What It All Means

I’ve been traveling this morning and unable to comment on last night’s results until now. I noticed in an AP story this morning that in the post-war era, the average 6th-year loss by the party in power was 31 House seats and 6 Senate seats. In that sense, you could say that last night’s result was almost exactly average. That’s misleading, I think, because there are fewer districts in play today than in the earlier post-war era, mainly because of the Voting Rights Act.
So, while not a sweep equal to the Republicans’ 1994 victory, this was a big win for the Democrats.
There is another difference, though, between 1994 and 2006. In 1994, the Republicans ran on a platform, the Contract with America. Their victory therefore gave them a mandate, notwithstanding that many voters were vaguely aware (if at all) of the Contract. This year, the Democrats ran as non-Republicans. They made a deliberate decision not to take a posiion on the biggest issue of the day, the Iraq war, and they downplayed (at least in competitive races) their intention to raise taxes and take other unpopular measures.
This ties in with the most basic difference between 1994 and 2006. After the Democrats were swept from power (and through the intervening years), many Democratic activists have said that their party lost power because they weren’t liberal enough. The party drifted to the left, not because this theory was right, but because so many of the surviving Congressmen and Senators were from safe liberal jurisdictons. This year, on the other hand, it is actually true that the Republicans have lost power in large part–although, to be sure, not entirely–because they have been untrue to their conservative principles.
We can see this partly from the various ballot initiatives that won yesterday, but even more so from the fact that the Democrats still aren’t showing their liberal side to the voters. Unlike the Republicans in 1994, they didn’t run on a program of tax hikes, softness in national security, gay marriage, etc. The Democrats have become the stealth party of American politics.
All of which explains, I think, why conservatives are not as depressed this morning as one might have expected.

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