame everything on someone else. While they'll still be able to make some excuses since they don't have total control, that'll be a harder sell in 2008. They will now be perceived as being part of any problem that the electorate perceives. Simply pointing their fingers at someone else may very well be perceived as a failure to accept responsibility for their participation.
- Fraud Card Expired. Ever since 2000, some Democrats have been complaining that, in their estimation, the 2000 election was stolen. And the 2004 election. And had the GOP retained Congress in 2006, we can be nearly certain that the allegations would have only become louder. Now that Democrats have successfully taken Congress, the existing allegations of past massive election fraud look a lot more like the paranoid conspiracy theory they always were. And, worse yet for the Democrats, they aren't going to be able to play the "vote fraud" card nearly as well in 2008 since they've demonstrated that when people actually vote for Democrats, Democrats win. Imagine that. Contrary to Democratic assertions for the last six years, democracy in the U.S. is alive and well. Unless, of course, they want to complain about the results of this election--which I doubt.
- Questionable Friends. Over the next few days, watch the world news and see who uses the election in their propaganda and PR. Chavez, Castro, Palestinian terrorists, Al Qaeda, Iran... Don't be surprised if all of these people and organizations celebrate tonight's election results. And you really have to wonder what it means when the enemies of the United States are cheering your victory.
- Democrats Need a Platform. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the Democrats need a platform. They were able to win Congress without one, but they won't be able to govern without one. Given the lack of unity in the Democratic party and the fact that many of the newly elected Democrats are moderate or even conservative, they are going to have a very hard time coming up with a platform they can unite behind. It's entirely possible that, after Bush-bashing investigations, most of their time will be spent bickering amongst themselves. When Democrats take control in January, the next Congressional elections will only be 21 months away. They have very little time to come up with a coherent platform if they have any hope of establishing a record they can stand on by 2008. Not only may we see gridlock in Congress--we may see gridlock within the Democratic party.
Truth be told, I'm a bit concerned to have Democrats in control of Congress again. Especially given their pent-up hatred for Bush. It is doubtful the next two years will do anything other than make Bush a lame-duck, and we might even be treated to a finale of investigations and impeachment hearings. I suppose the Democrats are entitled to a little payback for the Clinton impeachment.
Still, how Democrats handle themselves will be very
interesting and may very well determine the winner of the 2008 presidential election and definitely determine whether or not Democrats can hang on to Congress in 2008. Despite the numbers that indicate a Democratic sweep, the moderate to conservative nature of many of these new "Democrats" makes it clear just how tenuous the Democrats' hold on Congress is. Without the anti-Bush fervor, many of those Democratic seats could have just as easily have been Republican. Control of Congress might have switched parties, but it's far less clear if it switched ideologies.
All things considered, I think it's better that the Democrats "peak" now in 2006 than in 2008. Had Democrats been defeated yet again, it's possible the anger and accusations would continue and mount towards 2008. Instead, the hate and anger were allowed to boil over in this election. Rather than the tea-kettle exploding in 2008 because they had had no outlet for eight years, the pressure has instead been allowed to escape gradually in a rather average sixth-year mid-term election. It's going to be a lot more difficult for Democrats to feed off the hate, anger, and negativity in 2008.
And that means, God forbid, that 2008 might actually be about the issues
. And when elections are about the issues, Democrats lose.