Politics v. Governing.

One of the common sentiments I'm seeing around today is, "Enjoy this last gasp of success, Democrats, because your life is about to get hellish." Which is true, in a way. But we should remember that the next two years will be uncomfortable politically, but far less so substantively. Yes, it's possible that Republicans could shut down the government, which will have some very bad effects. And they might be able to force cuts in vital programs, which would be bad. But I'll believe those things when I see them. More likely is that the bulk of their efforts will be on things that will embarrass President Obama and make it more difficult for him to win re-election.

It will be nearly impossible, however, for Republicans to garner much in the way of real policy victories, in the sense of moving the government or the country in a more conservative direction. Anything they do achieve is likely to come courtesy of the five conservatives on the Supreme Court. Democrats, on the other hand, just went through what you have to admit was a pretty remarkable two years, whatever you think about the compromises that occurred along the way.

Or think about it this way. Let's say that in January 2009 you had said to Nancy Pelosi that in two years she would have lost the speakership and had approval ratings in the 20s, but she would also have passed a stimulus package, health care reform, credit card reform, student loan reform, a repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and a whole bunch of other stuff that didn't get quite the same attention. Would she have been willing to take that trade-off? Of course.

Republicans are pretty psyched about what the next two years will bring. But as you watch the 85th hearing into allegations that interns in the Commerce Department hailing from red states were given substandard staplers to use in their collating duties, or the latest congressional investigation into communist influence on the menu selection at Chuck E. Cheese, try to remember the things about government that really matter.

-- Paul Waldman

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