Meet the new country…

…same as the old country, with a few important differences.

Yes, the Democrats have taken the House and appear to be within reach of the Senate (assuming Jim Webb’s lead survives the recount). Yes, a Democrat (albeit a former NFL quarterback) took a House seat in western North Carolina (sorry, Uncle Forrest). Yes, anger at the President and the Iraq war have unified the country.

But those issues alone don’t mean that the country has gone progressive. Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin all passed amendments making gay marriages unconstitutional; the Virginia law even curbed the ability of businesses to recognize domestic partnerships.

If this election was a victory for the Democrats, it was a vindication for Howard Dean, whose 50 state strategy put safe races in play and swung enough house seats to shift the balance of power.

But compare the Democratic house victory yesterday to the Republicans in 1994. As bankrupt as the Contract with America ultimately became, it was based on coherent ideology and gave a clear direction for the country. Where is the Democratic direction for the next two years? I’m a supporter, and I don’t hear anyone articulating a vision of the role of government, the rights of humanity, constitutional limits on the power of the executive, America’s role in the world. We need the party to step up and put those stakes in the ground.

The Democrats have to show they can lead. But right now I’ll settle for our regaining a voice—and power—in the process.