There's a wonderful song in the most "renowned unknown" musical in history, "Fiorello!." Little known, because - okay, how many of you have heard of it? Renowned because it won the Pulitzer Prize and tied "The Sound of Music" for the Tony Award as Best Musical, beating out "West Side Story."
Don't worry, this is about politics.
The Harnick and Bock show tells the story of Fiorello LaGuardia, who defeated the undefeatable and corrupt Tammany Hall organization and eventually became mayor of New York. In the musical, the morning after a young, unknown LaGuardia stuns even his supporters by beating the Tammany candidate for Congress, his political organization - who had run him as a sacrificial lamb - stumble around their office, and in a total daze sing, "The Bum Won."
Some of it goes -
Someone pinch me
Maybe this is just a beautiful dream
I'm in a bad state of shock.
I'd like to know just how the hell it happened
What we did right
Fellas the whole thing is cockeyed.
That's the way most Democrats felt the past week. A beautiful dream of stunned shock. Even optimistic Democrats as the election neared were calling their optimism, "cautious optimism," not believing the poll numbers and growing reality around them. And then, when the results rolled in, and the reality couldn't be denied, it had a near-unreal quality. The awareness of truth mixed with the disbelief of implausibility.
It's like how Jim Belushi's overweight, goofball character on "According to Jim" must have felt after his wedding night when he saw that, yes!, he really was married to Courtney-Thorne Smith.
But adding to the ethereal quality of the election - perhaps even most ethereal - was the turnabout by the Republicans immediately following.
The day after, Donald Rumsfeld was out as Defense Secretary. Unreal. Not just that he was out and it was the day after - but that it was only one week after the President had insisted Don Rumsfeld would be there to the end!
(That gnashing sound you heard was the entire Republican Party grinding its teeth. The loudest being from those candidates who'd just been defeated the day before.)
Silly us, suckered again. Man, we should have figured that someone who'd been faking the truth for years wasn't about to change a week before the election. Still, you'd guess Republicans would know it was a lie. They get the daily memo, after all. But nope, he got everyone good.
However, most ethereal of all has been watching the Republican Party become the Party of Cut and Run. After lambasting Democrats for almost two years as "cut and runners," winking that Democrats were traitors for just suggesting that the U.S. set some schedule for merely redeploying troops - even to the extent that dear Jean Schmidt (R-OH) implied in her red-white-and-blue scarf that decorated war veteran John Murtha was a coward - after all that, now Republicans are falling over themselves proposing we look at plans for bringing the troops home.
Gee, it's amazing how losing an election, losing control of the House and Senate, losing their own races in two years if they don't respond to the country's shouting - "End this war!" - how all that can suddenly turn the traitorous and cowardly Cut and Running into a prayer for peace.
Gee, it's amazing how "Stay the Course" has suddenly disappeared from the language.
Gee, it's amazing hearing Republicans suddenly criticizing the war effort and Donald Rumsfeld.
And that's all well and good. But it's missing a critical element: the acknowledgement that others have said the same thing for a long time and been called traitorous and appeasers to terrorists. In case it's not clear, "Others" is a euphemism for "Democrats."
While I don't expect the hear Republicans say, "They were right," the fact that they don't leaves their acknowledgements of problems appreciated but empty.
It's the same for Republicans calling for bipartisanship. Democrats should act fairly - because everyone should, all the time. (Republicans must be thankful right now that Democrats are bleeding hearts. And not...well, Republicans.) But who among us thinks we'd hear these same calls for bipartisanship from Republicans if they held Congress?
Republicans don't want bipartisanship. They want to get re-elected in two years.
But acting fairly is different from painting a target on your chest. When a bully finds himself cornered and says, "Let us be friends," you don't share your baseball bat with him...because he'll use it to smash you over the head again. You play fair with him - but hold on to the bat.
As the shock fades for Democrats, a warm glow of hope for the future has begun to grow inside. What they do with that future is up to them and their efforts to be fair with the new-found Cut and Run Republicans.
"Always do right," Mark Twain once wrote. "It will gratify some people and astonish the rest."
But hold on to the bat.
Follow Robert J. Elisberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/relisberg