Let's work backwards, this time, shall we? For some reason, I think this cultural moment is all about losers who failed to deliver (here's to the Texas Rangers!), rather than winners who were probably sure things, anyway. Or something.
Anyway, from what I saw:
- Loser: Nancy Pelosi; Not so loser: Barack Obama. I've got a whole separate item to write on this, but the results are in and they were surprisingly clear: America rejected, more than any other thing, Nancy Pelosi's leadership in the House. Voters in nearly every corner of the country replaced, most obviously, those Representatives who had towed her line over what the folks back home wanted. Moreover, with the loss of Ike Skelton, and the near death scares of John Dingell and Barney Frank, replacing Pelosi's old-school, machine based leadership team was on people's minds as well. A referendum on Obama? Not unless he makes it out to be one... and without one of his major backers, he could either make a fresh start or flail. I'd bet on flail.
- Loser: The Working Class Voter. Don't blame the voters, though; no one really, had the backs of working people below the middle class line. The failure of Democrats to protect their core constituency led to massive reversals, while Republicans offered little in the way of hopeful solutions to the real problems many people face (just one obvious example pointed out by a Chicago woman I saw: does this feel like a House that will extend unemployment benefits ever again?). Despite a lot of "we're getting back to the governmental basics" rhetoric of Tea Party conservatives, one of the more fundamental ones has been lost: that the word "Representative" does mean, specifically, representing the interests of the people back home.
- Loser: The Big, Brave Idea. And I'm not sure progressives, or whatever the left wants to call itself, really gets it: this election rejected, most obviously, the healthcare reform monster... but also Cap and Trade, Massive Financial Regulation and other grand plans of the Lefty Educated Elite. That means, too, that scary suggestions that the new House GOP majority will pursue privatizing Social Security or Medicare are probably overblown; there may be some tinkering, but there's no appetite for a big leap. Are we poorer for it? Perhaps; but I'm not sure many understand that the left squandered an opportunity to show true creativity about taking on familiar problems in unexpected ways. In a scary, difficult time, people are doubting creativity and experimentation. Not a good sign.
- The Biggest Loser: Republicans. Oh, they don't see it yet, of course... but four years ago, voters sent the Republican Party a message to change or die. Neither happened: though "we've changed" is the word of the day today, we're likely to see, in short order, a GOP that has not resolved its own internal tensions, has no ideas about positive plans for a fresh start, and has rebuilt, Frankenstein style, the same old coalition of corporate interests and white working class "conservative" resentments, which cannot hold up. Failing to retake the House wouldn't just have set up two years of embarrassing Democratic failures and an easy path to that single Obama term of which they dream, it would have probably initiated that housecleaning of their own ranks that's long overdue. The problem isn't that Sarah Palin might run for President, or that - in some kooky scenario - she might win; the problem is that no Republican presidential hopeful, such as they are, can rely on this base of shifting sand for success. If Chris Christie or Mitch Daniels - two of the most obvious Governor hopefuls - make the effort to win, half their battle will be getting their own house in order... and the other half will be, after that bruising battle, trying to appeal to the rest of us. Good luck with that.
- Winners: Ryan, Cantor and The Republican New Wave. All of that said, Democrats shouldn't lose sight of the fact that, come January, there will be some freshness to the Republican face. Easy attempts to dismiss the whole House majority as crazy extremists will lose sight of the fact that there are some personable, attractive, and even reasonable voices in their midst. There's also Michelle Bachmann, sure, but even she is a reminder that crazy and intolerant sells just as well from an attractive spokesmodel as anything else. Democrats will not manage to flip House control back to their favor until they learn a few lessons of their own, and paying attention to what works for the likes of Ryan and Cantor would be a good start.
- Winners: The Voices Of Experience (and hidden Loser: the Tea Party Extremes). For all the talk of the potential to put crazy into Congress, especially in the Senate, it's worth noting that Republicans won seats, mainly, with experienced hands: what really binds Pat Toomey, Mark Kirk, John Boozman, Marco Rubio, Rob Portmn, and Kelly Ayotte as winners is the fact that they are not, in fact, new to government, but experienced hands who have held previous leadership roles (that's also true of a number of longstanding house veterans who survived rough challenges). Joe Manchin, Michael Bennet, Barbara Boxer and Patty Murray all showed that it was entirely possible to stand up to the angriest right wing elements and survive, if you made the case for experience and seriousness. Voters rejected a class of candidates - Christine O'Donnell, Carly Fiorina, Ken Buck, Sharron Angle, Dino Rossi, most obviously - who'd neve proven themselves in government prior to their statewide runs, gadflyers mouthing the right conservative lines but showing no serious abilities to build appeal, or promote anything other than themselves. Sure,a few happy accidents slipped through, most notably Rand Paul (though even Rubio fits that bill, too; a majority of Florida voters voted for someone else), and the House will be more extreme in its rhetoric, but this election did not, in any real sense, represent a Tea Party revolution. Paul is more the happy fratboy riding his way into Daddy's family business than a serious spokesman for the libertarian line. Unless he gets serious, he won't last.
- Winner: The Status Quo, and Divided We Stand. Perhaps no single legislative body represents this election's results quite like the New York State Senate, which limped to a 31-31 tie. A tie which basically divides the state - my state - into its natural divide: Long Island went solidly Republican, the City went reliably heavily blue, and starting at about my town's line in Westchester and moving North, Republicans won pretty handily across upstate. New York's divisions between city and rural, left and right, are stark and obvious... it's the divide that defines the failure of state government to do little more than waste money and encourage insider dealing. This election, I'd submit, reinforced all our natural divides: despite brave talk about a Republican resurgence in the northeast, the entire delegatiopns of Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island all remain firmly Democratic, with New Hampshire reasserting itself as the lonely, isolated home of rural Yankee conservative independence. Around the country, incumbents mostly won easily. And while Republicans took back the House, they did so, mainly, by retaking rural and suburban districts that were, mostly, the low hanging fruit. It's a big shift, sure, but it's a shift that says, in many ways, we don't want a revolution; we want what we had, and divided government works. And now our elected officials must make it so. If nothing else... our sense of humor remains intact and twisted as ever.
- Winner: Barack Obama. Whatever happens, however bad it gets, President Obama will have a handy scapegoat for his future failings, a House they will surely label as full of extremists and people intent on stopping his political agenda and hurting his chances for reelection. I doubt he will show the kind of creative, "do what's doable" heft that Billl Clinton showed after 1994 (nor will Obama face anything like Clinton's mortifying impeachment fight), but he'll do enough, and stand up enough, for enough liberal causes to make replacing him difficult if not impossible in a Democratic primary Add in the likelihood that Republicans will injure themselves trying to find an opponent, and Obama could put together all the lackluster pieces necessary to limp to another term. And isn't that really what winning is about these days? It makes losing look surprisingly more attractive, doesn't it?