Michael Barone is one of the most dependable pro-Republican political analysts on God's green earth—all year, and most of last year, he had ready reasons for why the GOP was going to roar to victory despite Democrats' gaining steam in the polls. (Check out his aw-shucks spin on last year's gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia, which now look like harbingers of the Republican implosion.) But his column in the Wall Street Journal is so gloomy, it might signify a white flag going up.
… ideas are more important than partisan vote counts. Democrats could not go beyond the New Deal from 1938 to 1958, because they had not persuaded most Americans to go Roosevelt's way until 13 years after his death. Similarly, Republicans never had reliable majorities for Reagan's polices until 1994, six years after he left office. Democratic gains in 1974 made the House the most left-leaning branch of government for 20 years–in vivid contrast to the prognostication of '60s liberals, who said it would always be the most conservative–and Republican gains in 1994 made it the most conservative-leaning. Those majorities affected public policy, but not always in ways their partisans liked.
If the Democrats are justified in preparing to change the drapes today, the questions to ask are: How enduring will be such a partisan switch? How much change in public policy will it accomplish? To the first question, the likelihood of an enduring partisan switch is not high–if you believe the polls showing the leading Republicans, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, walloping the best-known Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Al Gore, in 2008. Changes in public policy? Well, the lead item on the Democrats' wish list is to raise the minimum wage, a law first passed in 1938. Not exactly a new idea.
Even this contains a little weaseling—polls show races between Giuliani or McCain and Clinton or Gore horrifyingly close. ("Horrifying" in that they lack a third party candidate who isn't abominable.) Barone's right that the Democrats don't have any big ideas or platform planks that could gird a new, long-term majority. The thing is, neither party does. Listen to the speeches George W. Bush is giving in those lone outposts where the citizenry can still stand him, and just try and find a positive reason for conservative governance. It's Democrats-will-raise-taxes, Democrats-will-aid-terror, Democrats-will-let-sissies-get-hitched. It's "we passed No Child Left Behind," "we want cars to run on corn," "we turned Medicare into an enormous beast that'll collapse under its own weight even faster it was going to than before we got here."
Yet more grousing about the idea-less GOP here.