From the riotous coverage of this election, starting months ago and ending with the Nov. 7 crescendo, one might conclude that momentous events are afoot: To the barricades! Out with the old, in with the new!
Actually we have just endured a typical midterm election, when a president halfway through his second term suffers losses on Capitol Hill. On average that has meant 31 House seats lost and six Senate seats — poof. Now, once the lawyers have conjured with the corpus delicti in all the close elections, we shall see that this is about what happened. Do not let the clang and bang of the media fool you. When President George W. Bush picked up seats in 2002, that was the unusual event, not his loss this time around.
We might well ask: Why the media’s near hysterics? To be sure there was enormous effort made by both parties, but in the end only some 40 percent of the electorate turned out and that was about normal for a midterm election. Once again the ordinary Americano is more sensible than the Washington elites. The 60 percent that does not vote is usually pretty much satisfied with the way things are. The economy is sound. No grave issue fevers the republic, save for one, an issue that very much fevers the Washington elites. Namely, an Old Order is passing and fighting desperately to maintain its dominance in the political culture.
The Democrats’ victories do not signal a liberal recrudescence in the republic. Many of the incoming Democrats ran as conservatives. That is because the conservative drift of the country continues. As many as two dozen of the newly elected Democrats ran affirming traditional social values, low taxes or other conservative desiderata. In the long term things continue to look bleak for the Old Order. Bob Casey, the candidate who beat Sen. Rick Santorum, is a social conservative whose father was barred from the 1992 Democratic convention because of his opposition to abortion. Jim Webb, who ran against Sen. George Allen, was a Reagan Republican and President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy. In the House newly elected Democrats ran as advocates of gun owners’ rights and traditional values. One even signed the Americans for Tax Reform’s pledge against higher taxes (three Democratic incumbents in the House and one in the Senate have done the same).
The old order and the angry left do remain at the top of the incoming Capitol Hill majority, and they are going to play the role that we have come to expect from them. They are going to attempt to raise taxes, spending and the spectacle of congressional investigations. The Democrats, once they won the second midterm election of the Reagan years, entertained us with their Iran-contra hearings even as the Old Cowboy proceeded to end the Cold War with the Soviets. Expect nothing less from Madame Nancy Pelosi and the dirty-mouthed Harry Reid.
There will also be drama from the Republicans and this drama will be salubrious. Starting perhaps even before this column is off to the printer, the Republican leadership of the House will be gone. Under Speaker Dennis Hastert the leaders revealed themselves to be dull-witted and inept. Their spending spree has offended the conservative rank and file for years. Hastert’s flat-footed response to the Mark Foley scandal might well have cost the Republicans the election, virtually reversing the momentum that was then going their way. It is time for him to go.
Most likely he will be replaced by one of the young conservatives from the solidly conservative Republican Study Committee. Indiana’s Rep. Mike Pence will probably run for minority leader and Arizona’s John Shadegg will run for whip. Both are splendid representatives of the New Order, the order whose political reforms began with Ronald Reagan, continued through the Contract With America, and have been responsible for the economic growth of the past two decades that forced even Bill Clinton to intone, "The era of big government is over." Bring on the future, a future that will not include Pelosi and Reid beyond 2008.