The theme of this midterm election is clear: Stop the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda of big-big-bigger government now.
The irony is that, with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as one big possible exception, the largest projected losses for the Democrats are not in the most liberal wing of the party. The big losers will be among the Blue Dogs, the party’s self-described moderates.
And they’re going to lose because, while they barked loudly about checking the Dems’ more extreme impulses, in the end they always rolled over.
Many of the Republicans set to take their places are, or have been boosted by, tea partiers. They may not be moderates, but they are like the Blue Dogs in that, sooner or later, they will be asked to stand up for their principles — and against the majority in their own party.
That means they will have to work hard to avoid the Blue Dogs’ fate of submission and eventual irrelevance. And they can only do that by changing the language and currency of compromise.
Going into Tuesday, many tea partiers hold the very word “compromise” in contempt. They have built a phenomenal political movement on their resolute opposition to President Obama and the Democrats. They have also firmly warned the Republican establishment not to expect a return to the GOP’s business as usual.
Having risen from nowhere, they don’t plan to back away from either stance.
But political movements that don’t produce results also don’t survive very long. Simple math — along with Obama’s presence in the White House for two more years; six more years if the GOP blows it — suggests tea-party Republicans won’t have the votes to shrink Washington as they wish all at once.
That said, “compromise” doesn’t have to take the same forms that it historically has taken on Capitol Hill.
It does not have to be a vote for an earmark, or an expansion of government here for a reduction of government there.
It could be agreeing to cut spending first, and revisit tax rates later.
It could be a willingness to give up some popular tax deductions in exchange for reform that flattens and simplifies tax rates overall.
It could be agreeing to cut spending in areas they’d tend to protect — the defense budget comes to mind — in exchange for reductions in departments they’d prefer to target.
It could be a resolve to come together temporarily with anyone, even their ideological opposites, who is prepared to finally quash corporate-welfare programs such as farm subsidies for big agribusiness.
It could be the patience to prioritize the regulations that need the most urgent attention and relief, rather than taking a scattered approach to many areas all at once.
In all these areas and more, it could be moving more slowly than desired, as long as the direction is clear and the progress steady. And, of course, having the wisdom to know when to compromise in these ways and when not to budge.
This midterm election has become more of a national referendum than maybe any such contest before it. The flip side is that, two years from now, these congressional insurgents will be scrutinized like no other freshman class before them.
But they should take confidence from the fact that they overcame all odds, and a substantial smear campaign, to reach the threshold at which they now stand. If they do what’s right, the voters will stick with them in 2012.