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What are the American people saying?

From MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan
"Well, the American people have spoken, and in his own good time, Franklin will tell us what they have said."

So one wag quipped after the Democratic landslide over the Hoover Republicans in 1932. And FDR supplied the answer: A New Deal.

What are the American people saying tonight, and what are they not saying?

First, the election may be seen as a referendum on President Bush, his party, and the war into which he led the United States. And George Bush and the Republicans have lost that referendum.  This was not a vote to abandon Iraq, but it was a vote against the war, a vote to begin an American withdrawal.

This seems undeniable. But this is no mandate for the Democratic Party or its ruling philosophy of liberalism. Democrats spent much of the campaign denying they were a "cut-and-run" party, denying they would raise taxes, and keeping Nancy Pelosi in protective custody.  Many Democrats taking seats away from the GOP are what we used to call, and some still do, "Blue Dogs."

While Ms. Pelosi has a measure of power, she had a larger component of responsibility, now, and with it goes accountability.  She leads the popular house of government in an unpopular war, and her house is decidedly a house divided, with the Pelosi-Murtha position representing but a third of the body at most. 

Rather than seek out some grand compromise, Bush's best option now may be to follow the Reagan example, work with his own party on the Hill, and split off the Blue Dogs from the Democratic majority.  On extending the Bush tax cuts, without raising taxes on capital gains or upper brackets, he would be well-advised to put the proposition to those Democratic freshman who came in on a pledge not to raise taxes.
On the war, the Democratic Party in the House, if it takes an antiwar and take-the-next-exit policy, would be assaulted for undercutting the troops. Recall 1974-75, when the new Democratic Congress cut off aid to the South Vietnamese, and Saigon fell.  It took decades for Democrats to live down the impression that they were politicians who march America, or cheer America, into wars, and go over the Hill when the going gets tough. 

As for 2008, loss of the House benefits the GOP.  Had they remained in control of all branches of government going into 2008, with two wars going badly, the likelihood is that the nation would have thrown them all out.
In short, Democrats have had a good night, a big night, something between a victory and a rout of the Republicans.  But carping is now no longer enough for Congressional Democrats.  They need to perform.  And it's been a long time since truly liberal Democrats have had to do that.

The country voted against the GOP.  It did not vote for liberal Democrats.  Yet, it is going to get a popular House whose visible faces are Nancy Pelosi, John Conyers, Alcee Hastings, Charlie Rangel, Henry Waxman, and Barney Frank.

The people may end up wailing, in T. S. Eliot's line, "This is not what I meant at all."