It would easy for Democrats to be sad.
Watching Republican John Boehner ascend the rostrum in the House of Representatives and accept the speaker’s gavel from Nancy Pelosi, after all, could be downright depressing.
To be sure, in most ways, I’d have been happier if the 112th Congress opened on Wednesday with Pelosi beginning a third term as speaker.
But that is not to be.
Indeed, as a progressive Democrat, I expected to be more morose, myself. But I find I’m not.
I’ve come to realize that a Republican House is perhaps the best thing for Democrats.
Forget all the bravado about how the November elections gave the Republicans a mandate to repeal healthcare reform, cut deeply into domestic social programs, or in other ways pursue a doggedly conservative agenda.
They didn’t, and the truth is, Republicans will now begin to feel increasingly intense pressure.
The fact is that the American people don’t support most of the extreme GOP agenda, and are lukewarm at best about the new GOP masters of the House.
A majority of Americans actually think the policies promoted by Republicans will send the country in the wrong direction, according to a recent CNN poll.
A separate poll finds that 72 percent of the public want the Republicans to cooperate and compromise with President Obama and Democrats.
That will be a tall order for Boehner and his lieutenants given the number of devout tea party members in their ranks.
Meanwhile, yet another poll says that most Americans think Obama already has done enough to cooperate with Republicans. Some 68 percent think the GOP has more to do to reciprocate.
It’s already apparent how out-of-touch Republicans are given that their first big vote next week is a repeal of healthcare reform.
The top issue for a full 50 percent of Americans is fixing the economy and creating jobs. Just 9 percent say healthcare is the most pressing issue.
Pelosi says Democrats will continue to push job creation, which puts them on the right side of public opinion.
All of this will create a lot of heartburn for Boehner and Republicans as he must reconcile the ideological desires of his more-conservative members with the expectations of the American people. (And remember, every one of the 435 members of the House will have to face voters in 2012.)
This new divided government will throw into sharp relief the disparate priorities of Democrats and Republicans, and given the polling I cited earlier and other surveys as well, I think most Americans will come down on the side of Democrats.
It won’t necessarily be easy, but pundits say it is entirely doable for Democrats to retake their majority in two years given that they need to pick up just half the seats they lost in November to once more install Pelosi as speaker.
If they do, Democrats will be the ones rightly able to claim a stronger mandate into the future, having defeated Boehner and his policies.
And, speaking of Pelosi, the now-former speaker isn’t going anywhere.
Her critics deride her as a San Francisco liberal. But in reality, Pelosi comes from a prominent Baltimore political family. As someone who once lived in Charm City, I can tell you just how tough folks from Baltimore can be.
As minority leader, Pelosi likely will prove to be at least as effective a bomb-thrower as Boehner was in the years he led his minority.
It’s instructive, too, that Pelosi herself seems surprisingly free of remorse.
In her last press conference as speaker Tuesday night, Pelosi declared not only that she has no regrets, but that she’s not even looking backwards.
“Actually, I don’t really look back, I look forward,” she says. “And we look forward to, as I said before, being a willing partner and solving the problems of the American people.”
That is exactly what the American people are looking for.