George Will and pretty much every other commenter on the right is missing the point of Tuesday’s election. It was not a referendum on liberalism or progressive politics. At play were two factors: one, the economy had still not recovered and unemployment was still way too high; and two, lots more middle-aged conservatives came out to vote than in most elections – whereas the young and generally liberal vote stayed home.
If anything that means that the president and Democrats did too little to stir up the liberal base, not that Americans outright rejected liberal politics. A very large portion of the electorate votes based on satisfaction or dissatisfaction with very little regard to conservativism or liberalism.
The 2008 election was a rejection of Bush and the Republicans more than it was a rejection of conservatism. And it was a reaction to the economic collapse, perceptions of poor governance, and especially the wars.
The 2010 elections are a rejection of Obama and the Democrats more than they are a rejection of liberalism or progressive policies. If employment had recovered you would probably have a much bluer House today. It has nothing to do with voters appraising policies or thinking about political alignment and everything to do with not being able to find a job. Not everyone spends their days thinking about whether America is conservative or liberal, or whether we should reject or embrace one or the other of these political philosophies. Pundits think everyone must think like they do, but most people don’t. Mostly this was a referendum on incumbents, as elections so often are.
Sure, the Tea Party voters recoil at liberalism, and they were out in force, but they’re just one relatively small faction of the American electorate. All the rhetorical acrobatics in the world won’t change that.