Liberal elites will be eager to cast Democratic gains as vindication of blue-state sanity over red-state religious radicalism. They will proclaim a new mandate for everything from fast withdrawal from Iraq to embryonic stem cell research to gay marriage. Ironically, the only way Democrats can actually win is by sounding an awful lot like President Bush. But the truth is that if they take back the Congress, they will have exhausted their mandate simply by being "not Bush."For example, conventional wisdom holds that Democrats are energized by opposition to the Iraq war. And though most Democratic leaders - House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. John Murtha, Sen. John Kerry et al. - back a rapid pullout, a Washington Post survey of the 59 most competitive races in August found that a majority of Democratic congressional and senatorial candidates sided with the president and opposed the "get out now" wing of the party.
Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is the most glaring example of this dynamic. The fire-breathing purists succeeded in denying the pro-war Democrat his party's nomination. But now that Lieberman is running as an independent, Ned Lamont, the Democratic nominee, is bound for a drubbing and Lieberman's "Joementum" might even have Republican coattails.