For six decades, from the late 1940s until the election of Barack Obama and Democratic congressional supermajorities in 2008, Americans were not presented with a clear-cut effort to vastly expand the size and scope of government. Even Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, which gave us Medicare, was directed more at expanding welfare programs that were rolled back in the 1990s.
On Tuesday, Americans gave their verdict on the Obama Democrats' sharp increases in government spending and Obamacare. It was as resounding a "no" as their forebears delivered to the postwar Democrats' welfare state vision in 1946.
In particular, voters in the industrial heartland, states which trended Democratic in the postwar recession years of 1958, 1970 and 1982, this time trended Republican. They evidently see government spending programs as the problem, not the solution, to a stagnant economy.
In 2008, Barack Obama and congressional Democrats won with a top-and-bottom coalition, carrying voters with incomes over $200,000 and under $50,000, while losing those in between. In 2010, that coalition has contracted. Turnout among low-income voters was down, while Democratic support among the affluent seems confined to those on public sector and university payrolls.
Democrats and their cheerleaders in the press will trot out alibis and rationalizations, blaming the result on ignorance, selfishness or racism. But voters this year were better informed about the intentions of the Obama Democrats than they were in 2008 and no more racist than the electorate that gave Barack Obama 53 percent of the popular vote, more than any other Democratic nominee in history except Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.
The implications for public policy and for the 2012 presidential election remain unclear. Republicans could fail to offer attractive policy alternatives or a viable presidential nominee.
But one thing seems difficult to deny. The policies of the Obama Democrats are not the kind of change Americans hoped for.