I told friends and colleagues that I would wait 48 hours before talking about the mid-term elections since I was, well, harshing their buzz. Out of respect I waited even longer. You're welcome!
In some ways, what's happened is a mere return to the staus quo ante, in which the Congress can resume serving as a check on Executive power (almost always a good thing: power corrupts, etc.), a power central to the operations of our particular form of constitutional government that has recently been negated by the power of one-party rule (the framers, remember, were rather in denial about the power of mass parties to overhwhelm the system).
But in our unique system, change comes, by design, slowly and incrementally (the New Deal and the Great Society are the exceptions that prove the rule).
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich offers some perspective:
The Democratic Victory: Keep Your Expectations LowHold the champagne. Don’t expect anything bold to come out of the new Democratic House.
First, Dems don’t have enough votes to overcome Bush vetoes. Second, the new Dems are from marginal districts where they will have to be moderate-to-conservative in order to be reelected. Third, the Dem leadership has its eyes on the big prize – the 2008 presidency – and doesn’t want to do anything to scare off voters.
Barney Frank at the financial services committee will, at most, require more company disclosure of executive pay – not push for legislation barring companies from deducting from their corporate income taxes any pay over, say, $1 million. John Dingle at energy and commerce is so concerned about the auto industry he won’t try to increase auto mileage standards (he has opposed increasing CAFÉ in the past). George Miller at education and commerce will at most seek additional money for Pell grants, but there won’t be additional money unless Dems cut defense discretionary, which they won’t do.
Dems will demand that Robert Gates, the new defense secretary, keep them in the loop over Iraq, but Dems won’t push him to set a timetable. Even though Iraq figured prominently in the election, Dems have no clear idea for what to do to get out of the mess. And they don’t want to be blamed for chaos and bloodshed when the 2008 election comes around. So they’ll have lots of hearings and do very little.
In other words, keep your expectations low.
On the other hand, if Dems take the Senate, there's one huge plus: Bush's next Supreme Court nominee (should he have the chance to nominate) won't get easy passage.
This is not to say we should abandon hope for change -- it is to say that we should remain in the reality-based community, and not set ourselves up for disappointment by expecting the impossible. And do keep in mind that it's Democrats who recently brought us welfare reform, NAFTA, the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the 1996 Crime Bill, and who, in very large numbers, supported the USA PATRIOT ACT and, yes, the Iraq War.