The economic situation is a lot grimmer than it was in '94 yet the Tea Party couldn't match what Gingrich did back then.
Crunch the numbers -- the GOP did better in the Senate than they did in the House -- it's just that the math they confronted demanded that they do much much better in the Senate than in the House to gain a majority there. The "narrative" of winning the House and losing the Senate doesn't tell enough of the story to justify your confidence. Take a look at the Senate math for Democrats in 2012 and you may feel different about the optimistic parity implied in the won one lost one story we are consoling ourselves with. Given the stubborn presence of conservadems in the Democratic caucus standing in the way of passing any legislation remotely progressive enough to answer the demands of the majorities who elected them (enabled by historically unprecedented irresponsible GOP obstructionism that is rewarded rather than punished by suicidally ignorant/indifferent American voters) this rosy story is revealed as all the more fanciful, I'm afraid.
I think people are making too much of this. In the end a bunch of blue dogs which weren't voting for progressive causes got replaced with with republicans who won't vote for progressive causes.
The majority sets the agenda in the House, like it or not. Pelosi prevailed over the Blue Dogs in her caucus reasonably well (and even so single payer was truly always off the table -- think about what that means...). There is a serious question how Democrats could regain a House majority and end the frivolous witch-hunts and Fox-friendly bloviating that will suffuse the House the next couple of years of GOP dominance without electing Democrats to conservative districts who don't annoy us just as badly as the Blue Dogs did. The Constitution baked preferential empowerment of the rural over the urban into the cake. We can't wish that structural problem away, nor dis-invent the coast to coast 24-hr hate-radio megaphone educating and agitating non-urban America into infantile receptivity to wingnut rhetoric.
However with the hard right the far right seems to have lost it's enthusiasm for blowing the whistle on the culture war (things like abortion and gay marriage) which may have helped them pick up a lot of independents.
"Independents" are mostly idiots. The principled progressive protesters of DNC timidity among them are there, but few and far between. These days many "Independents" are just Republicans ashamed to call themselves that because they are sensible enough to be embarrassed by some one facet or other of the current extreme white-racist Randroid-greedhead bombs-and-bigots christianist-theocratic GOP profile while cheerfully signing on to others or comfortably embracing "moderate" variations on the whole crap sandwich in any case, and who, in consequence, would never identify as Democrats however disastrous the Republicans get.
Where you see the Right discarding its culture war dog whistle, I see it also picking up a megaphone. The secular multicultural left won the culture wars but in refusing to act like winners they relinquish all the advantages and strengths that victory properly affords, while the losers deploy the rage and despair of the losers into the self-sacrificing discipline of an army forever fighting the last war. It didn't have to be that way, but it is that way. You do know, surely, that the Tea Partiers are just the same stupid bullying greedy hateful Republicans as ever (silent "majority," moral "majority," Nascar dads, "value" voters, blah blah blah blah). They re-package the reactionary goods every four years or so and everybody falls for the bullshit over and over again.
This could mean that the republican party may effectively be abandoning these issues in the future although it's definitely too soon to tell. If so is that really a defeat? There's also a lot of tea partiers (remember the Rand Paulians?) who want to _cut_ military spending.
Republicans "hate" Big Brother right up until they gain control over it, at which point they start dismantling civil liberties and playing out their authoritarian fantasies. They rail against "tax and spend" until they get a hand in the game and then they start with the borrowing and looting and spending like there's no tomorrow (maybe this time, they're right about that "no tomorrow" thingie). The tea party is the same bombs and bullets loving crowd of white racist pricks as always. Corporate-militarism IS American capitalism -- anti-war libertopians are a contradiction in terms, however earnest or even self-deluded their pitch to the contrary. Recall my Dispatches from Libertopia? Same as it ever was. These are, recall, the "idea guys" who peddle wage slavery as the utopia of nonviolence. Caveat emptor.
We need to stop pretending the wingnut base that keeps falling for this stuff will "come to its senses" and realize "it's being had" and voting against its best interests. Maybe the right wing base keeps falling for these facile scams because they are getting just what they want -- namely, endless occasion to vent their spleen, to rail irrationally at those who are figured as "different" rather than on the criminal rich who steal their prospects from them, to indulge their infantile panic in the face of contingency and mortality rather than turn to secular progressives who would collaborate in the solution of our actually shared problems.
These are ignorant, scared, hateful people, responding to appeals to their stupidity, fear, and hatefulness. Stop imagining they aren't getting what they want, stop deluding yourself they are capable of partnership when they show no objective signs of openness to this capacity. They need to be educated, marginalized where they can't be educated, and defeated where they can't be marginalized. This is a battle, not a quilting bee. I don't think Democrats have courage of conviction equal to the demands of this moment, and I think the Democrats are all we have on offer for the job at hand come what may.
I'm not sure that represents a defeat or setback for progressive values either.
Voters voted on the basis of palpably false beliefs -- that their taxes were raised when they were lowered, that the congress was unusually unproductive legislatively when it was the most productive in generations, that the deficit grew when it shrank, that the bailouts were a disaster when they outperformed expectations. Voters voted for candidates who ran against things voters claim to want, to punish those who tried to do more of what they wanted, often rewarding those who were directly responsible for them not getting the things they were dissatisfied about.
When facts fail to have force, yes, it is a defeat.
Americans elected plainly unqualified Republicans who are on record advocating the most extreme anti-abortion positions, climate-change denialism, theocratic triumphalism, anti-governmentalism imaginable.
The Senate math for 2012 is incredibly grim for Dems. I expect a second Obama term with Republican majorities in both houses -- and that means six long years we don't have the luxury to waste anymore, all without any serious address of real economic ecologic problems on terms equal to their stakes.
I'm hoping that over the next two years these people embarrass themselves
The problem is that the substance of what you must mean by "embarrassing themselves" are things they copiously said and did in the campaigns in which they prevailed. I think, on the contrary, that they'll do things like dismantle Medicare and then blame "Obamacare" and then Democrats endlessly excoriated on Fox and on hate radio and then across the compliant punditocrap archipelago and in Administration press releases defensively taking up their frames will be punished instead for prediactable outcomes we fought and lost. They'll block stimulus spending and defund States and the resulting explosion of unemployment will be blamed on "socialism." They'll bully us into more ruinous military conflicts (Korea, Iran, Pakistan, who knows?) and in the moral fiscal existential blood-letting deride every sensible critic as a traitor and appeaser. They have dismantled the ritual and institutional artifice through which competing factual and causal assertions between the parties are adjudicated.
There's nothing left but spin, always backed by bile and mobilized in the ultimate service of incumbent-elite interests. And those who seek to solve problems or reconcile differences through consensus and deliberation are structurally disadvantaged in such brutal and blind-eyed contexts.
progressives in the USA get riled up like they're starting to do in Europe
I no longer expect more than a negligible number of Americans to protest in any substantial way (or for the corporate media to allow progressive protest to make any kind of substantial impression) -- Americans are rank conformists who fancy ourselves "individualists," anti-intellectual consumers who fancy ourselves "go-getters," Americans have been insulated from the consequences of our reckless and criminal actions (genocidal, militarist, exploitative, unsustainable) for so long we are spoiled rotten even in the midst of our palpable pointless ruin.
The generation born after the collapse of this house of cards, finding itself in a world of people with long memories of our know-nothing belligerent exploitation and preoccupied with coping with climate collapse may find a rising people here amidst the shambles capable of planetary partnership in the solution of shared planetary problems, but those will be Americans who manage to survive what I begin strongly to suspect is in store for us all.
the right might be leaving itself room to maneuver for a U turn on the issue in the future
If your cautious optimism depends on a "u turn" from the right, I feel absolutely confident in declaring your optimism a fantasy. Only a GOP marginalized into utter non-viability by, for example, mid-term losses rather than gains in 2010 yielded by their illiteracy and criminality on stimulus spending, financial deregulation, infrastructure investment, healthcare reform, multilateral foreign policy, their climate-change denialism, their anti-choice rhetoric, their christianist theocracy, and so on might u-turn simply to survive intact -- but of course, they gained power, they gained authority precisely through the embrace of this criminality and madness instead of paying a price for it. I suspect we will all pay for this surreal rewarding of criminality and irrationality in the midst of real crisis for the rest of our lives.
For me the only hope is for the organized Left to clarify their case for sustainable equitable diverse social democracy, to educate Americans via this clarity, to redirect American racial hostility to hatred of the criminal rich and redirect greedy American delusions of lottery-celebrity to devotion to welfare entitlements, to bolster Democratic resolve and prevail over Republicans to the economic-ecologic benefit of majorities. The Right is filled with villains and imbeciles, but the fault in my view for our current distress is in the abdication of the Left. That's where the u-turn must happen -- tick tock.
I happen to think 2006 (Dems regaining the majority) 2008 (Obama) happened just in the nick of time, and that 2010 is a reversal in the trajectory and pace of already hopelessly inadequate reform we actually couldn't afford.
I hope "jollyspaniard" does not feel personally disrespected by this glum response, I do not mean to seem hostile to their vantage when obviously we share so much in the way of observations and aspirations. As you see, I am not cheerful right about now and my inner Mouseketeer has not yet asserted itself in the usual way to show me a way out of the mess we're in. I suspect I shouldn't be blogging at all feeling the way I do these days.