The always insightful E.J. Dionne and Dan Balz offer a bit of contrarian wisdom in the local paper today. There are signs, they say, that Democrats are stirring. And not a moment too soon. Early voting is about to start. The election is upon us.
But though I won't be flabbergasted if the Democrats retain narrow control of both houses of Congress, I would caution my Democratic friends against any highs of joy, or despair. The Democrats won two big elections in 2006 and 2008, and preside over a ravaged economy. Politics runs in cycles. It's a midterm election. The opposition is going to pick up a lot of seats. Forget all the chatter about the Tea Party phenomenon. Nothing hurts a party in power like declining personal income.
And that is why I urge caution about reading too much into the November results. The American people did not, in 2006 and 2008, decide they were socialists, and then change their minds and become Tea Party Republicans in 2010. We are largely a pragmatic and independent-minded people, looking for leaders who will get results. If the economy begins to chug next year (and barring some seismic disaster like Katrina or 9/11), like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan before him Barack Obama will get his second term.
Historical precedents have their limits but I well remember 1982, the last time we voted in such a severe economic downturn. For all his political victories over Tip O'Neill in 1981, the only evidence of economic revival in that election season were a few signs of movement in the stock market, and Ronald Reagan lost his ideological majority in the House. Two years later, Reagan had cut his Social Security deal with O'Neill, the economy had bounced back, and the president cruised to his "Morning in America" landslide, over a Democratic nominee who had run left in the primaries to secure his base.
Much of what Obama has undertaken—Iraq, Afghanistan, healthcare and financial reform, the stimulus bills, saving the automobile industry--have been tough, necessary tasks. Obama had to address these issues, much like Reagan had to take his medicine, and watch as the Federal Reserve crushed inflation. In many cases, Obama has continued policies put in place by George W. Bush. And Sen. John McCain would have done much the same. [See where McCain gets his campaign money.]
The Tea Party may not participate, but there is still a fact-based America out there, comprised of scientists and businessmen and experts and skilled bureaucrats and educators and young innovators and entrepreneurs who are governed by evidence and reason and thought, and not impulse. The hard work of providing a comprehensive, affordable health and retirement system for American companies and workers (like those in place in the rest of the industrial world), of rescuing the American manufacturing sector and dealing with energy demands, and of raising some taxes and cutting some benefits to address the debt will all continue. The world won't wait for Christine O'Donnell, birther fantasies, or Glenn Beck conspiracies. Eventually, reality prevails.