Imagine you're in a room with 10 people. 2 of them decide that they constitute a majority, with a mandate for change. You wouldn't call them a political tsunami.
You'd call them nuts.
Out of every 100 Americans of voting age in this past election, about 42 voted. That's 4 out of 10. Out of that 42 a little over half voted Republican. That averages to a bit over 2 Republicans, to about 2 Democrats out of 10 people. In 2008 6 out of 10 voted, and over 3 voted for the Democrats. The great difference between the 2008 and 2010 elections is that 2 more people didn't vote, and on average less than 1 voted differently than they did in 2010.
2 people out of 10.
There was no tidal wave of discontent, no revolution, no populist uprising against the status quo, no reason for weak-kneed Liberals to slink defeated into bi-partisanship with the Overwhelming Winners. The great secret of our Democracy is that our national destiny is decided by 2 out of every 10 possible voters, and that "mandates" are -- despite what we hear from the winner and the media -- less than a quarter of the potential voters. Remember that every time some pundit tells you what "the nation" wants based on this last election, or any election, or some Reactionary starts talking about a mandate from "The American People." The Republican "groundswell" of 2010 consists of 2 voters out of 10: 1 consistent vote and 1 person who may have changed their mind. Based on this election we have no idea what the majority of Americans want, and neither do the pundits, politicians, or pollsters.
One thing that is consistent with both of our major political parties is how each handles loss and victory. The Democratic Leadership have had what can only be regarded as the wacky strategic decision recently to declare each of their national victories as victories of bi-partisanship, This is just nuts. Very, very few people vote for bi-partisans. Most vote for partisans -- someone who will argue strenuously for their constituents, someone who will try to win a fight and perhaps have to settle for a compromise, not the other way around. But some in the leadership have insanely -- yet apparently convincingly -- argued that the people don't want someone who is going to stridently fight for them, don't want passionate advocates who put fighting for the needs of the people ahead of appearing even-handed. The Democratic Leadership has come to the conclusion that the first and most important thing the winner of an election can do is compromise with the loser.
Republicans, on the other hand, believe that losers are "Losers," that the tiniest of electoral victories validates a dictatorship of opinion, and that merely being partisan should give way to the kind of aggressive, over-the-top, hyperbolic rhetoric one normally only hears from professional wrestlers named after power tools. Republicans take any victory as validation from the Almighty, whereas Democrats take them almost apologetically, rushing to assure everyone that they will not do anything without the loser's consent, and that all that "stuff" they promised during the campaign is up for compromise.
Democrats and Republicans also handle loss very differently. First of all, Republicans don't lose. If by some twist of dishonest Fate the ballot count shows they have received fewer votes, they demand a recount because Republicans don't lose! If the recount seems to be showing they have fewer votes they go to court to stop the count, as Bush did in 2000, they demand another recount, they scream voter fraud, they blame ACORN, they draw out the challenges until they can mount a recall campaign, they do everything they can to undermine our faith in the democratic process because to them it must be broken because Republicans don't lose! If victory is a validation of Righteousness, "loss" is a violation of God's clear intent. When you accept in your heart that losing is impossible any loss becomes a crime against Freedom and God's will, and any means are justified to fight so obvious an evil. Ultimately a lose makes the Conservative Core, martyr-like, hold truer to the values which they see as under siege by liberal thought.
The Democratic Party, of course, treats loss differently. Loss is not a time to reassert those unshakable truths held dearest, and which no loss can make one surrender. That would be too partisan. Loss is a time to panic. Loss is a time to throw women and children overboard -- along with any core beliefs that set them apart from their opponents. In fact, Democratic loss looks a lot like Democratic victory: In both situations the first action on the part of Party leadership is to jettison progressive partisanship and redefine the Party. And with each redefinition, whether in a win or a loss, the Party's agenda becomes less and less clear, until the public is hard-pressed to say what, exactly, the Democratic Party stands for.
The one thing we should all agree on is that while the Republican Party clearly stands for a pro-Corporate, anti-immigrant, government eviscerating, French-hating, bomb-somebody-somewhere-now, evangelical Capitalist platform worthy of Voldemort or Sauron, the Democrats couldn't find their feet in their own shoes if it meant taking a stand.
Two years ago people in this country were outraged at the obvious theft and daylight robberies committed by Wall Street on Main Street. People were losing their homes while investment bankers were using bonuses to by second yachts. People literally had pitchforks and torches in the streets, demanding justice, downright pissed at the Capitalists, and the Republican butt weasels who empowered them! And did the Democrats use this pissedoffedness to defeat of the Wall Street Robber Barons? Did they ride the wave the People's demand for change to create fundamental equality in our inequitable economy? Did they validate the People's anger, and use it to make our society a better, fairer place?
Nope. They told people to calm down. Then they ran to the same bunch of bunch swashbuckling, regulation-slashing, Free Marketeering Wall Street pimps who got us into this mess to get us out.
The last thing angry people want to hear is to calm down.
When the oil spill in the Gulf happened did they shove BP out of the damn way and do the freakin' job of the government, work hard and immediately to solve a slow-motion disaster, and bring the lying corporate criminals to court?
Nope. They told people top calm down. Then they trusted the same bunch of oil and blood spattered tycoons who caused the damn problem to tell the truth about it, and clean it up.
Housing mess? Trust the banks who caused the problem. War going on forever? Trust the Generals who always, always say with a few more troops and a little more money victory is just around the corner. People are justifiably angry, the Democrats tell them to calm down, and are surprised when they get ignored. The Republicans tell them not only to stay angry, but get angrier! "Let's go!" the Republicans shout, "Follow me to freedom!" Then they lead the whipped-up crowd in burning the Constitution which protects them. The Democratic Leadership way would jump in front of righteously angry people, saying "First you must take responsibility for your part in your oppression, then we will work to find middle ground between you and your oppressors."
And they wonder why they didn't inspire passion.
This is what the Democrats managed to do when they got about 3 out of the 5 votes cast in the 2008 election. Yes, they've had many small but significant victories, and I'm glad they won, but their many small victories have come at the expense of a few big progressive victories. Too afraid to be partisan they've focused on the politics of the Possible, rather than the passion of the People. And now, with a proclaimed "mandate", with 2 out of 10 eligible voters, the Republicans will once again show us what a Party that holds true to its values can do.
Force a mighty nation to its knees.