Jim Henson was the comedic genius behind the Muppets, the whimsical puppets that have charmed and educated audiences for over 40 years. Henson and his crew created an indelible cast of characters, many of whom are featured in The Muppet Show, a syndicated television program that initially ran in the United States in the late 1970s and has been around ever since.
Two characters that fans of the show will remember are Statler and Waldorf. Statler and Waldorf are presumably wealthy, elderly gentlemen who sit high above the stage, heckling the performers below. They are amusing and often insightful, but like most hecklers, they have it easy. They are quick to criticize but they rarely offer anything that might improve the show they watch. Interestingly enough, they look a bit like George Soros.
For most of this decade, the Democrats have been playing the part of Statler and Waldorf. Republicans have essentially dominated the federal government apparatus, with firm control of the presidency and House of Representatives and tenuous control of the Senate. That appears to have changed yesterday. Meanwhile, the Democrats have been on the outside, shouting imprecations and maintaining a constant drumbeat of complaint through their allies in the mainstream news media. In this campaign, the Democratic message has been essentially this:
Democrats are not Republicans
Vote for Democrats because Republicans suck
We told you that Republicans suck, remember?
Had you heard that Republicans suck? I thought so. Vote Democrat
The message seems to have worked. Democrats defeated enough Republicans to take control of the House and it appears possible that they may ultimately control the Senate, although we won’t know that for up to a month because of a recount in the Virginia race. The margins of control will be narrow, but the Democrats will be in control.
So what does that mean? It means a few things, not all of which are bad:
First, the Democrats will set the national agenda. Some priorities of theirs will likely pass quickly, including an increase in the minimum wage. While raising the minimum wage is a foolish idea for a number of reasons, it will happen. Fighting the war will become much more difficult, as the Democrats will be able to put significant roadblocks in front of the President, especially since they will control the purse. Finally, conservatives can probably kiss their hopes of having a truly conservative Supreme Court goodbye. Bush could nominate the most luminous conservative he could find, and he wouldn’t be able to get that individual past Pat Leahy and Dick Durbin. If John Paul Stevens or Ruth Bader Ginsburg retire in the next two years, you won’t see anyone from the Federalist Society replacing them.
Second, because the Democrats will be setting the agenda, their agenda setting will start to attract some scrutiny. They’ll have to explain why they want to raise the minimum wage, or hurt the president’s ability to wage the war. They’ll have to explain why they need to block qualified judges. They’ll need to explain why, darn the luck, Americans can’t have the “middle class tax cut” that so many of these freshly minted Congresscritters claimed they would provide. They’ll also need to explain why the tax increases they have in mind for the “top 1%” of income earners seem to be affecting well over 50% of the population.
Finally, being in opposition will allow the Republicans to climb into the theater box where Statler and Waldorf usually sit. There are smart, telegenic leaders in the Republican party who will be able to offer the sorts of pithy soundbites that play well on the news. George Bush will actually be free to swing from the heels now. Open conflict tends to clarify matters. The voters have ordered up open conflict; soon they will have a choice to make. It’s quite possible they’ll order up some more in 2008, by the way.
2008 just got a heck of a lot more interesting. Have the Democrats turned the tide? Or is this, to use a historical analogy, the Battle of the Bulge? We’ll find out soon.