Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- In the history of badly timed book titles, Los Angeles Times reporters Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten hold a distinguished place. The publication of "One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century" in 2006 was followed quickly by two national elections in which Democrats gained 15 Senate seats, 54 House seats and the White House. In 2008 Barack Obama became the first Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson to win an outright majority of the popular vote. He took seven states that had twice voted for George W. Bush, including two (Indiana and Virginia) that had not gone Democratic since 1964.

Which led to James Carville's 2009 book, "40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation." Carville argued: "American presidential politics is generally not a back-and-forth enterprise. There are eras in which one party dominates. Today, a Democratic majority is emerging, and it's my hypothesis, one I share with a great many others, that this majority will guarantee the Democrats remain in power for the next forty years."

Apparently the era of Democratic dominance will last two years. According to the polls, key groups of Obama voters -- including women, Catholics, less affluent voters and independents -- are abandoning Democrats in large numbers. Republican strategist Vin Weber calls it the "largest ideological shift in the shortest period of time in my lifetime."

American politics has become a back-and-forth enterprise.

Some explanations for these electoral swings are historically unique, making them difficult to generalize into principles. The political damage of the Iraq War and the response to Hurricane Katrina was specific to the Bush administration. It was politically disastrous for Obama to oversell the stimulus package and to focus on health care reform instead of job creation. Democrats miscalculated that the economic crisis presented a New Deal moment -- a chance to expand the social safety net and increase the progressivity of the tax system. Actually, most people just wanted the economy improved.

And Obama himself turned out to be a surprisingly poor politician. He has shown little ability either to explain his economic theory -- can anyone describe Obamaism? -- or to show empathy for the suffering. He has managed the difficult feat of deflating his supporters while energizing his critics, seeming both too compromised and too extreme at the same time.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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