Democratic Senate hopeful Alvin Greene suffered a heartbreaking upset yesterday in South Carolina, losing to Republican Jim DeMint by the narrowest of 34-point margins. Across the country—as one New York Times writer described it, the “wide battleground that stretched from Alaska to Maine,” which I think means Canada—Greene’s surprise loss prefigured Republican gains, including a 60-seat pickup in the House of Representatives. “We’ve come to take our government back,” newly-elected Senator Rand Paul told his victory party. “They say that the U.S. Senate is the world’s most deliberative body. I’m going to ask them to deliberate on this: The American people are unhappy with what’s going on in Washington.” Mr. Paul then shouted an obscenity after an aide told him where the Senate is located.
He is right to be afraid. According to CNN, voters in exit polls expressed a 53% dissatisfaction rating with both parties, and that’s seconds after they finished awarding control of the House and a bigger slice of the “world’s most deliberative body” to the GOP. This universal hatred of politics and the people who do it, even among voters, is consistent with Republican legislative strategy for the last two years. Yesterday’s results may constitute a Democratic defeat more than a Republican victory, but for the time being the two are indistinguishable. It was the biggest sweep of the House by any party since 1948, 53% dissatisfaction be damned, so as you can see nothing makes sense.
In this swirling vortex of uncertainty, a few things are known. First, get ready to see a lot more John Boehner. The presumptive Speaker of the House experienced a sensation similar to feeling last night when he addressed Republicans in Washington. “For far too long, Washington has been doing what’s best for Washington—not what’s best for America,” the ten-term Congressman said. “Tonight, that begins to change.” Boehner described a radical new approach to Republican government, including reduced spending, smaller government and policies that benefit small businesses.
Second, none of the really fun people won, which is probably just as well. Contrary to Meghan McCain’s predictions, jobless sex witch Christine O’Donnell will return to her mountain for another two years to slumber and feed. Sharron Angle can go meet Joy Behar at that place they talked about while Harry Reid returns to his desk and takes another crack at reading the DISCLOSE Act. Carly Fiorina succumbed to Barbara Boxer in California, and Carl Paladino delivered a predictable but still-terrifying concession speech.
So the American people’s historic crazy-strainer is still intact, notwithstanding a couple of holes. Perhaps the biggest hole of the evening was Rand Paul, who seems to be the Tea Party’s greatest coup of this election cycle. As the son of another sitting congressman, Paul is hardly an outsider, but his anti-Washington rhetoric and intermittently weird ideas brought him closest to the Tea Party ideal. Of the so-called Tea Party candidates, he is also the one whose views moderated most after his nomination. His slow metamorphosis from libertarian stalwart to party-line Republican correlated with his being the most successful Tea Party candidate.
But was it the cause? And what does it mean now that Republicans have taken control of the House and given themselves some option beyond filibuster in the Senate? Maybe it’s because the sun just came up, but I feel like the sun may have just come up after a long midnight of the soul in American politics. I am by no means happy to see the Republican Party rewarded for two years of belligerent obstructionism. A midterm election has come and gone, and we still don’t have an ambassador to the Czech Republic, primarily because the GOP has spent two years fiddling while the country luxuriates in a pile of oily rags and matches. Perhaps now, though, one party will not dedicate itself entirely to the prevention of government while the other party does everything it can to appease them.
Despite the talk of bloodbaths, Democrats still control 1.5 branches of government. With another party to blame when they fail, they might finally be induced to try something, including long-awaited lame duck legislation on campaign finance and the Bush tax cuts. More importantly, with their places set for them, Republicans might be induced to sit down at the table of American government again.
Maybe they’ll just spend all their time investigating the President’s college girlfriend and trying to eliminate the Department of the Interior. But maybe they’ll begin to feel some responsibility for the course of the nation again, and look at things like the recession and the federal deficit has problems to solve rather than evidence to accumulate. It’s a long shot, but maybe a blended Congress will be a bolder one. The historic election is over. Let history resume.