REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN Ken Mehlman can kick a barnful of Kenmores into heavy-duty cycle and try to wring out anything positive from Tuesday’s referendum on Iraq. But there’s no rational way to deny what’s come out in the wash: a historic repudiation of the Bush administration, the governing Republican majority and — above all — the war in Iraq.

The Democrats have taken the House with a majority similar to that of the GOP’s for the last handful of years; they are on the razor’s edge of sewing up or at least deadlocking the Senate; they have won a majority of America’s statehouses; and they didn’t lose a single incumbent seat nationwide.

For proof it was the war that caused the national convulsion, look no further than the tragic case of Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee. The most liberal Republican in the Senate, the scion of a statewide political dynasty, a man who didn’t vote for Bush and who openly opposed the war, still went down to defeat. A mere party association with the White House that cooked up what has become a war with no end in sight proved fatal.

One of the few Republican success stories Tuesday was, in its odd and very limited way, our own Golden State. Arnold pulverized hapless Phil Angelides, no matter that the electorate sits to his left. Arnold is Arnold, but Arnold has also spent the last year as a virtual Democrat or, at a minimum, as the Democrats’ loyal best friend. And none other than newly elected Attorney General Jerry Brown emerges as the state’s number-two guy and top-dog Dem. (It doesn’t matter that, technically speaking, John Garamendi is second in command as lieutenant governor.) California’s lesson in bipartisanship ought to serve as a meaty lesson to the national Republican Party, but don’t count on it.

George W. Bush has been mostly living in his own world, but all of a sudden it’s gotten pretty crowded. Axing Donald Rumsfeld would have been a brilliant move — two years ago. Like it or not, he’s going to have to reach some accommodation with a House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Judiciary Committee chaired by John Conyers of Michigan, and a certain Pennsylvania congressman, Jack Murtha, who is destined to be promoted to some or another higher post — maybe even majority leader. That’s without the very real possibility of a Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Either that, or spend the next two years whacking golf balls. Mostly, Republicans will have to face the fact that the Reagan Revolution has now crested and unceremoniously self-immolated. Stick a fork in it — if you can find it.

WHICH BRINGS US TO THE DEMOCRATS. Democrats didn’t win this election as much as they inherited it from an enormously incompetent, and corrupt, GOP. With power comes responsibility, and out the window go all of the lame-ass excuses of the last five years. With Democrats winning what they did on Tuesday, can we now, once and for all, lay to rest the blubbering and moaning about the genius of Karl Rove, the insidious Diebold black boxes and the mind-bending Fox News? Behold! The American people can, indeed, throw out the bums and elect an opposition party — a feeble opposition party — while overcoming the above-noted Devil’s Trifecta.

So Democrats better hurry in coming up with some immediately stirring proposals for both the economy and the war. Better start searching, as well, for at least one or two compelling national leaders who can articulate those ideas in some way other than Kerry-speak. A small raise in the minimum wage, and the obfuscation built into the very word “redeployment,” aren’t nearly enough. The mood of the American electorate revealed on Tuesday is one of angry impatience, an intense distrust of the establishment, which just happened to be recently occupied by Republicans. Democrats, take a few days off to savor your victory. And then take good notice of the way the electorate shook off such reprobates as Pennsylvania’s Rick Santorum and Kurt Weldon, Montana Senator Conrad Burns, Arizona Senator J.D. Hayworth, and a few dozen others as if they were nothing but a bad case of fleas. That they were Republicans was only serendipitous.

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