Political junkies can hardly count the minutes until the returns start coming in. Pollsters and pundits have been feeding the addiction with new data from the latest surveys, early voting trends, and stories from the campaign trail. The big question: just how high will the Republican wave go and how hard will it hit the Democratic party?
Yet that's not really what this election is about. It's important, of course, to send current Congressional leadership home. Representatives need to be reminded that they truly are accountable to voters. Importantly, voters also won't just be sending a new set of political insiders to Washington. Many of the newly elected will come from outside of the political arena. This will change Congressional culture, and the GOP in particular will be a different party. Republicans aren't just adding seats; they are gaining numerous outspoken champions of more limited government and free markets. These new Members hopefully will hold the party to account, as well as the government.
Voters celebrating tonight, however, would be wise to temper their festivities. Recall that two years ago liberals were celebrating. Voters should be warned that the real battle starts tomorrow to ensure that the newly elected live up to campaign pledges. Elected officials will need to hear the message again and again: if this new Congressional leadership doesn't focus on delivering on its promises, listening to the American people, and truly rolling back Washington and returning power to the people, then this victory will be equally short-lived.
While similarities exist between this year's “wave” election and the election of 2008, which propelled President Obama and significant Democratic Congressional majorities into power, there's a critical difference. In 2008, the President ran on “change” and “hope,” themes voters found compelling, but few knew exactly what they would mean when applied to the real business of governing. This ambiguity hasn't made President Obama's supporters any less disappointed: they may not have been able to articulate what they were expecting, but they certainly know that the Administration has failed to make good even on these most vague promises.
This election is different. Voters pushing Republicans into power know what they expect from their new Representatives. They want less government. They want their Representative to do everything possible to reverse Obamacare. They don't just want the rate of spending growth slowed: They want actual spending cuts. People want Congress to permanently extend existing tax rates so that employers and families don't have to guess about what their tax liability will be next year. Of course, they want job creation, but they want that job creation to come from the private sector, not from more wasteful government make-work projects.
The 2008 election was a cult of personality. Voters were swept up in electing someone they saw as a superhero, an icon. This election is all about ideas. Rather, this election is about one central idea: That America is teetering on the edge of transforming into a country fundamentally different from the one today's voters were born into. That this last Congress boldly strode toward changing the relationship between citizen and state, leaving the American people more dependent on government and advancing government's control over the economy. That the country must be pulled back from the precipice.
Newly politically-active Americans have taken to demonstrating because they see such urgency in the current situation. If this Administration is allowed to continue its march toward bigger, more intrusive government—in fact, if America isn't quickly dragged several steps back away from bigger government—then we will be consigned to a permanently less free, less prosperous, less innovative country.
Our taxes will be higher. Our national debt will continue to balloon. The private sector will be chipped away and replaced with larger bureaucracies and government-provided services. Americans don't want this. Many support the concept of a government safety net for those truly in need, but recognize that our government has long since abandoned that mission, instead seeking to foster a dependent middle class. And Americans know that such dependency comes with a high price, as innovation, individual initiative and personal control melt under government's warm embrace.
Americans don't want a government that treats them like children. They don't want cradle-to-grave care from Washington bureaucrats. They want a government that does its job—and only its actual job as articulated by the Constitution—well. They want independence.
People know that Congress's ability to make change will be limited by a President with veto power, but voters want to see that the Congress that's serious about changing the country. They want today to make the beginning of a new era of more limited government.
Conservatives can keep counting the minutes until the returns come in, but be prepared to stay vigilant in the months and years ahead.