Still crazy after all these years.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Nov. 10 2006 12:52 PM

Still Crazy After All These Years

The nuttiest congressional district in America keeps its reputation intact.

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Democratic leaders in Congress got off to a good start Tuesday night and Wednesday morning in doing what an overreaching White House keeps failing to do: defining their mission and giving clear benchmarks for success. Michael Kinsley may find Democrats' campaign agenda wanting—he should read the book instead!—and Jacob Weisberg is right that too many Democrats have forgotten that the United States can't create jobs without trade. But the Democrats' 2006 agenda has one great virtue: It tries to promise a handful of sensible steps (ethics reforms, a minimum wage increase, pay-as-you-go rules, the 9/11 Commission recommendations) that a new majority can actually deliver. Each of those promises is an opportunity to make a modest repayment on the trust that has just been given them.

For Republicans, 2006 can be a crushing blow—or, under the circumstances, the best thing that could have happened to them. As a governing philosophy, Bushism has been doomed to failure from the outset. The math never worked, because you can't keep spending the same money you're giving away, especially when you never had it in the first place. The theory never worked, either. Bush promised to be a reformer with results, but you'll never be serious about reform or results if you're not serious about government in the first place.

All that kept Bushism alive was the illusion of political expediency—and Democrats' willingness to walk into the traps Karl Rove was setting. In the long run, Republicans are better off finding out that their failed governing theory is a political flop, too. This election will force them to go back to the drawing board and try to come up with a plan that is good for the country, not just a couple elections.

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In contrast to Democratic leaders, who succeeded in striking measured tones at their post-election press appearances, President Bush's news conference didn't do much to contain yesterday's damage. To escape being pinned, he probably needs to follow Schwarzenegger's lead and pursue bipartisanship with gusto. Today wasn't even a half-Arnold.

The president even stumbled when he tried to tell John Dickerson's joke about Democrats and their drapes, blowing his chance at self-deprecation by rushing the punch line. Last week, John Kerry said botching a war is worse than botching a joke. Now Bush has really hit bottom: He has done both. ... 5:20 P.M. (link)

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Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2006

Painkiller: Going into tonight, Democrats had celebrated a grand total of three truly happy Election Nights—1986, 1992, 1996—in the past three decades and three truly miserable ones in this decade alone. So, for Democrats, an election in which we were destined to win back the House and a majority of governorships for the first time in 12 years is more than a good night. It's a new lease on life.

On Election Night six years ago, my long-suffering wife and I stood in the rain in Nashville. I had just broken my shoulder playing touch football, but that was what hurt the least. Two years ago, we stood in the freezing cold in Boston. I'd just lacerated my wrist but had to share all my painkillers with the Kerry-Edwards staff. This year, we skipped the emergency room and spent the evening at the happiest place in town—the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's victory party on Capitol Hill. No painkillers necessary: Democrats were partying like it was 1992.

After six years during which the Democratic Party lost two straight presidential elections it should have won, lost the Senate, and lost ground in the House, tonight's triumph felt like the weight of a giant Rovian albatross finally being lifted off our necks. Democrats are so accustomed to having the football snatched away at the last minute, this year we actually ran a congressional candidate named Charlie Brown—and we still can't believe we finally get to watch the other side kick the dust and mutter, "Good grief."

For a party that had been on such a cold streak, tonight's victory provided clues to two of political life's eternal questions: How come we won this time? And what can we do to make sure it happens again?

In one sense, the answer to the first question is easy: Democrats never had a chance to blow this election because Republicans blew it first. Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel won't thank Bush by name, but they could. The president and his party have dedicated his entire second term to electing a Democratic Congress, from Iraq to Katrina, Schiavo to Miers, Ney to DeLay. It now looks like Bush, not Iraq, is the one who's just a comma—a presidency that was on the brink of failure before 9/11 and in the voters' eyes has now officially found its way back there.

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