Some are touting this week's opening of the Clinton presidential library as a potentially momentous event -- not because of the library itself, but because Democratic bigwigs will be together to discuss the future of their party.
NBC's "First Read" says, "Democrats are really in the thick of trying to figure out whether the Clinton era was an aberration in a long downward slide in the party's presidential prospects, or the successful model which more recent nominees Gore and Kerry failed to live up to."
This is a legitimate question, since Clinton has been the only Democratic president since Jimmy Carter, a one-termer who squeaked through following the Watergate scandal.
I do believe the nation is more conservative than liberal and that the Republican electoral majorities would have been even greater but for stubborn Democratic Party allegiances that transcend ideology and the influence of the Old Media. And, most political issues are trending toward the GOP: We're in a long-term war, and Republicans handle war better -- and the moral issues, no matter how much you handicap them, are working in their favor.
But I don't think we should read anything permanent into President Bush's resounding victory over John Kerry. A number of things militate against the conclusion that this victory signals a seismic electoral shift from Democrats to Republicans -- even though our congressional victories give us much to be confident about.
First, though Republicans have a clear advantage on defense and national security issues and we will be at war for the indefinite future, a lot can happen in four years. We may be attacked again, or the war could take a turn for the worse.
Second, the Democrats nominated an extraordinarily problematic candidate in John Kerry. On the all-important war and defense issues, Kerry had a jaded past, a weak record and a schizophrenic message. When you add to this Kerry's manifest unlikability, voters were very reluctant to entrust our national security to this man, even though the Old Media did a masterful job insulating his record from scrutiny.
Plus, demographic trends are working against Republicans, and no one has yet emerged as a natural GOP successor to President Bush, since we're in the unusual position of having a vice president who, for health reasons alone, will not be running in 2008.
Regardless, Democrats lost convincingly, and across the board. What should they make of their stunning losses, and where should they go from here? How should they analyze the Clinton factor, and what does it mean for Hillary?