Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More Beating about the Bush on elections

Foreign Misadventures Hit home
By Ian Williams
Asia Times, 2 November 2006

For once, foreign policy is a major issue in a US election, and not just the Iraq fiasco. Indeed, it is possible that North Korea's Dear Leader Kim Jong-il may have inadvertently won the US mid-term elections for the Democrats with his nuclear explosion. Until then, there were definite signs that the beleaguered White House was considering military operations against Iran - a new October surprise to concentrate the voters' minds on the "war on terror."

Even this White House crew would have difficulty justifying military action against the ayatollahs - who deny they even want a bomb - while leaving a triumphant Kim boasting and demonstrating that he actually has one.

As a result, the elections could break the long Republican monopoly on federal power, if, as seems possible, President George W Bush's party loses either the Senate or the House of Representatives - or even both.

Of course, the White House has made the major contribution to its own defeat.

North Korean nukes notwithstanding, any White House plan to attack Iran was unlikely to work. Two years ago, the Republicans may have been able to persuade voters that when you are stuck deep in a muddy hole you dig downward to find the exit. Now, despite the best cover that the media moguls can give it, the administration has lost the confidence of the public.

In addition to that domestic distrust, no amount of gloss or conservative talk-show hosts can cover the disaster of the Iraq war, and as the American casualties mount they are becoming less and less easy to hide. Apart from a few neo-conservative ideologues, there is no constituency at all for sending US troops to die in a new Korean war, let alone in Iran. Indeed, the majority of voters think the US should be talking directly to Pyongyang and Tehran on the nuclear issue, which, hidebound by ideology, the White House refuses to do.

The turning point was the fiasco of Hurricane Katrina, when the depths of incompetence, patronage and corruption were revealed to a shocked United States. It has continued with scandal after scandal, as bribery, gay pedophilia and similar issues have chewed away at the Republican pretensions to being the party of "moral values" of the kind espoused by southern and midwestern Americans.

It is not that the Democratic Party is particularly moral or resistant to corruption, but a decade in opposition has not really given it the same opportunities to dip into the till in Washington as its Republican colleagues.

Unprecedentedly, polls now show that the public thinks the Democrats would do better on security issues, and they have always tended to trust them more on domestic issues. Nonetheless, incumbency is a powerful thing in the United States.
The founding fathers, a disparate group of local elites, carefully designed the constitution to avoid any one group or party getting overweening power. For years now, the Republicans have bucked the spirit of those checks and balances.

With an almost Bolshevik discipline, ideology and drive to power, they have used their power to pack the judicial benches, federally and locally, redrawing congressional districts and rewriting the electoral rules in the states that they control. The fruits of that were a Republican majority on the Supreme Court, all nominally pledged to support states' rights, overturning the Florida courts on the 2000 presidential election in one of its most shamelessly partisan judgments since it enforced the return of escaped slaves from the north to the plantations.

They have looted the Treasury to hand over untold billions to their wealthy supporters, who, in return, have poured cash into the fight against most Democratic challengers, either directly or through a shadowy range of foundations, media operations and allegedly independent committees.

We have to remember next Tuesday's election is not just a referendum on Iraq. US elections are overwhelming about local officials and issues. We can guarantee that the Republicans and their surrogates will pull some of the sleaziest stunts imaginable in the next week to take people's minds off the unholy mess in the Middle East. Any party that slimes a paraplegic war veteran for lack of patriotism will clearly stop at nothing, but that is precisely what they did last time to defeat triple-amputee senator Max Cleland of Georgia.

On the positive side, millions of voters who earlier did not want to roll in the mud of a US election have been exasperated and scared into action. If there is a victory, apart from the ineptitude of Bush, a major factor will be the upsurge of grassroots movements such as, marshaling election workers, cash and enthusiasm to key fights.

Many people watched the last two elections with horror at the oddities of electronic voting machines, changing rules and the exclusion of voters, and lawyers and volunteers across the country are watching carefully.

That raises the perennial question of the Democratic Party, of which it could be said, as Dorothy Parker said of Los Angeles, there's no there there. Control of what passes for a Democratic Party nationally is still firmly in the hands of the more conservative wing. While there is no doubt that a Democratic seizure of either house of Congress would be good news, there is a long way to go for euphoria. Some of the Democratic contenders have triangulated themselves so far to the right that even if they do not follow White House aide Karl Rove's orders, they will vote for reactionary measures of their own accord.

In the long term the dilemma is how those motivated millions can exercise their continuing influence on the Democratic Party machinery in a way to keep it on course, and electable - which is not necessarily the same as pandering to the modern version of the old southern Democrats around the Clintons in the Democratic Leadership Council. In general, American electors are more sensible than the people who buy their way into office with money from vested interests, but even without wobbly voting machines, they have difficulty in controlling their alleged representatives.

Ian Williams is author of Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans and His Past, Nation Books, New York.

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