Reason’s Jonathan Rauch has an excellent discussion of what the recent election really says. Needlessly jubilant right-wingers and overly dramatic left-wingers have tried to spin Bush’s narrow margin and free-floating statistics about ‘moral issues’ into an indication that the nation is either primed for a conservative revolution or descending into a morass of prejudice and superstition, depending on your point of view. As Rauch points out, the real truth is that the ‘conservative revolution’ in the U.S. already took place; the electorate spent a good two decades realigning itself into the configuration we saw in 2000, and hasn’t moved much since. The silver lining for liberals is that the lack of motion for conservatives, despite their widespread control of government institutions, may mean that it won’t be long until the conservatives welcome is once again wearing thin. The public in the U.S. has a habit of turning against whoever stays in power for too long; once you run everything, there is nowhere else to lay blame when the inevitable mistakes occur.
Personally, I think a lot of the Republicans success and the Democrats failure in the last two elections has as much to do with organization as it does with any change in the mood in the country. The Democratic party was unable to take the initiative in the 2004 election, and spent most of its time trying to respond to a Republican campaign that it was always one step beyond. Their candidates in both 2000 and 2004 were uncharismatic and carried public stigmas – the scandals of the Clinton administration, Kerry’s long and checkered voting record and status as a stereotypical ‘Massachusetts Democrat’ – that probably hurt the party’s attempts to draw swing voters. The thin margins show that both of these elections were clearly winnable for the Dems. Maybe the latest one will do what the 2000 election should have done but apparently didn’t: convince the Democratic party that they need to re-evaluate how the choose candidates and how they run campaigns, and maybe even take a stab at shaking up their leadership and crafting a new, clearer platform for the party. In honesty, if the opposition had been anyone other than GW, I would have been almost pleased to see the Democrats loose in 2004, just for the opportunity to re-invigorate the party and set the stage for a strong challenge in 2008.