Even before the polls close -- hell, even before they open-- the battle within both parties to control the '06 narrative, to define what the results of this election mean, has already begun.
Tuesday's key fight is the get-out-the-vote ground war, but behind-the-scenes the struggle is to spin the results -- whatever they may be.
Sensing victory in the House, and keeping their fingers crossed on the Senate, the Democratic Party's competing factions -- DLC centrists on one side, progressives on the other -- are eagerly trying to frame the hoped for good news as proof that their side is right.
Leading the charge for the centrists, as he has for the last 14 years, is Bill Clinton. At a private fundraiser last week, the DLC Dem's Big Dog framed the Democrats' '06 return from the dead as a victory for triangulation and the party's ability to make itself more appealing to conservative voters.
Speaking of the current GOP, Clinton said "The reason we are at this moment is that they do not represent faithfully the Republicans and the more conservative independents in this country... If you're a conservative on the budget, on law enforcement, on the rule of law, when it comes to the environment, on the conservation of our military resources, you have to be a Democrat."
In other words, Democrats are winning because they have run to the right and cloaked themselves in the mantle of conservatism.
It's the same mindset that has sunk the Democrats again and again. Shades of John Kerry in '04, putting on that just-off-the-rack hunting suit and saying of rural voters, "I actually represent the conservative values that they feel."
Yes, Democrats have to appeal to Red State voters -- not by aping conservatives but by standing up for progressive values. For instance, check out this Wall Street Journal article about how the fight against free trade agreements and the movement of American jobs offshore has been a beneficial position for a surprising number of Democratic candidates. In fact, according to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, trade/offshoring is being used as a key wedge issue in over 100 races nationwide.
Triangulating as the way to victory has the stink of self-loathing all over it. A loathing of what the Democratic Party can really be.
Indeed, on the central issue of this election -- Iraq -- it's not that, as a group, Democrats have shifted to offer real leadership; it's that events have shifted the mood of the electorate away from backing a failed foreign policy that was the foundation of GOP victories in 2002 and 2004.
Clinton and the DLC Dems are ready to claim a strategic victory whatever Tuesday's outcome. If Democrats prevail, we will be told it's because they returned to a third-way scheme. If Dems lose, it will be blamed on progressives pushing too hard on Iraq.
Progressives need to be ready to counter those specious arguments. As Bill Scher put it, "No matter what happens Tuesday, we all have work to do to better articulate what the Democratic Party stands for." His contention: "Without consistently articulating the core liberal principles that gird the Democratic Party, we will only be able to win the occasional fluke election, not a string of elections that come with real mandates."
Of course, Republicans are having their own internecine turf war, with those on the right pointing the finger for the party's troubles at the abandonment of conservative ideals -- and those in the party who've been challenging Bush on Iraq making the case against the party's foreign policy.
In a stinging rebuke entitled "GOP Must Go," the editors of The American Conservative wrote: "There may be little Americans can do to atone for this presidency, which will stain our country's reputation for a long time. But the process of recovering our good name must begin somewhere, and the logical place is in the voting booth this Nov. 7. If we are fortunate, we can produce a result that is seen -- in Washington, in Peoria, and in world capitals from Prague to Kuala Lumpur -- as a repudiation of George W. Bush and the war of aggression he launched against Iraq" -- a war the magazine describes as "a war we are now losing and cannot win, one that has done far more to strengthen Islamist terrorists than anything they could possibly have done for themselves."
When The American Conservative starts sounding like The Nation, you know that we have entered rarely charted political waters.
This is why the coming narrative battle promises to be as profound as it is passionate. And why 2006 could prove to be the most transformative election in a generation -- no matter the final outcome.