Major political realignments are exceedingly rare occurrences in the United States. Before Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, you have to go all the way back to 1932 to find a similar partisan sea change.
Political turnover is an even more remote possibility today than it was 12 years ago. On top of the traditional incumbent advantages in name recognition and money-raising, gerrymandering once an art has become a science that precisely packs voters into uncompetitive districts.
The proof, quite simply, is in the numbers: 25 of 26 senators who ran for re-election in 2004 were victorious, while outside of Texas, 396 of 399 House incumbents who ran for re-election won. Victorious challengers to the status quo are the ivory-billed woodpeckers of the political class.
The volcano of the Abramoff scandal that finally erupted in January has, however, provided the necessary ingredient for a potential political tsunami in 2006.
While it's true that both Democrats and Republicans are tainted by allegations of pay-for-play politics, there's no way around the fact that members of the ruling party overwhelmingly populate Planet Abramoff or that its chieftains have an inordinate number of ties to the office of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
Voters always declare with certainty their intention to throw the bums out. In practice, they're far less certain about who the bums actually are. A profligate, ethically challenged Congress under Republican leadership makes the act of discernment far easier this year than anytime since 1994.
Democrats have a rare and golden opportunity to alter the balance of political power. The Republican leadership itself has served up the dish of its own defeat.
Yet the Democratic leadership is turning up its nose at this treat and is instead trying to concoct a recipe that the American public simply doesn't want.
Pandering to their far-left base, the Democrats are honing a strategy to make national security their key issue. Perhaps, more accurately, it's national insecurity they're championing. On a broad range of issues, the Democratic leadership can't seem to distinguish between deserved, constructive criticism and the reflexive, nihilistic tendency to oppose anything Bush.
The controversy over domestic National Security Agency surveillance provides the latest evidence that, as regards national security, the Democrats just don't get it.
Democrats are ebullient about upcoming hearings on the eavesdropping program. Some are even deliriously muttering the "I" word impeachment, betraying their motive, which is not to improve the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to meet the exigencies of the war on terror and strike a better balance between civil liberties and security. Instead, it's to engage in a game of "gotcha!" with the White House on civil liberties at the expense of security.
A recent New York Times/CBS News poll asked, "In order to reduce the threat of terrorism, would you be willing or not willing to allow government agencies to monitor the telephone calls and e-mails of Americans that the government is suspicious of?"
The results: 68 percent willing, 29 percent not willing. As I frequently note, polls are fickle. But in this case, the poll question actually understates the government's case, since the surveillance is of communications from the United States not necessarily from Americans to individuals abroad with a known connection to terrorism.
And these percentages conform to polls in 2005 and 2003 that asked the same question and showed similarly lopsided results.
Americans are duly suspicious of President Bush's assertion of a vague, reasonable basis for warrantless surveillance. Astute Democrats might capitalize on this suspicion by sensibly revising FISA and recasting the debate as one of security and civil liberties rather than security or civil liberties.
Because of internal party dynamics and the imperative to appease anti-Bush extremists, they won't. Which is why, despite scandalous Republican control of Congress, the 2006 elections are not likely to be much different from those in 2004 or 2002.