Democrats have to be drunk with power tonight. With a decisive victory to take back the House of Representatives for the first time in 12 years, and even a narrow victory in the Senate within their sights, the overwhelming emotion among Democrats tonight must be one of feeling invincible.
But, for the sake of the United States, I hope that drunkenness subsides soon, or else all they’ll be left with is a giant hangover.
All of the planets aligned for the Democrats right now. Increased frustration at Bush’s policies – namely, the war in Iraq – combined with ill-timed sex scandals and a lot of general weariness led to a sort of protest vote against Republicans as proxies for Bush. But Democrats would do well to note that there’s still two long years until 2008. That’s enough time to either put up or shut up, so to speak.
It’s easy to gain popularity by pointing fingers in opposition (well, for everyone but John Kerry, anyway). It’s a lot harder to make excuses once you’re in the hot seat. A lot of eyes will be on the Democrats now, looking to see what they do with these two years of limited power, in order to decide what to do about 2008. If tonight’s vote was against Bush, the next presidential election will be about some sort of vision for the country… and despite the Democrats’ victories tonight, they haven’t conclusively demonstrated that they have one.
The Democrats, therefore, have a choice to make. They can either spend the next two years dragging the country down into myriad scandal investigations, handing out subpoenas like tissues and clamouring for time on TV. That’s door number one, and it leads to a path of increased cynicism, frustration and disillusionment with politics in general.
Or, they can take the tougher road and start taking a stand on issues and trying to once again define a voice for the party. Door number two means taking whatever limited power you’ve been handed and trying to actually do something with it. Agree or disagree, voters will generally have a lot more respect for someone who leads than for someone who blames. This is what the Democrats didn’t figure out in 2004, and from many of the interviews I’m seeing tonight with key Democrats, I don’t think they’ve figured it out in 2006 either.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the Democrats weren’t the big winners tonight. Not because a serious backlash could still result in a resounding Republican victory when it counts, in 2008’s Presidential election – though it’s certainly possible. But because we haven’t seen anyone try to raise the standard of debate with this election. It’s the same old corruption scandals, negative campaigning, negative issues, finger-pointing about Iraq and threatening of congressional investigations that we’ve seen a million times before. And it’s coming from all sides.
In reality, there may be no true winners in tonight’s election, only losers: the American people.