Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Come the revolution . . .

Well, finally — and at a cost of only $4 billion — the American people have succeeded in selecting  who will represent them in Washington for two whole years.

Since 1855, a house of Congress has changed political hands 34 times. I have little doubt that each of those 34 times, the newly victorious party has characterized the vote as a mandate for change and a rebuke to the previous incumbents' misguided ways.

For some reason, however, only Republicans seem to describe such victories (Reagan in 1980, Gingrich in 1994, Boehner in 2010, e.g.) as "revolutions," "historic," "monumental" (well, actually that was how Glenn Beck described his own achievements in contributing to the GOP victory yesterday), or (as the ever-eloquent Sarah Palin put it) "a big darn deal."

(Yes, I went back and looked at how Democrats and the media described the 2006 midterm election, in which Democrats wrested control of both the House and Senate away from the Republicans, and there was plenty of talk about a "message of change," but nothing about a "revolution" or anything close.)

Some of this rhetorical excess reflects the extraordinary success of the GOPs' spin campaign in casting themselves as the perpetual outsiders storming the citadel of establishment power (the "liberal elites" who run things, you will recall). But some of it I've always thought is a kind of subtle reverse-bias effect of the "liberal mainstream media," which treats Democratic victories as simply what is to be expected (even, as in 2006, when the Republicans had held control of both houses for 12 years), while GOP gains are shocking, amazing, surprising, and newsworthy, in the category of man-bites-dog.

It would be idle to deny that the Republicans succeeded in crafting a message that hit home with a majority of those who showed up at the polls yesterday. But I wonder if we could possibly be spared the hyperbole in describing the significance of an event that occurs on average every 5 years in American political history. And if it's a "revolution" when one house changes political hands (leaving the other house and the presidency in the hands of the opposing party), what term should we use to describe it when one party sweeps two, or even all three?