The mother of political wars

America has entered a volatile and explosive political year. The stakes are enormous. The battle will rage and test the courage and common sense of both parties.

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I recently proclaimed the hopes for a Democratic realignment dead. The party that promised change appears to be the latest agent of a status quo that is reviled by a large majority of Americans.

Now a new reality emerges. If the president returns to the roots of his 2008 campaign and fights for genuinely transformative change, and the Republicans learn the wrong lesson of 2009, a Democratic realignment is again possible.

However, the president may not learn the proper lessons. He may not be the bold change agent he promised. If this proves true, and Republicans play their cards properly, the GOP could win an epic anti-incumbent landslide that sweeps Democrats from power in the House.

A personal note: I was one of the first insiders to support Barack Obama for president. My conviction in the potential for his presidency was inspiring. At every moment in the campaign, I was there for him.

I said it on the radio, repeated it on television, answered countless e-mails, heard from young people everywhere. I believed what I wrote, said and did and was moved beyond description to hear from grown-ups and kids working together to change America.

Now, like many Americans, I am appalled, saddened and disgusted as business as usual continues while Americans endure pain, abuse and economic injustice while insiders proceed as though 2008 was just a public-relations pitch.

In 2009, many who believed in the Obama hope stayed home. Under-30 voters stayed home. Black voters. New voters from 2008. Independent voters who were more liberal, moderate and reformist stayed home.

The voters did not change between 2008 and 2009. The president changed. The voters’ perception of him changed. Nice man, no fight, little change, bad election.

2009 brought a revolt against incumbents by an electorate disgusted by the status quo. In Virginia and New Jersey, the Democrats were incumbent. They lost. In the 23rd district of New York, Republicans were incumbent. They lost. In New York City, an Independent mayor was incumbent. He almost lost.

Left, right and center are unhappy. Democratic, Republican and Independent incumbents paid the price.

Now the Republicans. The hordes that descended on New York, the stampede for a candidate who proclaimed his admiration for Glenn Beck, drove out of the race one more moderate Republican. They guaranteed one more addition to the large Democratic majority in the House. Congrats, Madame Speaker. Self-destruct, Republicans.

Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell of Virginia, whom I put on the shortlist of Republican vice presidential nominees for 2012, knew better. He ran like an Olympic sprinter from his conservative views. He ran as a moderate who would create jobs, while right-wing triumphalists chanted that the future of their party was Doug Hoffman, the disastrously defeated New York Conservative Party standard-bearer.

It’s about change, stupid. It’s about the huge revulsion of a corrupt status quo, which I fully share.

The electorate is shouting from the rafters, screaming from the rooftops, like Howard Beale in “Network”: “We are madder than hell and we are not going to take it anymore!” And they believe that nobody listens. Nobody gets it. Nobody hears. Nobody cares.

Hard-hit voters desperately yearning for change see a president they like who fails to fight for transforming change, opposed by a party that opposes any change. Grassroots Democrats stay home. Grassroots conservatives revolt. Grassroots independents throw up their hands. The center cannot hold until someone stands up and fights for the change the voters demand.

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Ladies and gentlemen of this capital, you can’t run, you can’t hide, you can’t bob, you can’t weave, you can’t dodge and you can’t spin, because nobody in America believes you anymore.

I don’t know if the president becomes the president he can be, or if the Republicans move so far right they self-destruct yet again. I don’t know if the president leads the way to a great Democratic realignment or the Republicans win a landslide victory in 2010, but I do know this:

There is a freight train headed for this town and incumbents of both parties will soon learn that the people demand real change and they must lead, follow or the people will push them out of the way.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.