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Weiner: The Perfect Storm of Citizen Revulsion

The Perfect Storm of Citizen Revulsion

By Bernard Weiner
The Crisis Papers

Ten findings on the clean-sweep GOP defeat in the midterm:


1. Democrats yelled and screamed when the Republicans shut them out of all meaningful political activity in Congress for the past five years (no amendments, no debate, no invitations to conference committees, etc.). It was one-party authoritarian rule, and the Dems complained loudly.

But being cut out of the loop of Congressional decision-making meant that the Democrats were ignored by those interested in buying and bribing their way to access. Instead, those lobbyists and corporations devoted all such corrupting efforts at the Republicans, who had the power to get bills passed.

And why did one third (one third!) of evangelicals, and many other moderate-conservative Republicans, vote for Democratic candidates on Tuesday? "Corruption" was cited way up there with Iraq and the economy and terrorism, according to the national exit polls.

In short, you never know how things will play out. What seems like the worst sort of calamity could turn out to be your lifeline later. Democrats know that well now.


2. Add the financial corruption (Abramoff, Ney, Cunningham, K-Street lobbyists, etc.) to the GOP House leadership's coverup of the Foley sex-scandal, and then factor-in the sex-and-drugs scandal involving evangelical leader Ted Haggard (who had close White House ties), and a perfect storm of revulsion was generated for so-called conservative "values" voters.

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To keep those "values" voters inside the Democratic big-tent for more than simply this election, the Dems must keep their ethical noses as clean as a whistle. If they slide into the arrogance of power and start making under-the-table deals with lobbyists, or getting involved with illicit sex and drugs, or starting to act all high and mighty, much of the positive momentum of the 2006 election will be destroyed.

In addition, if Pelosi takes the party too much toward the accomodate-and-compromise center, the progressive base may rebel, with unforseen consequences. Quite a high-wire for her to walk.


3. As many commentators have noted, the Democrats succeeded in making this midterm election a national no-confidence vote on the Bush Administration. By doing so, they didn't have to present a platform or agenda of their own.

All they had to do was point out the obvious: the thorough-going incompetence (Iraq, Katrina), the deadly mistakes (Iraq, Katrina), the lies and deceptions (Iraq, Katrina, EPA), the disconnect with reality (Iraq, Katrina, global-warming), the stubborn arrogance (Iraq), the mediocre nominations for high posts (Don Rumsfeld, Harriet Miers, Michael Brown, Bernie Kerik, Michael Chertoff), and on and on.

The one constant running through all of those areas, and more, is a steadfast hubris that refuses to budge to accomodate anything or anybody outside its narrow focus; Bush and his crew act as if nobody else's opinion, and reality, do not matter. Stay the course on everything. If that strategy takes the Constitution, the economy, the safety of the nation over the cliff, that's the price one pays for being right -- that was the atittude.

But now, with the GOP losing control of the House and Senate, the new Democratic majority in Congress is going to be forced to help initiate policy and to govern. In short, they need to develop a clear and compelling agenda.

Pelosi is smart enough to start off with popular issues that most Democrats, and perhaps even most of the country can agree on: increasing the minimum wage, establishing tax credits for college tuition, permitting the government to negotiate with drug companies to lower the cost of Medicare prescriptions, expanding stem-cell research for terrible diseases, and a few other such topics.

If Bush chooses to veto some or all of those bills, his Republican party will pay dearly in 2008, and he knows it. In short, it's a win-win for the Dems.


4. After those "easy" issues are dealt with, presumably in a whirlwind in early-February, then it's on to the more difficult ones, such as Iraq, Social Security and Medicare reform, Congressional investigations of Bush Administration foreign and domestic wrongdoing, rolling back Bush's Constitutional violations in the Patriot Act and Military Commissions Act, Bush's abolition of Posse Comitatus and the right of "habeus corpus," reining in Bush's vetos-by-another-name ( "signing statements"), etc.

Right now, on Iraq, Bush seems to be trying his old ploy of "I'll be happy to work with the opposition in getting approval for my policies." But, if the Democrats hold firm in their desire to have U.S. troops "re-deployed" outside Iraq, Bush may have to compromise.

So far, Bush has given no indication that he understands what the midterm voters were telling him by their votes and in exit polls about Iraq: that 60% want the U.S. either to start pulling troops out slowly, starting within the next seven weeks, or to take them all out at once. Remaining in occupation of Iraq is not an option. Staying the course is not an option. Changing the Secretary of Defense but essentially keeping the policy is not an option. Using the term "victory in Iraq" as your goal is not an option -- unless that term were to translate to: "Declare victory and get out, as in: 'We have accomplished toppling the dictator, and helped set up a democratic government, and now it's time to go'."


5. For what it's worth, I believe it's proper that the new Democratic majority in the House not establish an impeachment panel as one of their first items of business when they take over.

I'm basing that view not on Pelosi's statement that impeachment is "off the table," but on common-sense politics and practicalities. It would seem to make more sense for the various House committees, which will be chaired by tenacious Democrats like Dingell and Conyers and Waxman, et. al, to hold their investigatory hearings first. If and when clear evidence of malfeasance or "high crimes and misdemeanors" is produced and verified, then the table has been set in the public mind for the next step: an impeachment hearing.


6. Bush and Cheney, rightly so, are terrified of the idea of investigations and possible impeachment -- and of criminal trials down the road. That gives the Democrats a huge, powerful stick to wield over their heads. One would think the Dems might hint at taking out that stick on occasion to get their way on other major issues.

In short, it might well be in Bush's interest to modify his simplistic, bullying, black-and-white view of the world -- my way or the highway -- or risk facing the release of the Democratic attack dogs for major probes of even more of his Administration's misbehavior. It's long past time for the Democrats to learn how to play political hardball and partisan street-fighting. Civil but tough.


7. We're all caught up in the euphoria of the massive GOP defeat in the midterm election. And it's true that what the voters have accomplished is historic, with a lot of help from the Democratic Party establishment and its progressive base, led by organizations like MoveOn.org along with activist bloggers -- and from traditional and moderate conservatives who had had enough of the extremism being peddled by Bush&Co.

But even with the House and Senate in Democratic hands, we need to remember that the immense power of the presidency is still in the hands of Bushistas like Richard Cheney and Karl Rove and George W. Bush and Condoleeza Rice and Stephen Hadley and Alberto Gonzales.

They have refashioned the Constitution to make Bush immune from obeying laws he doesn't like; they have invented theories that permit him to round up anyone, American citizen or not, and throw them into a military clink without access to lawyers; they have so bent the definition of "torture" as to make it unrecognizable (it now means that the government can do anything to you short of killing you or doing great injury to your internal organs); the president claims to be able to "pre-emptively" attack any foreign country and power regardless of whether they are an imminent threat to the U.S.; the security forces can now enter your home, search your house, peek into your private email and computer files, without you ever being informed and without you even knowing; the government can now violate the privacy of attorney/client privilege by listening in on all such conversations; the government can declare martial law whenever it so chooses; and on and on.

Let us not forget that the Executive branch still possesses these immense police-state powers, they've used them before against American citizens, and they have made it plain that they are quite prepared to keep using them. Among the issues that must be dealt with by the new Democratic-contolled Congress is to find a way to bring us back to judicial sanity and respect for the rights guaranteed to American citizens under our Constitution.


8. What we are witnessing already is the internal jockeying for power and influence in the two major parties. The post-election euphoria will hold the Dems together for a good while, but there will come a time, probably in mid-2007, when the splits between the progressive base and the more centrist new members, will show up big time, probably on Iraq, impeachment and how far to take the investigations of the Bush Administration.

It's the Republicans who are at each others' throats right now: libertarians attacking big-government privacy snoops, traditional conservatives attacking the neo-cons who took the country to war in Iraq under false premises and thus cost them the election, the rabid Christian right vs. the more reality-based politicians, tight-budgeters attacking those too prone to spend, spend, spend on pork-laden bills, etc. That re-alignment fight is going to get pretty nasty (X-rated for violence). Couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch of people.


9. How to explain why the vote-counting seemed to be free of the kind of massive manipulation and fraud we've come to expect from Rove and his dirty-tricks minions? Yes, there were reprehensible and illegal attempts all across the country to keep hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters from exercising their franchise, but, at least at first glance, those seemed statistically mild compared to what could have happened.

It seems likely, one theory goes, that the White House knew early that they would be facing a Democratic tsunami from coast to coast and concluded that it would be too risky to try to fix the vote in so many voting jurisdictions; the chances of being caught-out were simply too great.

Besides, even if the Democrats took control of Congress, that wasn't entirely a bad thing in the long run view of Rove and Cheney. The Democratic-controlled Congress, this theory goes, would have to suffer a good share of the blame if Iraq continues as a disastrous running sore in 2008, plus the Dems could be used as handy scapegoats if and when the economy slides into a bad recession next year.

It's all a complex, fascinating political ballet, as the various factions and parties and individuals struggle for the brass rings of power.


10. Speaking of jockeying for position, the 2008 campaign for president has already begun. There are the usual suspects talked about. Democrats: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Tom Vilsack, Al Gore, John Edwards, John Kerry. Republicans: John McCain, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Condoleezza Rice, Elizabeth Dole, Jeb Bush, Rudi Guliani, and so on. But, no doubt, more will emerge from within the new Democratic Congress, and from those reacting to that new situation.

Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, place your bets. The horses (and dark horses) are approaching the starting gates.


Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught government & international relations at universities in Washington and California, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers ( www.crisispapers.org). To comment: crisispapers@comcast.net .

First published by The Crisis Papers 11/10/06.

Copyright 2006 by Bernard Weiner.

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