GO AHEAD, CALL THEM CONSERVATIVE DEMS. WHY SHOULD WE CARE? Unlike Tom Schaller, I have to admit, I wasn�t bothered at all by the spin that the Democrats won because they embraced a lot of candidates with conservative views and backgrounds. Now Tom�s a political scientist, so he has to be concerned with empirical truth and all that stuff (didn�t Karl Rove get rid of that?), and as a matter of truth, he and the legendary political researcher Dennis Yedwab are of course right: the bulk of the Democratic majority came from Northeast, Midwest and Mountain seats where the winners were not conservative.

So the spin that the Democrats won because they moved in a more conservative direction is inaccurate. But so what? Consider the alternative spin, which is that Democrats are a bunch of extreme liberals, who will be as far out of touch as the Republicans and who will be destroyed in 2008? I�d rather have a party that�s fairly liberal but has a reputation or image as moderate than one that�s really moderate and over-cautious but has a reputation for being extremely liberal, which was the situation through much of the 19990s. The more sophisticated version of the spin, of course, is that the Democratic leadership is a bunch of liberal freaks, and the newly elected Heath Shulers et al won�t get along with them. But that�s not a real issue unless they actually don�t get along, and the Democratic Party has handled much wider disparities of opinion in the past.

The Republicans might get some satisfaction out of claiming that these new Dems are more conservative, but what do they gain from that? The fact is that they are Dems for a reason, and the reason is not the old "Daddy was a Dem, Grandpappy was a Dem" of the past, but the simple fact that even fairly conservative people cannot tolerate what the Republican Party has become. That's their shame, not something for them to brag about!

The fact is that the Democratic Party has been a centrist, moderate party for some time, in the sense that on balance the party�s governors, legislators and policy agenda fully represent the center of public opinion. (As shown, for example, by the fact that the viewpoint of independents was very much in line with that of Democrats.) But it was a damaged brand; it needed a remake of its image. This is a chance to do it, by showing that the party has in fact incorporated the center. Highly visible veterans, openly religious candidates, and social conservatives like Casey send a cultural signal, not an ideological one, a signal that this is a party you can be comfortable in. Sometimes you need to seem like you have changed just to make people understand what�s been going on all along.

The underlying story of this election, and one that the press will eventually understand, is that there are now two parties in this country: A constructive majority party of the center-left on one side, and on the other, a regionally based faction of the far-right party, now stripped of its last moderates, a remnant that is probably the most ideologically extreme minority party since the New Deal. The "conservative Dems" spin, even if wrong, helps move this understanding forward, and that's fine.

We now return you to the regular reality-based programming.

--Mark Schmitt

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