We knew it was going to be a bad election night for the Democrats when former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe announced on NBC's "Today" program that "the results of these elections tend to be overread." Certainly that was not the prevailing opinion in Democratic circles in 2008, when giddiness over Barack Obama's election reached manic proportions.
Virginia, which voted Democratic for president for the first time since 1964, was singled out as an indication of the shape of things to come. In 2008, Mr. Plouffe bragged that only Mr. Obama could make Virginia competitive, and when he won the state, it was hailed as a bellwether, an indicant of the emerging "permanent Democratic majority."
The theory of the Democratic future was elaborated by the New Republic's John Judis, who argued the day after the 2008 election that Mr. Obama's victory "is the culmination of a Democratic realignment that began in the 1990s. ... The country is no longer 'America the conservative.' And, if Obama acts shrewdly to consolidate this new majority, we may soon be 'America the liberal.' "
In Virginia, the zest for change seems to have taken a 180-degree turn. The last commonwealthwide poll before Election Day showed Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell leading Democrat R. Creigh Deeds by double digits in most regions of the state and among most age groups. Mr. Deeds held a mere five-point edge in Northern Virginia, which lately has been voting 2-1 for Democrats.
New Mexico also was seen as pointing the way to a Democratic future. In 2008, Salon announced that New Mexico "is now bright blue" in an article discussing the possibility of a permanent Democratic majority. Last month, however, Republicans won a little-reported upset victory in the mayoral and city council elections in reliably Democratic Albuquerque. Change is in the wind, but now it is blowing to the right.
There is no empirical evidence that the country is becoming "America the liberal." The most recent Gallup survey of political ideology reports that 40 percent of Americans self-identify as conservative, up three points from 2008, while just 20 percent self-identify as liberal, down two points from a year ago. The irrational exuberance of the 2008 race has since crashed down to cold, hard reality. Mr. Obama ran on a vaguely defined "hope and change" platform, and Americans have discovered that the devil is in the details.
Mr. Obama's election brought the United States astronomical public debt, a slumping currency, increasing government control of the economy, continued job losses, radical judges, a disastrous foreign policy, a proposed government takeover of health care and a job-killing energy bill. Americans - some unwittingly - put in place the most radical government in generations, and they now are realizing what they have wrought.
The results of the 2009 elections could be overread, but they cannot be ignored. Democrats have failed to exhibit responsible stewardship of the country, and voters are putting them on notice.