Today, Ezra Klein made the case that the answer for liberals should be yes. A lot of Democratic politicians will lose their jobs tonight, he conceded. But “if you see the point of politics as actually getting things done,” rather than just trying to preserve a majority for as many years as possible, “the last two years, for Democrats, have been a stunning, historic success. Whatever else you can say about the 111th Congress, it got things done … if [its members] failed as politicians, they succeeded as legislators. And legislating is, at least in theory, what they came to Washington to do.”
This is a powerful argument. Majorities come and go; big legislative achievements (and say what you will about the 111th Congress, but it wasn’t afraid to go big) can last a long, long time. Certainly there are many conservatives who wish that the Republican congresses of the Bush era had risked the public’s wrath to pass Social Security reform or tax reform, instead of playing it safe and eventually losing anyway amid the backlash against the Iraq War. Politics often gets covered as though the legislative sessions are just a long prelude to the real action of election season. But for all the breathless horse-race coverage, elections only matter to the extent that they produce (or forestall) actual legislation.