Sarah Palin (AP Photo / Jon C. Hancock )
From "America's Election Headquarters" (a.k.a. Fox News) early last week, Charles Krauthammer declared that the Obama agenda was dead; the only question being how much of it would eventually be repealed.
Two hours earlier, Fox News had projected a Republican takeover of the House of Representatives, drawing the ire of many (mostly Democratic) politicians and pundits who protested that polls had not closed in many states.
It was that kind of night at the news network that many saw as being much more of a participant than a mere chronicler of this year's election. Its political coverage this year has beat the drum for conservative candidates, given the "tea party" a national platform, and spun a web of critical rhetoric so tough and sticky around the Obama administration that virtually every Republican appearing on Fox News refers to the Affordable Care Act as "Obamacare."
But even as the House went Republican and the Senate came close to doing the same, there was surprisingly little joy or even gloating. There was a lot of talk of change and trains — Sarah Palin warned Democrats that one was leaving the station and that it was headed in a different direction; Karl Rove, responding to the suggestion that young people didn't vote this time but would in 2012, said he hoped the president would board that train and ride it off a cliff. But still there was none of the elation that one might have expected.
In its place was an almost across-the-board agreement that the night's work was not, and should not be construed as, support for the Republican Party. It was a repudiation (a word that was tossed around with great abandon) of the Obama administration. And although that is exactly what network stars Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck have been calling for since the moment the president took office in January 2009, only Rove, blithely crunching numbers and spinning out scenarios for 2012, seemed actually excited about it. Everyone else — Brit Hume, Juan Williams and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi (who personally thanked California) — seemed more concerned about how a Republican House would work with a Democratic Senate and president, how to address the nation's anger and who would take the brunt of the blame should gridlock ensue.
The day started out with much more verve. At 11:30 a.m., Mike Huckabee agreed that President Obama would probably have tough competition in the 2012 but declined to say whether he would run. At 11:45, there was a report of Harry Reid-favoring voter fraud in Nevada. At 12:30 p.m., Sen. John McCain demurred when asked whether he would support a Palin presidential ticket and suggested that Congress could save money by cutting funding for public broadcasting.
At 1, Shepard Smith almost laughed when Democratic strategist Hari Sevugan said "the momentum is going our way," later adding that "polls suggest you're going down in flames." At 1:30 came a report that a Reid campaigner had sent out a message urging Harrah employees to vote for Reid. At 2, Beck got misty-eyed reminding us that it was just two years ago that he joined Fox News in the hopes of letting other anti-Obama Americans know that "you are not alone." He also made fun of Wisconsin, which he considers "the home of progressivism."
As results began coming in and Fox News predicted a Republican takeover of the House, Palin reappeared with Geraldine Ferraro, who stoically made a case for the healthcare reform package and dryly suggested that all these candidates who think they're going to go to Washington and repeal it "have no idea how Congress works."
But when it was clear that there would be more Republicans in the House than there had been in decades, the mood became, oddly, less jovial. Some strain could be said to enter the room. There was a lot of talk of the economy, of blame, of the president's reaction, but little of action.
"Reduce spending, reduce taxes and overturn Obamacare" was how former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani boiled down the Republican mandate, but partisanship, pure and simple, would have done just as well.
What it will look like this week and the one after, no one could hazard a guess.