November 8, 2006
November 7 gave President Bush a meal of comeuppance. Finally! After six years of ruling with Tory arrogance and terminal recklessness, Bush got the rebuke he so sorely deserved.
It is he who must own responsibility for the monumental changes in the Capitol, for when voters went to the polls, they did so with a purpose: to slap him in the face.
“Because of progressive principles, mainstream progressive values, as Ohio goes in ’06, so goes the nation in ’08."
Exit polls showed that 60 percent of the voters were angry or dissatisfied with his Administration. Almost the same amount disapproved of the Iraq War, with 41 percent strongly disapproving.
The voters also went after any Republicans tainted by the myriad scandals that attach themselves to those who consume too much power too quickly. A whopping 74 percent said that a concern about corruption was either extremely important or very important to them.
As hard as Bush and Karl Rove tried to make the issue about how untrustworthy the Democrats are, the voters were willing to take a chance in hopes for a change. This time, as opposed to 2004, the dirty depiction of Democrats as terrorist lovers did not sell. Bush and Rove went to that putrid well once too often. The Rove style (sleaze) and the Rove strategy (get out the far right base) failed.
Take “genius” off his business card.
November 7 was a victory for progressives all the way around. Most notably, Sherrod Brown’s defeat of Mike DeWine in Ohio demonstrated the power of the fair trade issue, and Bernie Sanders’s triumph in Vermont, making him the first avowed socialist in the U.S. Senate, affirmed the Wellstone style of grassroots organizing.
Progressives won on many statewide referendums, which should embolden the ranks. Arizona became the first state to turn down the gay marriage ban. South Dakotans defeated a crude abortion ban. The people of Missouri approved embryonic stem-cell research, an issue that was a winner all over the country for progressives. And in the six states—Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio—where raising the minimum wage was on the ballot, it passed in every one. It’s not just the rightwing that knows how to use referendums anymore.
Now Bush has a choice. He can continue in his heedless ways, or he can make good on his long-ago promise to be a uniter, not a divider.
Don’t hold you breath on that one. Chances are that Bush will follow Dick Cheney’s lead again, and disregard the wishes of the people.
Cheney revealed the full length of his arrogance in his interview with George Stephanopoulos the weekend before the election. Asked about the Iraq War, Cheney said: “It may not be popular with the public—it doesn’t matter in the sense that we have to continue the mission and do what we think is right. And that’s what we’re doing.”
Such utter disdain for the democratic process is not new for this power couple.
“Together, we are going to turn this nation around."—Bernie Sanders
Right after the Supreme Court gave Bush the White House in 2000, he and Cheney disregarded the wishes of the public at large that they should repair the rift in the nation and govern from the middle.
Instead, they set out to ram their agenda down our throats.
High on that agenda was the Iraq War.
Then Bush and Cheney took the 2004 election not only as an endorsement of their decision to go to war but the final word on it.
“We had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections,” Bush told The Washington Post in January 2005. Bush echoed that comment as recently as his October 25 press conference.
Bush and Cheney view the United States almost as a dictatorship that is authorized by a quadrennial plebiscite.
Their rhetoric and their actions flow from this profoundly anti-democratic belief.
Especially in foreign and national security policy, Bush and Cheney are likely to charge along their path. They are too invested in the Iraq War to pull out. And they may even, despite the election setback, proceed with their fanatical plan to attack Iran. That both courses are profoundly irrational and destructive may not deter them.
Such calculations don’t count.
The Democrats have a choice, too. They can exercise the power they’ve attained, or they can sit on it. They have an obligation to act. They must push a minimum wage increase and better prescription drug coverage. And they must be a backstop against further reactionary moves by the Bush Administration, including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, giving more tax breaks to the top 1 percent, and imposing another rightwing Supreme Court nominee on us.
But they can’t stop there. They must bring the Bush Administration to account. To do so, they will have to buck the timid in their own party.
Even before the votes were cast on Election Day, leading figures in the party urged caution. Nancy Pelosi pledged that if she became Speaker of the House, she would take impeachment off the table. Paul Begala and Rahm Emanuel—the smart money guys, who are always playing the angles—talked about the need to move to the center. Harry Reid, before getting a night’s sleep on November 7, announced, “We must work from the middle.”
Did Newt Gingrich work from the middle? No, and he achieved a lot for his party and his ideological agenda.
Cowardly Democrats fear that if they act in what is perceived as a partisan manner, they will lose in 2008. But did Republican partisanship, which reached its nadir with the Clinton impeachment, prevent a Republican from winning the Presidency two years later?
November 7 was the nearest thing to a mandate that the Democrats have had in a long time. Not to act on that mandate—not to investigate Katrina, not to investigate Iraq and Halliburton, not to investigate the Abramoff scandal, not to investigate the illegal NSA spying, not to demand impeachment hearings—would be an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of their base.
Fundamentally, this is not about inflicting partisan pain. This is about exposing wrongdoing, pursuing corruption, restraining a runaway executive, resetting the balance of power, and restoring democracy.
For six years, Democrats suffered from a severe case of subpoena envy. Now they’ve got the power. Use it.