Dick Tuck was a Democratic political consultant whose pranks bedeviled Richard Nixon. Mr. Tuck helped many clients to victory, but he got creamed in his lone bid for elective office, for the California state Senate in 1964. His defeat permitted him to make the most memorable concession speech in history: "The people have spoken...the bastards."
Many conservatives share Mr. Tuck's sentiments in the wake of Tuesday's debacle. How could an electorate whose judgment we praised in 2004 go so far off the rails in just two years?
The truth is, they didn't. The Republicans lost because they deserved to lose.
The election was in large part a referendum on President Bush's policy in Iraq. It's understandable why voters are unhappy with it. The situation there isn't as dark as many in the media would have us believe, but it isn't good, and it isn't getting better.
President Bush seemed to many to be detached from voter concerns about Iraq. Persistence is a virtue, but stubbornness is not. "Staying the course" is not attractive if you think the ship of state is headed for the rocks.
Exit polling suggested corruption was even more on voters' minds than was Iraq. Understandably so. Four GOP congressmen Tom DeLay of Texas, Randy Cunningham of California, Bob Ney of Ohio and Mark Foley of Florida were forced to resign for various crimes and peccadilloes.
Earmarks a soft form of corruption exploded under the GOP. The last three Republican congresses have been the most profligate in history.
Meanwhile, Republican congresses failed to act on a comprehensive plan for border security, to enact a sound energy policy, or to fix the looming fiscal crises threatening Social Security and Medicare.
Many of the failures were due in large part to unprecedented Democratic obstruction. But people expect governing majorities to govern, and the Republicans mostly didn't. They seemed more concerned with hanging on to power than in doing something constructive with it.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., the bright, tough, aggressive chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, deserves much of the credit for the Democratic sweep. He recruited good candidates and raised lots of money for them.
But I think more of the credit should go to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. It was he more than any other who perverted the Republican desire to change the culture of Washington, D.C., by utilizing that culture for the benefit of GOP incumbents. He traded Republican principles for the pottage of lobbyist dollars.
"When Republicans worry more about staying in government than about limiting government, they get thrown out of government. That's the lesson of Nov. 7, 2006," wrote Mark Tapscott, editorial page editor of the Washington Examiner.
Republicans argue Democrats will be worse. They're probably right. But if the people you've hired to do a job botch it, that's reason enough to fire them. One needn't fully vet the qualifications of potential replacements before doing so. Republicans have their poor performance to blame for their defeat, not a finicky electorate.
How long the Democrats remain in power depends mostly on what they do with it. If Republicans lost in large part because they ignored their base, Democrats won in large part because they ignored theirs. The candidates Mr. Emanuel recruited were mostly (by Democratic standards) moderates and conservatives. Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, strident left-liberals, virtually disappeared from the radar screen in the weeks preceding the election.
Though the election clearly was a repudiation of Republicans, it wasn't an endorsement of a leftward shift. The only clear-cut referendum on the Iraq war was in deep blue Connecticut, where the Senate race was won easily by the hawk, Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
In Michigan, where a Democratic governor and a Democratic senator cruised to re-election, voters approved by a comfortable margin a referendum banning affirmative action.
In five states, initiatives banning gay marriage passed easily. Only in Arizona, where the proposed initiative would have banned civil unions as well, did a gay-marriage ban fail.
Exit polls indicated that 47 percent of those who voted described themselves as "moderates," and they broke heavily for the Democrats.
"Their disaffection with the GOP was not philosophical," wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks. "It was about competence and accountability."
If Democrats govern as moderates, they could remain in control of Congress for a long, long time. But if they give way to their moonbat base, their day in the sun could be cut short.