The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

America has spoken

From the Guardian (UK):
America has spoken

The election result was a defeat for George Bush and his Iraq war policy
Martin Kettle

America has spoken, George Bush told the nation this morning two years ago, and it had given him its trust and his confidence. He would continue his policies at home and abroad, buoyed by the public's endorsement. Now, two years further on, America has spoken again - but this time in a very different tone and with the opposite conclusion, issuing a direct warning to the leader it re-elected 24 months ago to change his policy in Iraq. The cheering can be heard not just in America itself but around the planet.

So the big question this morning and over the coming weeks and months is this: which George Bush will respond to the American voters' verdict in the 2006 midterms? Will it be the same apparently humble and responsive president who said he heard the popular verdict in 2004 and would act on it? Or will it be a defiant president, who opts to spend his final two years in office in conflict with the new legislature that Americans have chosen to represent them?

If Vice-President Dick Cheney is any guide, these will be two years of defiance. Speaking in Colorado Springs last Saturday, Cheney announced that the administration would continue "full steam ahead" with its policy in Iraq, irrespective of the results of yesterday's elections. "It may not be popular with the public," he told ABC News. "It doesn't matter, in the sense that we have to continue what he think is right. That's exactly what we're doing. We're not running for office. We're doing what we think is right."

Not a good start. But the Bush administration has never had to practice either humility or compromise before. For the past six years, it has had a Republican Congress on its side. But not any longer. Now it has to adapt or die. Last night, largely because of Iraq, the Democrats finally brought an end to the most partisan period of Republican legislative rule in modern American history. The tide of the Gingrich revolution which swept in in 1994 was swept back out yesterday, 12 years later. It is far too early to say whether this represents the final eclipse of the moral, fiscal and ideological conservatism of the last dozen years. But that often brutal conservatism has at last been pushed back at the federal level. This is therefore a historic moment in American domestic politics.

The loss of the House of Representatives was a decisive one, towards the upper end of Democratic expectations signalled by recent polls. The Republican House seats tumbled as predicted in many states -- Indiana, Kentucky, Connecticut, New York, Florida and Colorado among them. The likely failure, at the time of writing, to recapture the Senate was of a piece with that result. The Democrats did very well there nevertheless, capturing Senate seats in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, edging close to victory in Montana and Virginia, and fighting off serious challenges in Maryland and New Jersey. But with Republicans battling hard to hold on in Missouri and Tennessee, the distant prospect of a Democratic double victory looked to be just out of reach.

Many conservatives will be in denial about these results this morning. They will be as angry in defeat as they have so often been angry in victory. They will try to dismiss them as a poor performance, falling short of Democratic expectations and thus in some bizarre way a vindication of the administration. But these elections have been a decisive rebuff not just to the president but also to the arrogance that has increasingly been the hallmark of both the Bush administration and the Republican congressional leadership. Ugly triumphalism has been a central feature of the past dozen years. Too many Republicans have too often spoken and behaved as though their earlier electoral victories entitled them to ride roughshod over the very idea that large numbers of Americans passionately disagreed with their approach. The redistricting on which these elections have been fought was a case in point - a blatant gerrymander designed to prevent ethnic minorities and liberals from being properly represented in Washington. Rightly or wrongly, the new Democratic masters on Congress will be looking for some payback here.

As the results of the 2006 midterms begin to settle in, American politics will seamlessly move on to the next contest. The 2008 presidential stakes will get under way before Christmas, with John McCain announcing his bid for the Republican nomination and a clutch of other Republicans -- Mitt Romney, Chuck Hagel, Bill Frist and Rudi Giuliani among them -- all preparing to challenge him. On the Democratic side the big questions concern Hillary Clinton's real determination to stand (her husband has been telling friends that a run is by no means certain) and whether Barack Obama will try to translate his current wave of popularity into a White House run which many believe would be premature. This is not a revolutionary moment. Many of the Democrats who ousted Republicans in the House yesterday are strong moderates. Do not expect any important Democrat to stray very far from the centre-ground for the next two years.

In the final analysis this was, by common consent, an electoral defeat for George Bush and for his Iraq war. Nothing matters more to the world than for America to find and follow a new path in its relations with the nations with which it shares the planet. A planned withdrawal from Iraq is central to that necessary project and has been made likelier by these elections. Yet no one should delude themselves into imagining that the change of direction will be sudden, decisive or easy. Bush is a lame-duck president presiding over an unpopular war - yet it remains to be seen whether he will either wish or be forced into a reversal of the Iraq policy. Perhaps Donald Rumsfeld will ask to step down -- as the gossip in Washington has it that he will. America has indeed spoken. A new direction, the Democrats' cliche du jour, is the clear message. Bush would be mad not to listen. But the Iraq agony is not going to end any time soon.


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