10/16/2006 12:20 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Post-2006 Part One: Sesame Street or Lord of the Flies?

Cross-posted at

A few years ago, there was a blackout in New York City, and it was an incredibly docile and cooperative city. In 1977, there was a blackout in New York City, and there was widespread looting and damage, with over 1000 fires and 1616 damaged stores, and every poor neighborhood in the city suffering looting.

You don't really get a sense of the structural integrity of a system until it falls under pressure. In 1977, New York was a lot sicker than it was in 2004, and this became obvious when the lights went out and Lord of the Flies, as opposed to Sesame Street, began.

If the Republicans go down this year, the entire right-wing system will be put under new pressure. Not a lot of pressure, mind you, but a marginally larger amount of pressure than the wingnuts are used to. So we have to start asking ourselves how their system will respond. Will they regroup quickly and counterattack in 2008, or will they fall to backbiting and infighting as they try to distance themselves from Bush, who isn't of course a real conservative?

There's a fair amount of evidence both ways. Grover Norquist's Wednesday morning group was created to stop Clinton's health care plan in the early 1990s. Finding their backs against the wall, the right-wing began to collaborate and innovate, taking Congress just two years later. And yet, the opposite happened for the Democrats in 1994, where a crushing defeat saw an eight year period where Democrats ate more of their seed corn every year.

Which will happen? Who knows? We haven't seen them respond to pressure yet, and we won't know until the pressure is applied. But it's still worth thinking through, and also sort of fun.

Sesame Street on the Right

Ok, so first let's put out the evidence for the Sesame Street response, where the right suddenly finds common purpose again and begins to realize why they were put on the earth in the first place, to hate liberals and gays.

1) A New Blame Game: If the Repubicans lose the House, they will no longer have sole governing responsibility, and so they will be able to credibly claim that mistakes are not their sole fault. Recession? It's the liberals. War losses? It's the liberals. Gridlock? See, that's what happens if you elect Charlie Rangel-types as Committee Chairs.

2) 2008: It's amazing how a Presidential election can refocus a party and wipe the slate clean. The Republicans are going to want to forget about Bush, and all candidates are going to distance themselves aggressively from Bush, allowing new Congressional candidates to point out that they are genuine conservatives and not Bushniks since they are following new standard-bearer McCain/Romney/Huckabee.

3) Lots of competitive seats: Democrats will have picked up a lot of new seats, which means they will have a lot of seats to defend. The field will be open, and Republicans will have candidates without voting records that match up to Bush 97% of the time.

4) Lots of money: The right-wing money machine - Cato, Heritage, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, developers, etc - that's not going away, though K-Street will be somewhat crippled and the loss of Congress will hurt.

5) New hunger: The right-wing, like any successful political movement, operates through the passionate embrace of its principles by its grassroots. This is withering on the vine right now because Bush is so dispiriting a leader, but it's possible that having someone to fight against could spark new passion among right-wing grassroots leaders desperate to hold to some sort of power.

6) Formidable church/database infrastructure: The basis of wingnuttia is the megachurch, which is a pagan temple dedicated to the worship of power, along with daycare, ice cream parlors, knitting clubs, and sexaholics anonymous. These aren't going away, and they form the base of the Republican party. In addition, the Republicans have a trained cadre of effective pollsters, operatives, field people, media buyers, and data experts who are competent and learn from their mistakes. While this advantage is somewhat blunted in an election where targeting past behavior doesn't always work, they will learn more than we will this cycle, and they will take that going forward.

7) K-Street Finds Its Sea Legs: With fewer relationships to the party in power than it had since maybe the 1930s, the business lobby could become desperate to see the right retake power. I'm not sure what form this would take, but there is a lot of money in corporate America, and some well-placed threats from credible Republicans could keep K-Street part and parcel of the Republican Party. If Democrats are really smart and effective, they will enact serious lobbying reform to change the rules of engagement so that the business lobby no longer has to play the partisan game. Democrats probably can't get that done.

8) Rightwing Media/Netroots: Will the right be able to turn its netroots into something formidable? I don't think so, but it's not unreasonable to suspect otherwise. The right-wing media has functioned effectively in opposition to Clinton - can it work effectively against a Democratically led Congress?

I'm sure I'm missing some advantages the Republicans will have. My sense is that the biggest danger for progressives is that all the nice new Congresscritters will immediately have to start raising reelection money, and we won't be able to supply it. That means turning to K-Street, which will then turn the party towards conservatives once again, who will then turn over the country to wingnuts in 2008.

This is all highly, highly speculative. But it's fun, isn't it?