The future leans left: the big picture
Sometimes one must step back from day-to-day events and look at the big picture. Here's how I see it.
1) The Republican party has entered a position similar to that of the Democratic party in the 1980s -- its radicalized base has pulled it too far from the political mainstream. In both cases the "out" party has been wounded by a failed Presidency (Carter, Bush II); its base is besotted with an ideology repulsive to most of the country (rigid PC leftist dogma, religious fundamentalism/Tea Party); the "in" party has a charismatic leader whom the "out" party demonizes and whose popularity it finds baffling (Reagan, Obama); rational members of the "out" party realize they need to move back toward the center, but the base seem unlikely to allow it. No analogy is perfect, but the parallels are real.
2) The 2006 and 2008 elections expressed a very real leftward shift of the nation during the Bush II era. Some of this shift was caused by the discrediting of conservative ideology under Bush -- tax cuts for the wealthy led to anemic job growth and a ballooning deficit, while financial-sector deregulation led to recession (the one big Western country that didn't deregulate, Canada, also escaped the worst effects). Other aspects of the shift, such as the doubling of the number of non-religious people and the dramatic growth in support for gay equality, were cultural changes which had nothing to do with Bush.
3) The 2010 election was not a "pendulum swing" back to the right; what happened was that voter turn-out collapsed (38% of eligible voters vs. 62% in 2008). The "in" party normally takes losses in an off-year election. Theocrat/teabagger candidates like O'Donnell and Angle cost the Republicans wins they could otherwise have achieved. The Democrats' biggest problem was leftists who didn't vote because they were disappointed in Obama's compromises.
4) Some voted Republican because they thought the Democrats weren't delivering job growth fast enough. But the empowered Republicans have delivered a flood of pro-creationism, anti-gay, anti-abortion efforts; they've pushed for draconian spending cuts that would cost jobs. There are already signs of buyer's remorse among voters.
5) The mass shift to the left is solid and continuing -- Americans' faith in "free-market" dogma is imploding, and a February poll on deficit-reduction options found raising taxes on the rich to be far more popular than cutting Medicare, Social Security, or defense (taxes on the rich were far higher in the 1950s and 1960s, times of high employment and strong growth, than today). One-fifth of the US population is "non-white", most of whom are unlikely to vote Republican. And don't forget the long-term trend.
6) If Palin seeks the Republican nomination in 2012, her chances of winning it are good -- she attracts far more interest than the "normal" candidates. Even if the non-nutty faction of Republicans manages to nominate someone like Romney or Daniels, Palin, as the darling of the nutty faction, would have a strong claim on the running-mate spot. Either way her unpopularity with the general public would doom the right's already-slim hopes of unseating Obama. (If Palin doesn't run, substitute Bachmann in the above.)
7) There's still the problem of perfectionists sitting out elections, but the new wave of activism launched in Wisconsin and elsewhere is driven by union workers, more pragmatic and practical-minded than ideological purists. Meanwhile, the Republicans are having their own problems with purists; teabaggerdom is throwing a fit at Boehner for compromising with Obama on the budget.
8) Economic trends in the US -- stagnant middle-class incomes and increasing concentration of wealth in few hands -- will eventually fuel support for redistributionist solutions. This has happened in other countries and in the long run the US is not immune.
9) The Christian Right is becoming the weird, nasty out-group, due to its extremism and society's growing secularism and acceptance of gays.
The last thing I want to do is encourage complacency, but there is no grounds for defeatism. Inch by inch we are winning. It will take hard work and there will be battles lost now and then, but we will get there.