The following is an article from the November 25, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone. This issue is available on newsstands Friday, as well online in Rolling Stone's digital archive. Click here to subscribe.
The morning after Americans went to the polls, we sat down at the Rolling Stone offices in New York with the two political experts we have consulted after every national election since 2004. David Gergen, director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School at Harvard, has served in the White House as a senior adviser to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. Peter D. Hart, known for his nonpartisan poll for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, has conducted public-opinion research for 30 governors and 40 U.S. senators, from Hubert Humphrey to Ted Kennedy. Also joining us this year was Matt Taibbi, contributing editor for Rolling Stone and author of Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids and the Long Con That Is Breaking America.
How big a defeat is this for Democrats?
Peter Hart: I've been doing Election Night for 46 years, and next to 1980, this is the hardest to stomach. It was just an old-fashioned beating. First and foremost, it was about turnout. Republicans and the elderly showed up, but Democrats and the young didn't. Only about one in 10 voters was under the age of 30 this year, compared to one in five in 2008. Blacks and Latinos also turned out in smaller numbers: They represented only 18 percent of voters this year, compared to 22 percent in '08. The Democrats won on both the coasts and almost nowhere in between. Was it a big defeat? You'd better believe it.
David Gergen: What we are seeing now is the high-water mark for the Obama presidency, at least domestically. No matter what else happens, even if he gets re-elected, he will never be as powerful as he was during his first two years. After Obama's election in 2008, I was one of those who believed that we were at a turning point — that the Reagan tide was receding, and we would see a cycle of progressive politics for 15 or 20 years. To have that reversed so quickly is stunning. This is the first time since the Truman-Eisenhower years that we've had three elections in a row in which more than 20 House seats have changed hands. We may be moving away from political cycles and into a period of extreme volatility in our politics, just as we have extreme volatility in our markets.
Matt Taibbi: My take is that it's not as bad as it seems. The first thing I thought when I saw the results come in last night wasn't all the gains the Republicans made, but the places where they should have won and didn't — mainly because they had Tea Party candidates like Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell who had won primary battles and then proved unable to beat Democrats in the general election. What we saw last night was the Tea Party taking over the Republican Party. That more radicalized, extreme wing of the party is going to play a kingmaking role in the presidential election in 2012 — and that's going to make it impossible for the Republicans to retake the White House.
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