No matter what happens on Tuesday, progressives will not have unfettered control of Washington, just as we have not the last two years, the last decade, the decade before that, or the decade before that.
We will have to fight for more change. The question is: who will we have to fight?
The last two years, while the Tea Party has been a loud sideshow, on policy matters we have mainly fought right-leaning Democrats.
We fought them over the size of the Recovery Act. We fought them over the scope of health care reform and Wall Street reform. We fought them over how to avert a climate crisis.
It’s been annoying.
But the center of gravity of all those debates been to the left of center: How much active government is needed to get the economy back on track? What kind of regulations are needed to rein in health insurers and big banks? How should a carbon cap be structured?
If Democrats lose control of Congress, the Tea Party will no longer be a sideshow. It will be playing a direct role in setting the policy.
In turn, the fights will be very different.
So, what fights do you want?
Do you want to debate how much more government is needed to boost the economy? Or whether government is needed at all?
Do you want to debate how best to implement health care and Wall Street reform? Or whether they should be repealed?
Do you want to debate cap-and-trade versus cap-and-dividend? Or whether global warming even exists?
Quite frankly, the latter is kind of tempting. Simple fights with a clear winner at the end.
But those broader ideological debates rarely bring about tangible policy results, at least directly. It’s typically an initial step towards the more annoying and frustrating intra-party tussles over how exactly to implement reform, which usually result in policy compromises without clear winners.
In other words, if we have to spend the next two years debating whether global warming is even happening all over again, we’ve taken a big step backwards.
I would argue reaching the point where the policy debates are annoying instead of ridiculous is actually a major achievement.
You may disagree. You may rather prefer jousting with the Tea Party more than the Blue Dogs.
But understand, that is the choice before us all on Tuesday.