Who would have guessed that running on the politics of hope was a smart move after all?
From 2000 to 2006, Democrats enjoyed unprecedented party unity. Their combined outrage over the Florida recount, Ralph Nader's spoiler role and the Iraq war, along with their omnibus Bush hatred, forced left-wing activists to rally around the Democratic banner. They believed that they constituted a broad "movement," that they embodied the authentic voice of the people, that they would "take back" America and, once in power, transform it. If only Democrats ran things, there'd be no war, our allies would love us, global warming would be brought to heel, and we would have universal health care, happily married gay neighbors and embryonic stem cells for everybody.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, this was the perfect environment for Hillary Clinton. Any Democrat would deliver a New Politics, she argued, so why not vote for the most experienced one with the best chance in the general election?
Meanwhile, Barack Obama's airy rhetoric about hope inspired people, but voting for him seemed like a luxury, a self-indulgence. Meanwhile, Hillary could win, and winning was all Democrats needed.
Now the climate has changed. Twice since the Democrats took over Congress with a much-trumpeted "mandate" to end the war, they've ended up voting to fund it, and it looks like it will happen again. The Bush and Maliki administrations have announced a long-term partnership that will permit military bases in Iraq for years, if not generations, to come. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's antiwar point man, Rep. Jack Murtha, accidentally admitted last week that the surge was working. And we've now learned that Pelosi and other leading Democrats have known about CIA waterboarding since 2002 and were apparently fine with it then.
If I were a Nader-ite, I would be mad enough to drive my Prius over the family cat.
Meanwhile, on the domestic front, the myth that the Democrats' 2006 victory represented some sort of tidal wave of good-government reform is laying on the ground in a battered heap of implausibility. Senate Democrats recently abandoned the canard of "paygo" - a budgeting gimmick that requires paying for tax cuts or spending increases with spending cuts or tax increases elsewhere. Pork-barrel spending - the GOP's Achilles' heel in '06 - is now the Democrats' problem.