I love Barbara at the Mahablog, and I urge you to read her regularly -- but I worry that she's being a bit too optimistic in what she says here about the likely aftermath of the midterm elections:
... politicians of both parties will be under pressure to force Bush to change the course....
Any party or politician who wants to win elections in 2008 is going to have to at the very least put some distance between himself and Bush's War.... Republicans in Congress -- especially those outside the South -- ought to realize that they cannot continue to echo Bush's rhetoric and support Bush's every cough and be assured to keep their jobs (or get a better one, like being president) after 2008.
...the loss of a substantial number of seats might shock enough of them into considering the possibility that democracy in America isn't completely dead yet. And in that case, Washington might see a rebirth of genuine bipartisanship.
Well, that's more or less what we thought after '98, as I recall -- we thought the midterm gains by Democrats just after the Starr Report was released meant that Republicans might put the brakes on impeachment, right? Fat chance. Two years later, Al Gore put Joe Lieberman on the ticket almost certainly because of his showoffy early denunciation of Clinton. And no impeachment supporter who survived '98 has ever suffered for that support. And look, there's Newt Gingrich, making a comeback.
Maybe the Iraq debacle really has brought an era to a close, but I fear that even after Tuesday we'll still be playing by this long-established rule of American politics: Whenever Republicans win, it's a sign that something is terribly wrong with the Democrats; whenever Democrats win, it's a sign that something is terribly wrong with Democrats (and with the voters who elected them). I suspect that even if Democrats win both houses of Congress, Republicans will rush to change the subject from Iraq to Democratic shortcomings -- and the press will hasten to relay that message. This will give cover to Bush and to anyone who's ever supported him, even as Iraq moves ever more inexorably toward chaos.
The groundwork is already being laid. Before the votes have even been counted, Ann Coulter and Charles Krauthammer are asking why the Dems didn't do better. Even if there's a two-house Democratic takeover, we'll be told that the results didn't reflect any kind of public dissatisfaction with GOP politics -- just the usual churn in a president's sixth year (in fact, less than usual).
I also think that, even as we're told that the results aren't really a Democratic mandate, we'll be told that they are a mandate -- for depravity. Remember the likes of William "Death of Outrage" Bennett telling us in the 1990s that Americans wouldn't do their moral duty and drive Bill Clinton from public life because the dot-com profits in their 401(k)'s had made us morally flabby and weak? I think we'll increasingly hear variations on that in the wake of a Democratic win. As it is, we've been hearing that disillusionment with the war means Americans don't have the stomach for a fight (it's not, in other words, that we think this is the wrong fight); now we'll probably hear that Americans endorse "the Party of Death," out of (as Coulter says) depraved sympathy for Michael J. Fox and his band of baby-killers. Perhaps other pundits will pick up on Richard Brookhiser's analogy to the midterm elections of 1874, which endorsed the racist backlash against Reconstruction. And, of course, if Nancy Pelosi becomes Speaker we'll hear a lot about "San Francisco values" -- in fact, we're hearing that already. (Expect pundits to link Pelosi's ascendancy to one coincidentally popular risque TV show or movie or book to make the point that America has lost its moral compass.)
And maybe, as Billmon says, there'll just be an attack on Iran even before the new Congress is sworn in:
War with Iran would not only be the quickest, most effective way to throw the Dems back on the defensive, it would also completely preempt, and bury, any post-election pressures to set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.
This may not happen -- and if any of it does, Democrats can (and must) push back. I'm not trying to spread gloom and doom, really -- I'm just saying that, if Democrats win on Tuesday, the fight is just beginning.
UPDATE: New Mason/Dixon polls show a number of Senate races looking better for Republicans -- Chafee's up by 1 in Rhode Island, Talent's down by only 1 in Missouri, Burns is tied with Tester in Montana, and so on. (Oh, and Corker's now beating Ford by 12 in Tennessee, but come on, were we smoking crack when we thought a black Democrat could win this race?)
Democrats must not let the press turn a failure to take the Senate into a "Democrats lost" story line. If they do, they're putting a "Kick me" sign on their backs.*
FURTHER UPDATE: On the other hand, should I believe Mason/Dixon when its Ohio Senate poll has a 6-point lead for Dem challenger Sherrod Brown and the locally based Columbus Dispatch poll has the Brown lead at 24? (Via Atrios.)
*UPDATE, ELECTION DAY: Exactly as I predicted, here's Adam Nagourney of The New York Times (and of course it would be Nagourney) with "For Democrats, Even a Gain May Feel Like a Failure." Er, Adam, what about Bush and Rove's predictions of holding both houses? Why are only the Democrats risking a fall if their most optimistic predictions don't come to pass?