. . .even though the repubs have more senators in the chamber i've always had the impression that reid is the majority leader AND the one who sets the agenda. yes i know, he isn't and does not.
But to a degree, Reid is, and does. Quite aside from the whole issue of "RINOs" -- Republicans in Name Only", part of the reason the Republicans are in such a fix is that although they have paper majorities in Congress, and control the White House, they are by no stretch of the imagination the “governing party” of this country, and are to some degree almost an occupying force in Washington.
The Democrats are a governing party – they represent the interests of the professional bureaucracy; the teachers unions; academia; the plaintiff’s bar; the whole complex of social workers and other helping professions; big media and Hollywood; the unions; plenty of big time money (particularly on the East Coast). All these groups include lots and lots of people who do very well, thank you, but, like David Brooks's BoBo's, vote Democrat as sort of a totem – to satisfy themselves that although they make big money and send their kids to private schools, they still have enough of a social conscience to vote Democrat. The Democrats, in short, own Washington and the big coastal cities.
The Republicans by comparison, are the nerd party of flyover country. Bush is a perfect foil for the Democrats – to them he's a stiff from Texas who is retro, pro-military, mangles his syntax, doesn't read the New York Times, and goes to church. Ever since this guy came in – the Democrats, who KNOW they should run everything, have been completely locked out of power by a crowd the Democrats think of as philistine uneducated poseurs from Nowheresville. The Democrats have a lot of cultural and political assets – but they have control of NO federal elective lever of power – and have to rely on the media and the courts to protect their agenda.
No wonder the Left yells so loud about dictatorship and “Bushitler.” They’ve been excluded and ignored. It’s not dictatorship, of course – what they’ve really been demanding is something like John Calhoun tried to claim for Southerners with his “concurrent majority” theory – since the Lefties represent 40 odd percent of the country, Lefties think they have a right to have their wishes consulted, to some degree -- a species of “bipartisanship.”
But the Republicans have ruled completely without the consent of the Left opinion-makers: over their heads, around them, ignored them. Bush has been able to accomplish this because he had the votes, but also because of the war; by leveraging the power of the Presidency; and, by using his ability to make news. The Democrats ignored Republicans in similar fashion for years – but the Republicans don’t have the chattering classes on-side to the degree that Democrats do.
There is a price to be paid for using majority power without corresponding supporting institutions. “Strategery” and maneuvering works for only so long. How much agenda setting can the “majority” Republicans do with the media, the professional bureaucracy and all the other forces enumerated set against them ?
The conservative movement comes up short because it does not have the supporting forces the Democrats have. Until the Republicans, and conservatives generally, make their own march through the institutions, and acquire more media and chattering class power – majorities will only be of limited use, and vulnerable to being suddenly swept away when things go less than perfectly.