The Democrats are already popping champagne corks on their impending sweep of both houses of Congress. Their celebration might be a bit premature. It is true that polls show that the approval rating for Republicans is terrible (in the 30%s) but the ratings for Democrats isn't much better (40%s). Further, people have been giving their own congressman a much higher ranking (60%s) than his party, whichever party he belongs to. Throw in voters' tendency to be closet Republicans, and this election may be a fizzle instead of a sweep.
But, assume that it is a sweep of both houses - what will that do to the Democrats? Personally, I think that it will destroy them. Here's my reasoning:
First, it has become a truism among Democrats that the republicans have moved so far to the right that former moderates are now considered progressive. They've been saying this for years but it isn't so. The movement has been on their part. This is especially true of the "Netroots" movement lead by MoveOn, DailyKOS, Huffington Post, and the Democratic Underground.
Democrats hate to admit it but the reason that Bush won the 2000 election was that the more progressive wing of the party was tired of Clinton and moderation. They wanted a progressive platform and Gore, even with a bit of class-warfare, just didn't do it for them. A lot of them stayed home or voted for Nader in protest. Micheal Moore even campaigned for Nader on the idea that there wasn't enough difference between Bush and Gore to matter.
Even assuming that most of Nader's Florida vote came from people who would have stayed home, it is likely that he drained enough voters from Gore to give Bush the election. Most Democrats thought so in 2004 and snubbed him in a mild purge.
In 2003, Howard Dean quickly amassed a huge war chest based on Internet donations. His appeal was that he was from the "liberal wing" of the Democratic party. Again, the eventual candidate was seen by the Netroots as being too moderate although they swallowed their distaste and supported Kerry anyway.
In 2006, the party conducted what is sure to be the first of many purges. The 2000 VP candidate, Joe Lieberman, was judged a traitor to the cause and forced off the ballot. Listening to the Netroots cheer about a "historic election" and "the people taking power back", you would have thought that this had been the first open election in decades.
Along the way, Democratic leaders such as Minority Leader Nancy Pilosi and Sen. Hillary Clinton angered the Netroots with their refusal to push for an immediate troop pull-out in Iraq. There was also widespread discontent that the Democratic leadership didn't fight tooth and nail to block Bush's Supreme Court nominees.
The Netroots movement has been gaining power within the Democratic Party. In 2004, their spending about equaled Kerry's. They expect a return on this investment. If Democrats take Congress, the Netroots will have a list of demands. most of these will be counter-productive. These include:
The impeachment and eventual arrest of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, and a long list of others. This has been a major goal of the Democrats since the day after the 2004 election. John Conyers already warmed up by holding his own unofficial hearings into impeachment. The image of Rove being arrested and "frogmarched" is a recurring one in the Netroot messages boards. The problem for the Democrats is that their grounds for impeachment ("Bush lied") is unlikely to succeed and, as the Clinton impeachment showed, this will play badly with the voters.
An immediate pull-out from Iraq. This is a surrender and the American people will see it as such. If they don't then al Qaida will be sure to send messages telling us so. If Iraq is a recruiting tool now, imagine it after the terrorists say that they defeated the US. We will lose international credibility for decades to come.
A near-doubling of the minimum wage. Progressives want the minimum wage raised to $10/hour and refuse to admit that there could be economic consequences.
A roll-back of all Bush tax cuts. Voters are going to love seeing their taxes go up.
A repeal of NAFTA and a new round of trade barriers, many based on ecological concerns or foreign labor laws . Voters are going to love seeing the price of everything go up.
An implementation of Kyoto treaty and new taxes on gasoline or a general carbon tax. Voters love seeing gas and heat prices rise.
None of these will help the Democrats with the general public. Most will hurt them. This puts the Democratic leadership in a trap. If they act on much of the Netroots' agenda they will hurt the party. This will anger the Netroots who will conduct more purges. They are already considering replacing Pelosi with John Murtha and have put Hillary on notice.
This is where the Democrats will have real trouble. They do not have a shared agenda beyond gaining power and the progressives feel that they have been out of power too long (since around 1968). They want their chance. At the same time, their world view hasn't changed much from FDR's failed economic policies. Iraq by itself is enough to tear the Democrats apart.
Given all of this, the Democrats will be in terrible shape by 2008.
In the meantime, a couple of years out of power in Congress will force the Republicans to reevaluate their own policies. Their policies for the last six years have revolved around forming a permanent Republican majority. They did this by ejecting the fiscal conservative and libertarian principals of the party, figuring that they didn't bring in votes. This has alienated many of the Republican faithful who think that a few years out of power would be good for the party.
It could work. Impeachment proceedings on Bush could cause the party to circle the wagons. With Bush unable to run again and Cheney unlikely to get the nomination, a new face could reinvigorate the conservative cause. The FDR coalition of Unions, blacks, and Jews is long gone but the Reagan coalition of Libertarians and religious conservatives is still viable. This could launch the Republicans back into power for another decade or more.
A lot more if there is another terrorist attack after the Democrats take Congress.