It's not news that the 2006 elections were huge, in terms of both meaning and impact.  Voters declared themselves sick of Republican war and corruption, and swept them out of the majority in dramatic fashion.  The Democrats, while not perfect, have used that mandate to begin pushing back on the war, and to revive Congress's long-dormant oversight responsibilities.  But beyond that, my hope is that the past six years, and the next two, will lead to a dramatic change in the way Americans approach elections and politics.

In 2000, just barely enough (or almost enough) voters thought that Al Gore was kind of a nerdy stiff, and that Gee Dubya was a cool dude that they'd like to have a beer with (of course, they wouldn't stick around for the stumbling-around-in-his-underpants-trying-to-pick-a-fight festivities afterward).  That 49.99 percent bought every Fibber McEarthtones smear about Gore that the Republicans and the corporate media threw at them.  2004 was more of the same, only worse, with truly shameless, vicious smears and the looming specter of Scary Terrorism that only the manly, decisive Drinking-Buddy-In-Chief could protect us from.

And what was the result?  Unless you're one of the have-mores, it's been an unmitigated, omnidirectional disaster.  The Republicans and the media were able to keep the extent of the fiasco hidden from the casual observer in 2004, but by 2006 it was visibly seeping out from under the carpet.  Now that the Democrats have the keys to the oversight committees, they are peeling the carpet back faster than the Bushies can shovel.  Not only are they exposing the corruption and outright criminality of the Bush Administration, but they are exposing all of the Congressional Republicans who blocked oversight as accessories after the fact.  And, of course, Iraq continues to be an unwinnable deathtrap which the Republicans want to keep us in forever.

Here's where I'm going with this: The American people are finally getting a good look at what happens when you vote based solely on personality or gossip or party loyalty or smearmongering, and they're not liking it.  In 2006, the electorate started to rebel against the Rove campaign strategy, as Republicans even went down in red states and red districts.  If we are very lucky, this was the beginning of a sea change, where a majority of voters will finally begin to evaluate candidates on issues and qualifications, and to realize that the Republicans and most of the mainstream media are always wrong – everything they've ever said in support of the war in Iraq was wrong, and virtually every smear they've launched against Democrats and insufficiently loyal conservatives has turned out to be a flat-out lie or a willful distortion (I actually can't think of one that didn't, but sometimes stuff slips my mind).

No more voting for someone just because they seem like a nice guy, or because your family has always voted for Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter).  Voters should be asking whether the candidates can do the job, what their vision is, what direction they plan to move the country in.

Obviously, it's too early to say for sure – we as a people are far too easily distracted by shiny objects, and the Drudge-ruled Freak Show will continue throwing them at us like Mardi Gras beads.  But the 2006 elections give me hope.  Dubya's 30-something (at best) approval ratings give me hope.  Nancy Pelosi's strong approval ratings in the face of "Planegate" and "Syriagate" give me hope.  Tough media-as-war-propagandists criticism making the leap from the blogosphere to PBS gives me hope.

Which brings me to the second part of this post's title (sparked by an e-mail conversation about the liberal blogosphere): What if there were no liberal blogosphere?  Would we still have cause for hope?  What would our country and the world look like right now?  Would the war still be unpopular?  Would we have nuked Iran by now?  Would Trent Lott and Denny Hastert still be in charge of Congress?  Would Scooter Libby be a free man?  Would Patrick Fitzgerald still be employed?  Would Lieberman be a Democrat?  Would the media report on any pro-Democrat or anti-Republican stories at all?

Please, add your thoughts in the comments – I'm hoping you can help fill in the blanks.  Or we could just talk about the NFL draft, and whether there'll be any decent corners or linebackers left for the New York teams at 20 and 25…