"We are the champions, my friends," crooned Michigan Senate President Pro-Tem Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) the day after the Nov. 3 election.
Former state Rep. Mike Nofs (R-Battle Creek) had won a landslide victory for an open Senate seat, giving Republicans a firm 22-16 majority. It wasn't unexpected, nor was it necessarily a bellwether, but Richardville practically skipped into the Senate chambers and his fellow Republicans couldn't stop beaming. When Nofs appeared for his victory lap, there were handshakes and backslaps all around.
It was a palpable return to normalcy, not just in Michigan, but in New Jersey and Virginia, as well. The GOP was victorious and all was right with the world.
Hard to believe that just a year ago, Barack Obama crushed John McCain and the Democrats piled up punishing majorities in Congress. In Michigan, the Democratic base hit 56 percent and the party picked up nine more state House seats.
It was like a morgue on the Republican side of the aisle on Nov. 4, 2008. Some were sullen, some were angry, but almost all looked unmistakably like something had been usurped from them.
Democrats were giddy, but it there was an aura of the surreal. The hand-wringing started immediately over strategy on the stimulus, health care and cap and trade. Instead of enjoying the ride, the question shifted to: how are we going to blow this? Will we micromanage like Carter? Capitulate like Clinton?
Golly gee, why do we Democrats suck so bad (even when we win)?
And therein lies the powerful psychological difference between the parties. It's the confidence gap.
Republicans may be livid, but they soon bounce back, even when they've been absolutely electorally pummeled. That's just an inexplicable aberration, like the popularity of plaid pants. All we have to do is return to our conservative roots and we shall reclaim what's rightfully ours.
It is almost mathematically and historically impossible for Republicans to take back Congress next year. They are 0 for 5 in the last five special elections, including the takedown of Know Nothing Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in NY-23. But you'd never know that from the nonstop, right-wing bravado that the glorious second coming of Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution is at hand (even though Newt is flagellated these days as a card-carrying communist for backing moderates).
Republicans have a well-oiled propaganda machine to facilitate the fantasy of strength and popularity, from Fox News to The Weekly Standard. The message is always the same: Whether the GOP wins or loses, it always wins (and God bless St. Ronald Reagan).
So even though Tea Partiers represent a shockingly low percentage of the electorate (even a minority of the GOP), they're lauded as "real Americans" and net far more coverage and influence than they deserve.
And forget all the problematic reputable polls showing health care reform is popular. We have our own polling that miraculously says the opposite. Besides, House Minority Leader John Boehner, the epically tanned man of the people, says he's never met anyone for the public option, so that's good enough for me.
Meanwhile, check out MSNBC or The Nation. You might find some cheerleading for the president by Keith Olbermann, but most of it is a scowling gripefest. Obama's not a liberal, boo hoo, he's betrayed us.
We should all have single-payer health care by now, peace in the Middle East, zero carbon emissions and a pony. I voted for him and I want my pony, dammit. Woe is me, when will I ever have the progressive superhero president I deserve?
I can see why indecisive independents might gravitate toward Fox News and the Tea Party crowd. At least they seem to be having fun - and they appear to know what they're doing.
Even more than the ailing economy and slightly rising poll numbers, what Republicans have going for them is that good ole Democratic pessimism. It's all doom and gloom for the donkeys (and yes, Michigan Lt. Gov. John Cherry's poll numbers do give them reason) but they'd be kvetching if he were 20 points ahead.
So listen up, Democrats.
Laugh all you want at those misspelled signs at Tea Parties. Titter at Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele's endless buffoonery on the cable circuit. And snigger as the GOP tries to detonate itself over dogmatic primary challenges instead of rebuilding a national party.
That doesn't mean you're going to win next year.
Which is fine by the unions and liberal activists, to be honest. They'd rather be screeching in the minority, reveling in their powerlessness to change anything as long as they keep control of their little fiefdoms. Besides, think of all the awesome blog posts you can write shredding new Michigan Gov. Mike Cox.
This week, a brilliant progressive friend of mine railed with a straight face that state Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop (R-Rochester) is like Hitler. Sorry, but that's as nutty as comparing the Dems' health care bill to Dachau. A moratorium on Nazi analogies in intelligent political debate would suit me just fine, unless we're talking about actual followers of the Third Reich.
The truth is, Democrats are often terrible at governing, as even liberals complain about Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. That takes leadership and organization. And it just feels more natural being in the minority. Just ask the state Senate Democrats, who have dwelled there for a quarter-century and show little hope of digging out after Nofs' win last week.
I'm not convinced that Republicans are naturally better managers, but most of them project the self-confidence to do the job.
Kind of makes you wonder what a difference it would make if Democrats were that decisive.