The Democrats won the election. They have a close, but still sizable majority in the House. They have a bare majority in the Senate that will permit them to organize, but that will not permit them to pass any but the most moderate of legislation. Expect much sound and fury from the House, but little of that will make it to the President’s desk.
However, the Democrats should realize, and many in the leadership have, that they did not really win. The Republicans lost. The people did not become card-carrying leftists. This election was no mandate for the true blue liberals to run amok. The election represented backlash against the war and the status quo in Congress. Smart Democrats know that if they are to hold onto this majority, they must hew very carefully to a centrist platform.
They were criticized for having no overall grand platform during the election cycle. Whether that was deliberate or not, I do not know. However, I believe that it was a great strength. Democrats let their base get all riled up, with visions of another New Deal, impeachment, troops streaming out of Iraq in January, and so forth. On the ground, however, the campaigns ran against Bush and the Republicans, and for some vague platitudes. If the Democrats ran with an official platform that appealed to the leftist base, they surely would have lost many of the moderate votes they achieved. If they ran with a moderate platform and disavowed leftist pipe dreams, they would have sparked interneccine war.
Now, however, they must govern. They must bring legislation to the floor, hold hearings, and leave two years of a record before the next election. Their actions must not turn away their newfound, if temporary, allies in the ranks of the independent, moderate American electorate. But will their actions appease the leftist base? Or will there be war inside that party?
The Republicans held onto their majority for years by having a big tent. As Reagan said, “A person that votes with me 80% of the time is a trusted friend and ally, not a 20% traitor.” The Republicans lived by that motto, until they thought they were secure and the play-to-the-base strategy took over, trying to pay some dividends to the loyal base that had patiently waited. And they lost. If the Democrats live by the wisdom of Reagan (what a horrid thought to many of them!), they too can maintain a majority. But I don’t see the netroots going along with that.