Before I get around to telling you what message the voters sent Tuesday it is imperative to establish one fact: There was no message sent Tuesday.
There were a few hints and warnings, but no message. This was no referendum, and 2009 will not go down as a watershed moment. Disregard all noise you hear that suggests otherwise in the next few days. All it proves is that the river of commentary never stops flowing, even when the wellspring of news runs dry. This was about as off as an off-year election can get, it proves nothing.
But there are some things we can learn from the events of November 3rd, 2009.
First of all, with apologies to Tip O'Neill. All politics is loco.
In New York City we learned that even though most of the voters really don't want you to become Gotham's equivalent of Mayor Daly, if you've got a few billion and run against nobody you can squeak out a victory.
In New York State we learned that the civil war on the right is in full bloody combat, and on a night that should have been unalloyed joy for the GOP, the conservatives shot themselves in the neck.
In Maine we learned that America is still an election cycle or two away from enough old fogies dying off for gays to get justice via the ballot box. If I was running the pro-gay marriage campaign I'd also take away the lesson that we'd be better off doing our propositions during presidential election years, when the nutball quotient is down and more Americans with a life take the time and trouble to vote.
New Jersey showed that a state rife with corruption, high taxes and unemployment is rough on incompetent incumbents with a Goldman Sachs pedigree.
Virginia showed that even in the 21st century, The South Can Rise Again.
What does it all add up to? Not much. It doesn't tell us what will happen in next year's mid-terms, and it has even less meaning for 2012.
But Tuesday's meaninglessness as a predictor should give no comfort to the Democratic party. Because what happened yesterday, while not a harbinger of doom, is what the Obama administration like to call "a teachable moment."
Do something. That's the lesson. You've been in power for nearly a year, had the House for nearly three; you promised change. So far you've given us Harry Reid, the prince of mealy-mouthed pusillanimity, wheezing excuses behind a microphone that looks bigger than he is, physically and morally. Nancy Pelosi, more macho and committed, but somehow no more effective, doing her google-eyed best to herd cats in the House and getting more or less nowhere.
Our President, who came into office with a surge of goodwill and the wind at his back, promising big things and real leadership, is now looking like a bystander, too patient, too passive, too reasonable for his own good. And ours.
The Democrats are acting like they have all the time in the world. They don't. The liberals preached a new, New Deal. For almost a year they've been shuffling the deck. They better shut up and deal before somebody takes the cards away.
Barack Obama needs to channel his inner Chicago pol, and start cracking some heads. Cracking a placid smile while taking punch after punch to the kidneys is losing its sweet, bipartisan charm.
Mr. President, you're a quick learner. Learn this: It is time to do something or lose the chance forever.
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