Sunday, November 05, 2006

Politics As Usual

Every political conversation I've had recently has centered on the near ubiquitous presupposition that it's not a question of whether the Democrats will win on Tuesday, but by how big a margin they will win. Although I wish I could share in the partisan enthusiasm, I have no real choice but to remain skeptical.

The Republicans are like Cobra Commander. Now matter how conclusively you think you've got them on the run, they still manage to slip away to fight another day. Time and time again history has proven that Democratic gains will always prove ephemeral, while the Republicans will always retain their lock on the hearts and minds of American voters. Said voters retain an almost comical ability to overlook the hypocrisies seemingly hardwired into the modern Conservative mindset, while holding the Democrats to an impossible double standard. I maintain that regardless of the polls, regardless of the mood, regardless of every shred of anecdotal evidence on display, every single vote the Democrats need will still be a hard-fought battle.

It wouldn't matter if the President was facing a 2% approval rating and indictment for child rape; it would matter if effigies of every senior Republican legislator were being burned in the nation's capitol; it wouldn't matter if we were living under martial law in a new-fascist dictatorship. It wouldn't matter if the Republicans were openly advocating forced euthanasia for little baby kittens and panda bears. A Republican defeat still entails a Democratic victory, and that is impossible.

Hendrik Hertzberg put it well, writing this week in The New Yorker:
In a normal democracy, given the state of public opinion and the record of the incumbent government, it would be taken for granted that come next Tuesday the ruling party would be turned out. But, for reasons that have less to do with the wizardry of Karl Rove than with the structural biases of America’s electoral machinery, Democrats enter every race carrying a bag of sand. The Senate’s fifty-five Republicans represent fewer Americans than do its forty-five Democrats. On the House side, Democratic candidates have won a higher proportion of the average district vote than Republicans in four of the five biennial elections since 1994, but—thanks to a combination of gerrymandering and demo-graphics—Republicans remain in the majority. To win back the House, Democrats need something close to a landslide.

Hertzberg goes on to finish on a slightly optimistic note, but the essential facts remain. Are the Democrats really that confident that their advantage in the polls will translate into electoral support? Really? Because, honestly, it just seems like the better the polls look now, the worse off the Democrats are going to be come Wednesday morning. (I'm already envisioning photos of incredulous, dazed and defeated Democrats running in newspapers across the country -- "Wha' happened?", jaws slack and eyes glassy.) They're quite good at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I'd love to be proven wrong, but history suggests otherwise.

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