Thomas Schaller makes some mighty good points and provides some interesting info in questioning the Democrats' need for a "southern strategy." He asks whether it is finally time for them to quit wasting their time, with apologies to old Barry G., "hunting where the ducks aren't" and concentrate on expanding their bi-coastal base inland by turning the already "purple" Midwest totally "blue." Citing Democratic congressional gains outside the South since 2004, Schaller sees an oppotunity for the Dems to "build a national majority" that would enable them to call off their courtship of "an encircled and no longer triumphant Southern minority." Here Schaller seems largely to overlook southern blacks,who are consistently the nation's most ardently Democratic voters, but under his strategy of writing off the South, would become a truly "encircled minority." No matter how you slice it, having a sympathetic congressional ear in Indiana isn't the same as having one who knows firsthand what going on in Georgia or Alabama. Not only has Schaller's perception of newfound Democratic strength yet to be tested in a presidential race, but two years of Democratic control on Captiol Hill will give us a much better idea of how permanent the party's congressional gains really are.
On the national scene, the Democrats’ confirmed takeover of twenty-eight seats in the House and six in the Senate hardly amounts to a seismic power shift. In previous midterm elections of relatively recent memory, the Democrats picked up forty-eight House and four Senate seats in the post-Watergate midterms of 1974. Twenty years later, in the “Republican Revolution” of 1994, the GOP gained fifty-four House seats and five in the Senate.
However, the most instructive examples for the Dems may lie in what happened to the Republicans back in 1946 and then again in 1948. Sequestered safely behind the all-but impregnable popularity of FDR, the Democrats had controlled Congress for fourteen years when the Republicans managed finally to capitalize on postwar anxieties, including those about Roosevelt’s unimposing successor, Harry S. Truman, to reinstall themselves as the majority party by picking up fifty-four seats in the House and eighteen in the Senate. Settling in for what they anticipated would be an extended patronage- and pork-feast, they resolved to make Truman’s life a living hell, giving little thought to the prospect that the politically crippled incumbent might be able to save his own skin, much less that of his party, in 1948. Thus did the Republicans who controlled the Eightieth, “Do-Nothing,” Congress hoist themselves on the proverbial petard of deadlock, paving the way for the feisty Truman to shock the pundits by giving a pretty good dusting to the all-but-inaugurated Thomas E. Dewey. Often lost in this classic political comeback story is the fact that the Democrats also sent the Republican rulers of Congress packing almost before they had even finished unpacking, hauling in a whopping seventy-five seats in the House and nine in the Senate.
There’s a pretty good message here, especially if we look at preliminary analyses of Democratic gains from Tuesday’s balloting. Overall, it doesn’t take much of a political pulse-taker to tell us that the vote was less “for” the Demos than “agin’” the Repubs, especially the Head Repub (regardless of whether this refers most accurately to Bush or Cheney). Moreover, it’s for dang sure that the outcome was no liberal mandate. The core candidates responsible for the Democratic gains were decidedly middle-roaders, more like Mr.Willie Jeff Clinton than Ms. Nancy Pelosi. Accordingly, the Democrats fared well in the same key places that the aforementioned Mr. Clinton gave the GOP fits. A New York Times analysis shows that 23 of the 28 districts currently confirmed as switching to the Democrats were either suburban (11) or partially so (13) and almost half (13) were at least 90 percent white.
Such districts are where the Democrats need to be competitive in 2008 if they hope to hold on to Congress and put one of their own back in the White House. They won’t do that simply by sniping at Bush and using their power to obstruct rather than to lead. There is talk of immediate full-blown hearings on the how and why of the Iraq war. Done correctly, and within reason, these might help to reassure those who voted the rascals out that they did the right thing, but a protracted orgy of professed outrage staged by people who largely enabled Bush themselves just ain’t going to cut it with the voters. At this point, they care a lot less about how we got there than about how we can or should get out. As the nation looks to Capitol Hill for some means to extricate ourselves from Iraq, the Democrats should be acutely aware that, where Washington is concerned, anything approaching another “Do–Nothing Congress” is a sure-fire “exit strategy” for them.