Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Buying off a Landslide

This article is from this week's Tribune in London, where I try to dissect the mysteries of Mid-Terms for British readers.

Well Done Bernie Sanders!

Joe Kennedy supposedly told his son "Don't buy a single vote more than necessary. I'll be damned if I'm going to pay for a landslide." Karl Rove and the Republicans seem to have bought off the prospect of a Democratic landslide with their disciplined and well-financed campaigns to drive away voters, but such is the strength of public feeling against them that they could not buy off an actual defeat.

Only one third of the Senate was up for election, as opposed to the entire House of Representatives, hence the Democratic victory in the latter. It is interesting that while TV and agency commentators gloried in the victory of pro-war Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman who had lost the Democratic nomination in the primaries to anti-war Ned Lamont, they scarcely mentioned Bernie Sanders (once interviewed for Tribune), an avowed Socialist, who won the Senate seat for Vermont from the Republicans with a comfortable majority-a landslide in fact.

Lieberman's victory depended on Republicans voting for him, and more of them did than Democratic supporters. Interestingly, in the House seats in Connecticut, there were Democrat gains in the slipstream of the Lamont campaign. Also among the surprise gains was the first Muslim in the US Congress Democrat Keith Ellison who won a House seat from Minnesota.

In the House contests, it was the unctuous piety and "social conservatism" of the Republicans that did for them. A whole slew of incumbents lost because of domestic disputes, mistresses, gay lovers and dipping the till, which, while normal behaviour for many Americans, was hardly consonant with the Republicans' vigorous profession of evangelical pulpit values. The sleaze factor underlay the Iraq war to lose many of the seats.

Almost as shocking was the loss of Rhode Island moderate Republican Lincoln Chafee, who was to the Left of many Southern Democrats on many issues. He had for example opposed the confirmation of John Bolton as UN Ambassador. But he was thrown out by a surprisingly large margin because he was in George W. Bush's party. Indeed canny Republican candidates had ducked and dodged to avoid a supportive campaigning visit from the President.

The election also accentuated the regional divide that was apparent in 2004. Democrat gains were mostly in the East and West Coasts, and on the band along the Canadian border leading to the striking divide that led some facetious souls such as myself to call for secession from the Confederacy and unification with the Dominion to the North.

The removal of moderate North Eastern Republicans from places like Vermont and Rhode Island, concentrate the party of Lincoln to its new and ahistorical core in the old Confederacy. It will be interesting to see whether this makes it more or less radically conservative. Rick Santorum, the Senator for Pennsylvania was resoundingly defeated. He was third ranking Republican, despite having views that would have put him with the lunatic fringe anywhere else in the world.

Will Republican strategists learn the lesson from their defeat and shake off their intense conservative radicalism, or will their retreat to the redoubts of the Confederacy cement them as the successors of the Ku Klux Klan, a more sophisticated version of the Old Southern Democrats?

Often forgotten, but crucial to frustrating the Republican consolidation of power are the state and local elections that were on the same ballots. These returned hugely important states such as Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, Arkansas, Colorado and Maryland to Democrat control. In the US, it is the states that control the voting district boundaries, and the voting regulations, so we can expect some reciprocation from new Democratic incumbents to dismantle former gerrymandering practices, and cast down the voter suppression regulations passed by Republican governments, which would help to enhance a Democratic majority in the next elections.

By a happy demographic accident, the new control of the House means that the all-powerful Committee Chairmanships, which go on seniority, will go to a generation of Democrats that precedes the Clintonian New Democrats. They are mostly liberals of the tail end of the FDR generation and onwards, epitomized by the new Speaker of the House (and first woman in the job) Nancy Pelosi, who promised a radical, and designedly vote catching domestic legislative agenda that would begin immediately, and which would challenge the Senate and the White House to risk severe further losses in the future if they disagreed.

The Democratic victory is enough to put the brakes on the White House war chariot – if not enough to stop it in its tracks. Theoretically, the new majority could simply refuse to pay for the Iraq war-but that is extremely unlikely to happen since so many of them voted for it. The best we can hope for perhaps is closer scrutiny of what the White House and Pentagon have been doing, remarkably unchallenged by Congress, which should certainly call some of the dogs of war back to their kennels.

As Henry Cabot Lodge said of the United Nations when it was founded, the election results will not take the US to Heaven, but it will certainly reduce the chances of going to Hell, both for Americans, and for others across the globe who were in the sights of the White House's aggressive overseas agenda.


Robert said...

Excellent column , Mr. Williams! I really enjoyed the analysis. The upshot for me is that some sanity will be restored to US foreign policy which has left most of the world open mouthed with the sheer stupidity, rapacity, greed and outright incompetence of this band of corporate crooks. I consider myself a fiscal conservative and its obvious that this admin. would not appeal to anyone with an eye towards fiscal prudence.

Phoenix Woman said...

Spot on, Mr. Williams! I and several other folk have noted that, in the rush to proclaim the new GOP/Media Complex Myth that "the Democrats won because they went conservative", people like Bernie Sanders are being swept under the corporate media's rugs.

One of the people aiding and abetting this rewriting of recent history is none other than the DCCC's chair, Rahm Emanuel -- who is busy backstabbing Nancy Pelosi even as he tries to steal the credit for the landslide from Howard "Fifty State Strategy" Dean.