Tuesday, November 07, 2006

No Entry to Heaven - But Bar the Gate to Hell

The prospect of breaking the Republican stranglehold on American government is heartening but we should bear in mind what Henry Cabot Lodge said about the UN in its early days. With the Democrats the way they are, we may block the road to Hell-but there are a lot of dead ends on the way to Heaven!

A Congress with a softer touch

Asia Times November 8
By Ian Williams

NEW YORK - The latest Gallup Poll suggests that the Democrats will take control of the US House of Representatives on Tuesday, and possibly even the Senate. The non-partisan Cook report suggests 30 to 36 Democratic gains in the House, four to seven in the Senate and six to eight governorships.

But there is a lot of small print attached to the prognosis, and even more to prognostication about its effects on the world.

Among the millions of voters, many will be deterred. The Republican Party not only has a finely honed machine for getting out what it considers its own natural voters, stock-owing, sport-utility-vehicle-driving, gun-owning white Christians who shop at Wal-Mart, it also has a viciously effective machine for driving away potential Democratic voters, Latins (except Cubans in Florida) and blacks, and finding ways to prevent them from voting.

The mechanics of voter suppression, purging voter rolls, moving and under-equipping opposition-area polling booths, challenging voters from the wrong racial group and insisting on identification despite court orders, make US democracy seem very fragile. There are times when one wonders whether victory should be handed to the side with the most money, or the most lawyers.

Although it would be a foolhardy Democrat who started the victory party before the last vote was tabulated, the party's success in the elections would be even more of an achievement in the face of Republican tactics that, to be fair, are refined versions of what the old southern Democrats practiced for more than a century.

Balancing the dubious gains of the impending execution of Saddam Hussein are the oozing mudslides of scandal over the Republican Party, both financial and sexual, finalized this weekend when Ted Haggard, the former president of the evangelicals who had called frequently and loudly for anti-gay legislation, was outed as a frequenter of a male prostitute. This may inhibit the enthusiasm of the normally enthusiastic evangelicals for voting. But what may matter is who does the counting, not who does the voting.

So what will change? It will not only be the federal legislature that is changing hands. The signs are that the Democrats could gain control of many state capitols. As many as six to eight governorships could go to the Democrats, which could be deeply significant in the long run.

It has been Republican local government that has gerrymandered congressional seats and practiced voter suppression. The question is whether the loose and fissiparous Democrats have the spine and the discipline to emulate what their predecessors did in office, to re-district Republican seats out of existence and practice voter encouragement to cement their power.

Nationally (and thus internationally), will there be a change in foreign policy as a result of the change in the complexion of Congress? The answer has to be that there will probably not be nearly as much change as many people hope.

First, White House sources are busily leaking that, in between claiming complete confidence that they will maintain control, they will fight "to the death" any attempt by mere elected legislators to frustrate presidential will. Indeed, even with his own party in control, President George W Bush has unconstitutionally usurped authority to declare, even as he signs a bill, that he will not implement it.

The Senate, which may well stay in nominal Republican hands, has recently been much saner than its Republican majority would suggest - and it is the Senate that has more power over foreign affairs, on treaty ratification, confirming ambassadorial appointments and so on. Even with a nominal Republican majority, it has not yet confirmed John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, for example.

The more reality-challenged Republicans have tended to be in the House, and may well lose there. But sadly, on foreign affairs, their Democratic opponents have often gone along with xenophobia. On the key issue of the Iraq war, there is certainly unlikely to be a majority for an immediate withdrawal. The House, both sides, tends to do what the pro-Israel lobby wants, up to a point.

The clear test will be whether that point marks a spot before military action is taken against Iran, or even North Korea. Most Democrats know that the voters who put them into power would not be happy with this, so it may well be that the chances of war are reduced.

Much of the difference will be in degrees rather than acute changes of direction. The Democrats will be less likely to think that China trade is necessarily good for their voters, but that did not stop Bill Clinton being a major proponent of free trade. With an ear to Israel, the Democrats have not always had much time for the United Nations, but even if their views are often every bit as America-first as their rivals, they do tend to be more aware that the rest of the world does not always share that position and see that water-boarding, whether on a national or personal level, is not always the best way to win people or countries around.

That may dampen some of the wilder plans of the White House, but it is difficult to see any striking initiatives coming from Congress, and even more difficult to see them succeeding.

However, even dampening wilder plans will be a major step forward, and it will be interesting to see the dynamics of the relationships within the administration if Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were to use the leverage of Congress to get her allegedly more pragmatic way in the cabinet. Will tension with Iran and North Korea be relaxed? Possibly. But once again, it will not be a major change in policy, more a change of emphasis, with the interventionists in the White House continually pushing to get their way and create facts that would demand Democrat support.

In the end, as Franklin D Roosevelt showed in action and Bill Clinton showed in inaction, the big difference is what a determined president in the White House can push through. Whatever one thinks of the effect or the intent, Bush, scorned and despised by many, has introduced tremendous and unprecedented changes in US government and society. Two more years could still see a lot of changes, but perhaps fewer if his congressional base is captured.

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication

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