Fellow donkeys, I feel your pain. Like you, I could taste that victory right up until the terribly disappointing deal went down. Like you, I wonder if we are just snake-bit or suffering the wages of sin for long-past Democratic malfeasance. Like you, I feel a burning L on my forehead, and that dont mean liberal.
But now, its critical that we get over it and get moving, because in the end, its the 2008 election, not this one, that matters. Republicans suffered an even greater disappointment in 1998 when they lost seats in a year when history dictated that they would gain. And two years later, with a major assist from the U.S. Supreme Court, they got the big prize.
Lord knows there will be plenty of postmortem analyses of what it all means and where we go from here, but here is this donkeys advice to our leaders in Washington.
First off, show a little humility. Its tempting to indulge in accusations of Diebold conspiracies, dirty tricks, shadowy last-minute cash, and (more accurately) negative Republican attack ads and conservative fear-mongering. Dont go there. For whatever reasons, voters chose to elect enough Republicans to maintain GOP congressional majorities, and they wont respond well to suggestions that they are dumb sheep. Accept the unpalatable idea that Democrats, rightly or wrongly, are perceived as untrustworthy on national security. Thats true, despite Democratic efforts to identify with the deep public concern about the disastrous course of events in Iraq. If it wasnt, the GOP fear-mongering wouldnt have worked.
Second, dont reinforce the image of Democrats as unherdable cats by getting into a lot of finger-pointing or purges. Those Democrats who have ideological issues with Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill. ), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), dating back to the Clinton administration will undoubtedly want to pin the blame on Rahmbo. Sure, some of the DCCCs decisions might have been erroneous in retrospect (though the main complaint, that Rahm didnt spend enough money in previously safe Republican seats to ensure a giant landslide, seems a bit moot today). But the fact remains that we went into this election with an unprecedented batch of good candidates, a better financial situation vis–vis the opposition in living memory, and a battleground expanded enough to make victorya contingency considered extremely unlikely earlier this yeara real expectation. Our disappointment is so acute precisely because our campaign leaders did so much better than many of their predecessors at setting the stage. Similarly, I urge Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) to abandon his challenge to House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (R-Md.). Whether you like Steny or not (I do like him), theres no rational case for blaming him for the result.
Third, congressional leaders, take a back seat for a while. We all got seduced by favorable poll numbers, but the numbers we should have focused on were those showing that voters who disliked Republican congressmen werent that jazzed about Democratic congressmen, either.
Now our party will be defined by our 2008 candidate. Dont make things harder for him or her. Given the obvious antipathy of the electorate for Washington in general, try to defer when possible to Democrats outside Washington, particularly our fine batch of Democratic governors. Defer as well to the national Democratic need for a positive agenda on every issue going into 2008. This will be a choice between two parties, not just a referendum on George W. Bush. An opposition party in Congress that only shrieks and opposes will not be an asset two years from now.
Fourth, commit yourselves anew to a political reform agenda. If youre going to be the out party in Congress for yet another two years, then its time to finally reject the prerogatives of institutional power and go for broke on a platform of redistricting reform, ethics reform, lobbying reform, and campaign-finance reform. Perhaps most important will be reform of a gerrymandering system that, in the end, saved this Republican-controlled Congress by requiring Democrats to win a historically unusual percentage of competitive seats.
Fifth, and finally, cheer up. In many respects, controlling Congress would have been a mixed blessing, implicating Democrats in every bad federal-government decision and helping insulate Republicans from accountability for their many bad deeds over the last six years. Almost no matter what we do, Democrats will be the change party in 2008. And theres no reason whatsoever to believe that the new Republican Congress will be any more honest, responsible, or effective than the old Republican Congress, which limped across the finish line and claimed a near-death experience as a new lease on life.