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Election Set to Reiterate the Almost Famous Message: 'I Know What's Going On'

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Most intelligent readers know that the New York Times' Matt Bai has made a career out of restating the blatantly, painfully, truly unspeakably obvious -- and his latest piece on the eve of the 2010 election is no exception. Newsflash: People on both the right and left are angry at both parties' establishments, and some of those people are using the Internet to channel that anger into electoral uprisings. What an amazing scoop! It's so amazing, in fact, that I think someone wrote a whole book about it... more than two years ago.

The reality of this time sequence, of course, embodies a more important point than one that merely ridicules a single New York Times reporter's laziness and tardiness. There's going to be a lot of media blowhards and professional political spokesholes on the teevee on election night insisting that any Republican gains are the product of a spontaneous electoral conflagration -- one that ignited only in the two years of the Obama administration. But nothing could be further from the truth.

As the Kansas City Star notes, the political tumult of the moment has been a long time in the coming -- longer than even the rise of Internet activism on both the right and left.

For decades, both parties have colluded to pass the deregulatory policies that financialized our economy; the trade policies that crushed workers' wages; and the war/defense spending policies that have blown a hole in our deficit and made us less safe. During the same time, both parties have colluded to block meaningful efforts to truly reform the health-care system, end our dependence on fossil fuel and make our tax system more fair. In response, voters have become more and more frustrated as they realize the reality of the situation.

Thus, in the last two elections -- two elections that have seen overwhelming votes for anything defined as "change" -- those voters have been saying to Washington, D.C., the same thing Elaine Miller told her young son as he traveled with Stillwater in the movie Almost Famous: "I know what's going on."

Now we're on the precipice of voters saying this for a third time.

Sure, I'm in no way happy that Republicans are poised to make gains off all this (I'm not happy because, despite the Democratic Party's collusion in the policies mentioned above, that party has far more members who have valiantly fought the good fight). But being unhappy doesn't mean I'm surprised at what's going on. I'm not surprised -- indeed, Democratic losses are quite predictable, considering what's been going on.

Many voters are demoralized not because Democrats' promise of change didn't happen -- but more fundamentally, because in many cases Democrats didn't even make an honest attempt at the change they promised (as just one example, consider the fact that the public option didn't even get a single vote in the Senate). That basic realization will likely depress Democratic turnout. Meanwhile, many independent voters, who voted for Obama's "change" brand in 2008, will probably once again vote for anything resembling change from the current status quo -- and that means voting against the Democrats and for anti-Obama Republicans.

Again, though, to put this in GOP-versus-Obama terms misses the larger story here. This election is one of many that is a long time in the coming -- and my guess is that this building tumult, which has been intensifying for decades, will only become more volatile in 2012. As I argued in my 2008 book, The Uprising, the mantle of genuine populism is still very much up for grabs -- and still will be after tomorrow.