WASHINGTON -- Within hours of Barack Obama's historic election last week, a chorus of media analysts were predicting that the Democrats had at last built a permanent majority that would keep them in power for many elections to come.
The Washington Post crowed on its front page that the "Democrats appear to have built a majority across a wide, and expanding, share of the electorate," suggesting that a permanent majority "may be underway."
But a day after Democrats reclaimed the White House and tightened their grip on Congress, a key Democratic strategist was suggesting otherwise.
Bill Galston, who was chief domestic adviser to President Clinton and a policy architect, says, "Democrats do not have a mandate" to usher in a reign of bigger government because there isn't a majority for it.
This was no time to "emulate Franklin D. Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson," he warned in a memo titled "After The Obama Win," in which he cautioned his party to scale down its spending ambitions to a set of more moderate priorities "that can be met before voters rethink (the election) in 2010."
"That Democrats now command a unified government for the first time since the catastrophic midterm defeat of 1994 should flash strong warning signs to party leaders," said Galston, now a government scholar at the liberal Brookings Institution. Translation: If you make the same mistake of overreaching, Democrats will pay the price in the midterm election two years from now.
Meantime, a veteran elections-trend analyst cautions those who think Tuesday's results mean that Democrats have begun a long reign of power to think again. "Obama was the beneficiary of an unusually good political climate that favored him and the Democrats, but it's not going to stay pro-Democrat forever," Rhodes Cook told me after Tuesday's vote.
"We can't see we are in a new liberal era until that has been confirmed in a few more elections. If Democrats think that is the case now, they do so at their peril," Cook said. In other words, the news media's obituaries for the Republicans are a bit premature. Think back to the 1964 election, when LBJ crushed Barry Goldwater and the Republicans in a landslide. Just about every analyst said that the GOP was finished for at least a generation. Four years later, Republicans took back the White House and were making gains in Congress.
Preliminary election stats tell us that the Democrats' victory was based in large part on its increased support in the suburbs where Republicans once ruled supreme. Obama won 50 percent of these voters, just three points more than Sen. John Kerry's losing performance in 2004.