Yesterday (and a little bit into today), the right-wing Republican Party swept the Democrats from office in the House of Representatives in what appears to be 59 to 65 seat swing for the party, a historic amount, far surpassing the 1994 wave against Bill Clinton's presidency. It's a stinging rebuke of the Obama presidency, as well as the leadership of now former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and continuing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The basic ssue that was on everyone's mind: the economy. Jobs. As Chris Matthews so aptly put, from Scranton, Ohio to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the Democrats were swept from power in this industrial and manufacturing heartland, losing long-standing Senate seats and many, many Congresspeople.
But, there's even more to this story. While it's anti-incumbent in its scope as anti-Democratic (who are the incumbents), the Republicans are actually less favourable to Americans than the Democrats. Indeed, there's a consistent trend in polling that shows the Democrats getting better ratings among Americans that Republicans, even over the past couple of years. While the Democrats aren't getting fantastic results, the fact that the GOP can't get anything better is telling.
The fact that the GOP had managed this huge wave even though people aren't necessarily fired up about the GOP itself, is also telling. They wanted to send a message to the incumbents that, hey, you aren't doing your job, so maybe these guys will, even if we don't like them all that much. And that right there was trouble for the Democrats from the beginning - that Americans were willing to vote in a party they know screwed things up before, in order to punish them now. The Tea Party was a symptom of this, not the solution, or even the driver. It's the canary in the coal mine.
Stephen Harper should be worried because of these results. Sure, Americans voted in an expressedly right-wing party, but I have a bit of a feeling that ideology had little to do with the results of this election. Americans just wanted something to get done, and they felt the Democrats weren't doing it. The problem for Harper is that right now, he's in the same position that the Democrats are - Harper is the incumbent, not the Liberals or Ignatieff.
If the same sentiment creeps into Canada, where our unemployment situation has been a lot better, yes, but it's still very stagnant overall, and where this government has not lived up to its promises of tackling issues dear to Canadians with proper gusto, instead focusing on partisan games and billion dollar jets we don't need, Harper could be in trouble. Ignatieff's own unpopularity as leader could end up being a non-issue, and people could end up voting Liberal simply because they want an alternative to the current government. I've said again and again, the Liberals must be that alternative, and that's how we'll win. But if the election down south of the border can teach us anything, it's that a good portion of elections are not actually won by the opponent, they're lost by the incumbent.
Will it actually happen? It's no guarantee, of course. Harper's been relatively safe because of our strengthened position up here in Canada. That's a good thing for Canada, but fairly bad for the Liberals. It's actually smart on the part of Harper's government to say that we're in a good position, but we're far out of the danger zone. It creates a sense of stability, yet still urgency. The Conservatives through this say, we've helped keep us treading water, but we're not on land yet. If we were sinking, they'd probably face what the Democrats did; if we're on land, the Liberals can campaign effectively on social and non-fiscal issues better than the Conservatives can. It's this semi-crisis mode that keeps them up.
But, the situation can move in either direction, and eventually it will. The Conservatives should be worried when it does.