Already weakened by three decades of slow arsenic poisoning from Reaganism, the United States ordered up a new dose of Ronald Reagan's special "government is the problem" elixir in Election 2010 and it is hard to envision how this willing victim will soon, if ever, recover.
Perhaps the most telling of all the exit polls from Tuesday was that a solid majority of voters declared that they thought "government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals," paraphrasing Reagan's favorite political theme, one that has been at the center of America's stunning decline.
Animus against Big Government has always had a populist appeal and surely some of Washington's clunky actions have fed this disdain. But Reaganism is, in essence, the populist, smiling face of Big Money ruthlessly neutralizing the one institution that could threaten corporate dominance of America, a democratized and energized federal government.
Today's victorious corporate Republican chieftains and their Tea Party foot soldiers are just the latest embodiment of Reagan's dark legacy. They favor cutting taxes for the rich; slashing social programs; reducing regulations on corporations; weakening the power of unions; ignoring needed investments in national infrastructure; disdaining environmental science; and trusting "the magic of the market."
This Republican strategy that Reagan popularized in the early 1980s has over the past three decades returned the United States to a second Gilded Age of extreme wealth at the top, a shrinking middle class, growing desperation among the working classes, rampant stock speculation, and a bubble-and-bust economy.
Yet amazingly, millions of Americans went to the polls on Tuesday and voted for this approach. In Rust Belt states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania which have substantial interest in manufacturing jobs related to the auto industry, voters punished Democrats who saved General Motors and Chrysler, and favored Republicans who would have blocked the bailout.
Voters also sent the conflicting message that they wanted the federal government to focus on "jobs, jobs, jobs" but also cut the deficit. They then empowered Republicans whose major idea for job creation is to slash taxes for the richest top two percent of Americans, an approach that has been ineffective in job creation but is expected to add about $700 billion in red ink over the next decade.
Other craziness lies ahead. Media pundits are already hectoring President Barack Obama to move right and cooperate with the Republicans, but the Republican leadership has made clear that its primary goal for the next two years is to make sure that Obama is defeated in 2012.
"The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president," declared the Senate's Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, shortly before Election Day.
Other key Republicans have announced that they will not compromise on what they regard as their "principles" or on the anti-government message that they discerned from the voters.
In short, Obama faces the prospect of continued Republican obstructionism except that now the GOP is in a much stronger position. When the economy continues to sputter as it almost surely will the news media will blame Obama, either for "failing" to achieve bipartisanship or for "failing" to heed the supposed electoral message and shift rightward far enough.
Meanwhile, Republicans are angling to regain control of all three branches of government: the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. The dream of Karl Rove's "permanent Republican majority" appears to be alive and well.
The Left's Reaction
It's also a safe bet that the American Left will continue to berate Obama for not being "left enough," for not somehow enacting socialized medicine or for not getting Congress to approve other sweeping progressive legislation.
But the voters told pollsters that they felt Obama was too much of a left-wing activist. Indeed, House Democrats, who took the hardest votes for progressive legislation such as a "public option" for health care and a cap-and-trade system to combat global warming, took the brunt of the Republican assault.
While Republicans were unseating progressive legislators like Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, many progressives were deserting Obama and the Democrats by not voting or casting ballots for minor third parties. Some even campaigned against Democrats who fell short on some issue or another.