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)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Maureen Dowd - Drapes of Wrath

Drapes of Wrath



The new Democratic sweep conjures up an ancient image: Furies swooping down to punish bullies.

Angry winged goddesses with dog heads, serpent hair and blood eyes, unmoved by tears, prayer, sacrifice or nasty campaign ads, avenging offenses by insolent transgressors.

This will be known as the year macho politics failed — mainly because it was macho politics by marshmallow men. Voters were sick of phony swaggering, blustering and bellicosity, absent competency and accountability. They were ready to trade in the deadbeat Daddy party for the sheltering Mommy party.

All the conservative sneering about a fem-lib from San Francisco who was measuring the drapes for the speaker’s office didn’t work. Americans wanted new drapes, and an Armani granny with a whip in charge.

A recent study found that the testosterone of American men has been dropping for 20 years, but in Republican Washington, it was running amok, and not in a good way. Men who had refused to go to an untenable war themselves were now refusing to find an end to another untenable war that they had recklessly started.

Republicans were oddly oblivious to the fact that they had turned into a Thomas Nast cartoon: an unappetizing tableau of bloated, corrupt, dissembling, feckless white hacks who were leaving kids unprotected. Tom DeLay and Bob Ney sneaking out of Congress with dollar bills flying out of their pockets. Denny Hastert playing Cardinal Bernard Law, shielding Mark Foley. Rummy, cocky and obtuse as he presided over an imploding Iraq, while failing to give young men and women in the military the armor, support and strategy they needed to come home safely. Dick Cheney, vowing bullheadedly to move “full speed ahead” on Iraq no matter what the voters decided. W. frantically yelling about how Democrats would let the terrorists win, when his lame-brained policies had spawned more terrorists.

After 9/11, Americans had responded to bellicosity, drawn to the image, as old as the Western frontier myth, of the strong father protecting the home from invaders. But this time, many voters, especially women, rejected the rough Rovian scare and divide tactics.

The macho poses and tough talk of the cowboy president were undercut when he seemed flaccid in the face of the vicious Katrina and the vicious Iraq insurgency.

Even former members of the administration conceded they were tired of the muscle-bound style, longing for a more maternal approach to the globe. “We were exporting our anger and our fear, hatred for what had happened,” Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state, said in a speech in Australia, referring to the 9/11 attacks. He said America needed “to turn another face to the world and get back to more traditional things, such as the export of hope and opportunity and inspiration.”

Talking about hope and opportunity and inspiration has propelled Barack Obama into the presidential arena. His approach seems downright feminine when compared with the Bushies, or even Hillary Clinton. He languidly poses in fashion magazines, shares feelings with Oprah and dishes with the ladies on “The View.” After six years of chest-puffing, Senator Obama seems very soothing.

Because of the power of female consumers, some marketing experts predict we will end up a matriarchy. This year, women also flexed their muscle at the polls, transformed into electoral Furies by the administration’s stubborn course in Iraq.

On Tuesday, 51 percent of the voters were women, and 55 percent of women voted for the Democratic candidate. It was a revival of the style of Bill Clinton, dubbed our first female president, who knitted together a winning coalition of independents, moderates and suburbanites.

According to The Times’s exit polls, women were more likely than men to want some or all of the troops to be withdrawn from Iraq now, and 64 percent of women said that the war in Iraq has not improved U.S. security.

The Senate has a new high of 16 women and the House has a new high of at least 70, with a few races outstanding. Hillary’s big win will strengthen her presidential tentacles.

Nancy Pelosi, who will be the first female speaker, softened her voice and look as she cracked the whip on her undisciplined party, taking care not to sound shrill. When she needs to, though, she says she can use her “mother-of-five voice.”

At least for the moment, W. isn’t blustering and Cheney has lost his tubby swagger. The president is trying to ride the Mommy vibe. He even offered Madame Speaker help with those new drapes.

Maureen Dowd - A Come-to-Daddy Moment

A Come-to-Daddy Moment


Poppy Bush and James Baker gave Sonny the presidency to play with and he broke it. So now they’re taking it back.

They are dragging W. away from those reckless older guys who have been such a bad influence and getting him some new minders who are a lot more practical.

In a scene that might be called “Murder on the Oval Express,” Rummy turned up dead with so many knives in him that it’s impossible to say who actually finished off the man billed as Washington’s most skilled infighter. (Poppy? Scowcroft? Baker? Laura? Condi? The Silver Fox? Retired generals? Serving generals? Future generals? Troops returning to Iraq for the umpteenth time without a decent strategy? Democrats? Republicans? Joe Lieberman?)

The defense chief got hung out to dry before Saddam got hung. The president and Karl Rove, underestimating the public’s hunger for change or overestimating the loyalty of a fed-up base, did not ice Rummy in time to save the Senate from teetering Democratic. But once Sonny managed to heedlessly dynamite the Republican majority — as well as the Middle East, the Atlantic alliance and the U.S. Army — then Bush Inc., the family firm that snatched the presidency for W. in 2000, had to step in. Two trusted members of the Bush 41 war council, Mr. Baker and Robert Gates, have been dispatched to discipline the delinquent juvenile and extricate him from the mother of all messes.

Mr. Gates, already on Mr. Baker’s “How Do We Get Sonny Out of Deep Doo Doo in Iraq?” study group, left his job protecting 41’s papers at Texas A&M to return to Washington and pry the fingers of Poppy’s old nemesis, Rummy, off the Pentagon.

“They had to bring in someone from the old gang,” said someone from the old gang. “That has to make Junior uneasy. With Bob, the door is opened again to 41 and Baker and Brent.”

W. had no choice but to make an Oedipal U-turn. He couldn’t let Nancy Pelosi subpoena the cranky Rummy for hearings on Iraq. “He’s not exactly Mr. Charming or Mr. Truthful, and he’d be on TV saying something stupid,” said a Bush 41 official. “Bob can just go up to the Hill and say: ‘I don’t know. I wasn’t there when that happened.’ ”

Bob Gates, his friends say, had been worried about the belligerent, arrogant, ideological style of Rummy & Cheney from the start. He fretted at the way W.’s so-called foreign policy “dream team” — including his old staffer and fellow Soviet expert Condi — made it up as they went along, even though that had been their complaint about the Clinton foreign policy team. A realpolitik advocate like his mentor, General Scowcroft, he was critical of a linear, moralizing style that disdained nuance, demoted diplomacy and inflated villains. In 2004, he publicly questioned the administration’s approach to Iran.

While Vice went off to a corner to lick his wounds, W. was forced to do his best imitation of his dad yesterday, talking about “bipartisan outreach,” “people have spoken,” blah-blah-blah — after he’d been out on the trail saying that electing Democrats would mean that “the terrorists win and America loses.”

“I share a large part of the responsibility” for the “thumpin’ ” of Republicans, he told reporters. Actually, he gets full responsibility.

W. has stopped talking about democracy as a standard of success in Iraq; yesterday, he said that Iraq had to “govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.”

He was asked if his surprise at the election results showed he was out of touch with Americans. “I thought when it was all said and done,” he replied, “the American people would understand the importance of taxes and the importance of security.”

So it was just that the American people were too dumb to understand? W. also managed to bash Vietnam vets, saying that this war isn’t similar because there’s a volunteer army, so “the troops understand the consequences of Iraq in the global war on terror.” Is that why W. stayed out of Vietnam? Because he understood it?

An ashen Rummy was also condescending during his uncomfortable tableau with W. and Bob Gates in the Oval Office, implying that he was dumped because Americans just didn’t “comprehend” what was going on in Iraq. Actually, Rummy, we get it. You don’t get it.

“Baker’s no fool,” a Bush 41 official said. “He wasn’t going to go out there with a plan for Iraq and have Rummy shoot it down. He wanted a receptive audience. Everyone had to be on the same page before the plan is unveiled.”

They don’t call him the Velvet Hammer for nothing. R.I.P., Rummy.

NEWSWEEK Poll: Bush Hits New Low

NEWSWEEK Poll: Bush Hits New Low
After the Democratic sweep of Congress, President Bush's approval reaches a new low. But voters want Democrats to chart a moderate course.
By Marcus Mabry
Updated: 10:04 a.m. CT Nov 11, 2006

Nov. 11, 2006 - President George W. Bush’s response was swift and decisive—if a little late. After voters gave Republicans “a thumpin’” at the polls, handing Democrats control of both houses of Congress, Bush banished his contentious defense secretary; invited the presumptive leaders of the new House and Senate to lunch (would-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had pasta; the president ate crow, a Bush aide joked); and suffered through two pained photo-ops with Pelosi and Harry Reid, the Nevada Senator expected to become Majority Leader. And what did the president get for listening to the voice of the American people? The worst approval rating of his presidency.

President Bush’s job approval rating has fallen to just 31 percent, according to the new NEWSWEEK Poll. Bill Clinton’s lowest rating during his presidency was 36 percent; Bush’s father’s was 29 percent, and Ronald Reagan’s was 35 percent. Jimmy Carter’s and Richard Nixon’s lows were 28 and 23 percent, respectively. (Just 24 approve of outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s job performance; and 31 percent approve of Vice President Dick Cheney’s.)

Worst of all, most Americans are writing off the rest of Bush’s presidency; two-thirds (66 percent) believe he will be unable to get much done, up from 56 percent in a mid-October poll; only 32 percent believe he can be effective. That’s unfortunate since 63 percent of Americans say they’re dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country; just 29 percent are satisfied, reports the poll of 1,006 adults conducted Thursday and Friday nights.

But the new poll carries sobering news for Democrats, too, still on their post-victory high. Just about everyone believes the Republicans lost the 2006 midterms more than the Democrats won it. Presented with a list of factors that may have contributed to the Democrats’ success, 85 percent of Americans said the “major reason” was disapproval of the administration’s handling of the war in Iraq, 71 percent said disapproval of Bush’s overall job performance, 67 percent cited dissatisfaction with how Republicans have handled government spending and the deficit, 63 percent said disapproval of the overall performance of Republicans in Congress, 61 percent said Democrats’ ideas and proposals for changing course in Iraq. Tellingly, just 27 percent said a major reason the Democrats won was because they had better candidates.

That means the new Congressional majority may be kept on a short leash. A majority of Americans, 51 percent, believe it’s a good thing that the Democrats regained control of Congress, including 18 percent of Republicans, while only 17 percent think it is a bad thing. (When the Republicans won the 2002 midterms, 30 percent thought it was a good thing that the GOP kept control, while 34 percent thought it was a bad thing.)

But the public is worried the Democrats will move too fast on Iraq and too slow on national security. For instance, 51 percent of Americans are very concerned that Congress will push too hastily for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq. (Only 20 percent say they are not too concerned or not at all concerned.) And 43 percent are very concerned that the new Congress may keep the administration from doing what is necessary to combat terrorism. Only 29 percent are not too concerned or not at all concerned.

The good news for Democrats is that voters believe they know their mandate is limited. Half of all Americans, 50 percent, say Democrats will take a moderate approach, compared to 34 percent who believe they will try to take the country in a more liberal direction. Not surprisingly, Republicans are most skeptical: 52 percent believe the Democrats will try to push America to the left while 37 percent believe they will be more moderate.

And there’s massive support for much of the Democratic Congress’s presumed agenda. For instance, 75 percent of Americans say allowing the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices for seniors should be a “top priority,” including 67 percent of Republicans. Increasing the minimum wage comes next (68 percent) on the public’s list, followed by investigating government contracts in Iraq (60 percent).

There’s less support for rolling back Bush’s tax cuts: 40 percent say that should be a top priority and 24 percent say it shouldn’t be done at all. And since the election, Americans have become slightly less interested in investigating impropriety and wrongdoing by members of Congress. The number of Americans who think this should be a top priority has dropped from 62 to 55 percent.

Overall, however, the public wants Congress and the president to put Iraq and national security before domestic issues like the economy and health care, by a margin of 51 to 33 percent. Fifteen percent say they should be equal priorities. But the public is not overly optimistic: 54 percent of Americans say partisan bickering will likely prevent important work from getting done, while 40 percent say the two sides will be able to work together.

With just two years before the next presidential election, the Republicans have some rebuilding to do. Today 48 percent of registered voters would generally like to see a Democrat elected in ’08 (including 10 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of independents); compared to 28 percent who want a Republican (including just 3 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of independents). Twenty percent say they don’t know.

When it comes to specific potential candidates, the ladies have it. New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton registers the highest level of strong support, with 33 percent of registered voters saying there’s a good chance they would vote for her and 20 percent saying there’s some chance. But she also has high negatives: 45 percent of registered voters say there’s no chance they would vote for her. Similarly, 24 percent of registered voters say there’s a good chance they would vote for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and 27 percent says there’s some chance; but 43 percent say there’s no chance.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain have lower negatives: 24 percent of registered voters say there’s a good chance they would vote for Giuliani, 30 percent say there’s some chance, and 32 percent say there’s no chance. Twenty percent say there’s a good chance they would vote for McCain, 34 percent say there’s some chance, and 32 percent say there’s no chance.

Twenty percent of voters also say there’s a good chance they would vote for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, while 19 percent say there’s some chance and 24 percent say there’s no chance. More than a third of voters, 34 percent, say they’ve never heard of him.

Also-rans include former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry (16 percent good chance, 24 percent some chance, and 55 percent no chance) and Newt Gingrich (10 percent good chance, 17 percent some chance, and 58 percent no chance).

And therein lies some good news for President Bush as he faces the final two years of his Presidency. At least he’s not John Kerry.

The NEWSWEEK poll, conducted Nov. 9-10, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. In conducting the poll, Princeton Survey Research Associates International interviewed 1,006 adults aged 18 and older.


Economic populism pays for Democrats

Economic populism pays for Democrats
By Edward Luce and Alim Remtulla in Washington
Financial Times
Updated: 12:42 a.m. CT Nov 11, 2006

Defeated Republicans have found solace in the fact that many of their victorious Democratic opponents are "social conservatives". They point to James Webb, who surprised everyone by winning the bitter and close Senate race in Virginia on Thursday, giving his party a majority of one in the upper house tom complement its decisive victory in the House of Representatives.

However, neither Mr Webb nor the majority of the Democratic freshmen who won elections this week can so easily be fitted into that category. Punching the air and holding up the dusty boots of his son who is serving in Iraq, Mr Webb told cheering supporters in Arlington that his election was as much a vote for economic fairness as it was for a change of course in Iraq.

Although Mr Webb supports the right to bear arms – a virtual necessity for anyone wanting to represent the Commonwealth of Virginia – the Vietnam veteran is pro-abortion and only lukewarm in his opposition to homosexual marriage.

One or two of his colleagues, including Bob Casey, the new senator for Pennsylvania, and Heath Shuler, a Democratic representative for North Carolina, are "pro-life" but the large majority of new Democrat lawmakers support the woman's right to choose.

More significantly a majority of the intake, including Mr Webb, are economic populists who are deeply suspicious of free trade and quick to blame China and other developing countries for the loss of US jobs. Some, such as Sherrod Brown, the new Democratic senator for the key Midwest state of Ohio, which has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs since Mr Bush came to power, won the election virtually on that issue alone.

"We will focus on economic fairness in a country divided too much by class in an age of the internationalisation of American corporations," said Mr Webb in a victory rally speech that devoted more to the economy than all other themes combined. "At a time when profits are at a record high and wages are at a low, we will focus on bridging the class divide."

Labelled the "middle-class squeeze" by Democrats and "median wage stagnation" by economists, the incomes of median American households have barely shifted since George W. Bush was elected on a ticket of "compassionate conservatism" in 2000. However, in important parts of America, including large swathes of the Midwest and the north-east, which provided a majority of the Democratic gains, economic anxiety came a close second to the Iraq war in motivating voter turnout.

In a study of the election campaign, Robert Borosage, head of the liberal Campaign for a Fairer America, said there were more political advertisements "painting big oil [companies] and big pharma as threats than advertisements warning about bin Laden". According to Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, 41 per cent of those who voted Democrat cited their disquiet over the Iraq war as their main reason for voting compared with 26 per cent on jobs and the economy. However, if the 23 per cent citing "corruption in Washington" is included, then domestic concerns trumped Iraq.

Democratic campaigns overwhelmingly linked middle-class economic anxieties to the Republican Congress's promiscuous use of tax breaks for large companies in exchange for campaign finance. "On the economy Democrats ran remarkably populist campaigns," said Mr Borosage. "Democrats linked corruption to economic woes, charging incumbents with being in the pockets of big oil and doing nothing about gas prices and being in the pockets of big pharma and doing nothing about drugs prices."

The most obvious economic consequence of the Democratic victory is that it will be virtually impossible for Mr Bush to renew his fast-track trade negotiating authority next year in order to revive the dormant Doha round of world trade talks. However, the administration's bilateral trade initiatives could run aground far more quickly.

Many leading Democrats, including Mr Brown and Mr Webb, campaigned for "fair trade" and "putting Americans first", which is code for including labour standards in bilateral trade agreements and being more critical of companies that "outsource" manufacturing jobs to China and service sector jobs to India. They are likely to be aggressive in pushing for tougher scrutiny of explicit and hidden tax breaks for large energy and pharmaceutical companies – known as "corporate welfare".

As the world focuses on the brewing debate over Iraq between the Bush administration and a Democratic Capitol Hill, the battle to define America's response to globalisation is also hotting up. "Both the Democrats and the Bush administration will want the other side to get the blame if their mutual promise of bipartisanship falls apart," said a senior Democratic strategist. "It could be over Iraq, it could be over the economy."
© The Financial Times Ltd 2006. "FT" and "Financial Times" are trademarks of the Financial Times.Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.


Friday, November 10, 2006

GOP furious about timing of Rumsfeld resignation

GOP furious about timing of Rumsfeld resignation
By Patrick O'Connor

Donald Rumsfeld's abrupt resignation from the Pentagon the day after Republicans lost both chambers of Congress has infuriated some GOP officials on and off Capitol Hill.

Members and staff still reeling from Tuesday's rout are furious about the administration's decision to dump the controversial defense secretary one day after their historic loss, they said in a series of interviews about the election results.

President Bush announced Rumsfeld's resignation on Wednesday and named Bob Gates, a former CIA chief and president of Texas A&M University, as his replacement.

"The White House said keeping the majority was a priority, but they failed to do the one thing that could have made a difference," one House GOP leadership aide said Thursday. "For them to toss Rumsfeld one day after the election was a slap in the face to everyone who worked hard to protect the majority."

Exit polling suggested that an overwhelming majority of voters disapproved of the administration's handling of the war in Iraq, and members and aides were frustrated with the timing of the announcement because an earlier resignation could have given them a boost on the campaign trail, they believe.

"They did this to protect themselves, but they couldn't protect us?" another Republican aide said yesterday.

White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten called outgoing House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on Wednesday morning to notify him of the move, Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said Thursday. A spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the White House also notified the House leader before the news was announced.

Citing the various scandals that have roiled the Republican Congress, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow Thursday downplayed the impact of the war in Iraq on Tuesday's election.

"The voters said, 'You know what, we expect you to come to Washington and do the people's business,'" Snow said during his regular press briefing Thursday. "And when people lose sight of that, voters tend to remind them of the priorities. That's 10 seats right there."

The working relationship between Bush and congressional Republicans will be an interesting subplot for the next Congress as the GOP adjusts to its new role in the minority.

Relations between the president and Republicans on the Hill have frayed dramatically since he began his second term, with GOP lawmakers placing increased blame on the administration for its perceived inability to reach to members and staff on legislation, personnel moves and its interpretation of the legal code in the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists.

Republicans cite the fumbled rollout of Social Security reform, the administration's continued support of comprehensive immigration reform and the president's insistence to defend American involvement in Iraq on the campaign trail.

There were also very public spats between Hastert and the administration over an FBI raid on Rep. William Jefferson's (D-La.) congressional office and a major split over the near acquisition of port operations in six major cities by a firm based in Dubai.

Bush met with Boehner, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), and Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Thursday morning.



AUSTIN, Texas -- The sheer pleasure of getting lessons in etiquette from Karl Rove and the right-wing media passeth all understanding. Ever since 1994, the Republican Party has gone after Democrats with the frenzy of a foaming mad dog. There was the impeachment of Bill Clinton, not to mention the trashing of both Clinton and his wife -- accused of everything from selling drugs to murder -- all orchestrated by that paragon of manners, Tom DeLay.

Media Matters collected some gems of fairness. For instance, Monica Crowley with MSNBC, in the wake of John Kerry's botched program, astutely observed "how lucky we are that he was not elected president. ... The Republicans remain the grown-ups, the responsible ones on national security."

How many dead Americans has this grown-up war resulted in?

And how darling of Fox's Juan Williams, upon learning polls show the people favor Democrats on taxes, to say, "To me, that's crazy."

And how many times did Chris Matthews use the Republican talking points about Nancy Pelosi? Extremist, uncooperative, incapable, unwilling to work with the president.

So after 12 years of tolerating lying, cheating and corruption, the press is prepared to lecture Democrats on how to behave with bipartisan manners.

Given Bush's record with the truth, this bipartisanship sounds like a bad idea on its face. Go back to the first year of the administration, when Bush double-crossed Ted Kennedy in the No Child Left Behind Act. Think about it: You've said at the outset of your administration that you need cooperation to get anything done. Then you double-cross one of the senior senators of the other party when your re-education and labor agenda is dependent on him?

These people are not only dishonest -- they're not even smart. Not that I recommend nailing them at every turn, but I wouldn't be surprised if they try to do it to Democrats. If what Republicans have been practicing is bipartisanship, West Texas just flooded.

O.K., here's what the D's have going for them. New kids. Easy, popular first moves -- for example, increasing the minimum wage. Republicans so inept that it's painful. You want to look at some really, really basic legislation, try fixing the Medicare prescription drug bill. Or the bankruptcy bill. Or new dollar and trade policies.

Then we get to the real meat of this election. There are all manner of shuffle steps and politically shrewd thing for the D's to do. But now is not the time to be clever. The Democrats won this election because we are involved in a disastrous war. We know how to do this: Declare victory, and go home.

I noticed when Republicans are forced to talk about how to end this, they tend to announce that it's all hopeless: They have no ideas at all. Thanks, guys. Of all the options, I would say splitting Iraq into three states is least advisable. First, it puts us in the position of screwing the Kurds once again. Second, Turkey has serious objections to a Kurdistan. Third, Turkey is not a militia. Fourth, then you give Iran and Saudi Arabia a pawn apiece. And there'd be an unimaginable amount of future hassle.

Do I have any good ideas? Yes, but it's not a solution. We need to start the Middle East peace process again. Because it's the right thing to do. Because it's what Bush should have done to begin with. Because we have to start somewhere.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at

Howard Kurtz - President's Evasion Raises Truth Issues

President's Evasion Raises Truth Issues
Remarks on Rumsfeld Questioned

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 2006; A04

Did the president of the United States make a rare admission on national television that he had told an untruth?

Or had he merely engaged in a dodge of the sort that is common in politics?

Journalists by nature shy from pinning the "liar" label on any political leader, but President Bush's acknowledgments that he had not been forthcoming about his plans to dump Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have kicked up a fuss at the White House and sparked a debate about the limits of presidential evasion.

Six days before the election, Bush told three wire-service reporters in an interview that Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney were doing "fantastic" jobs.

"You see them staying with you until the end?" asked Terence Hunt of the Associated Press.

"I do," Bush replied.

"So you're expecting Rumsfeld, Secretary Rumsfeld, to stay on the rest of your time here?" asked Steve Holland of Reuters.

"Yes, I am," the president said.

On Wednesday, the day after the election, Bush at a news conference said that "that kind of question, a wise question by a seasoned reporter, is the kind of thing that causes one to either inject major military decisions at the end of a campaign, or not. And I have made the decision that I wasn't going to be talking about hypothetical troop levels or changes in command structure coming down the stretch."

The president added that he had not made a definitive decision because he had not held his "last" conversation with Rumsfeld and had not yet spoken to Robert Gates, his nominee to take over the Pentagon.

Was that on par with President Bill Clinton's hair-splitting defense in the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation that "it all depends on what the definition of is is"?

White House press secretary Tony Snow, asked about the matter yesterday, told reporters that "there were conversations going on" with Rumsfeld about quitting at the time of Bush's Nov. 1 interview. Snow said in an interview that Bush was not misleading the wire reporters because "he had not reached a final decision."

"He was not going to use that announcement to try to score political points" and would not be "jerked around into making decisions on the basis of politics," Snow said.

But wasn't saying that Rumsfeld would stay on also a form of scoring political points? Snow said that news organizations were "quibbling" over the wording and that "people understand the practicalities" of the situation.

Presidents' reputations have been tarnished by growing public doubts about their veracity -- Lyndon B. Johnson over Vietnam, Richard M. Nixon over Watergate, Ronald Reagan over the Iran-contra scandal and Clinton over the Lewinsky affair. But every president employs rhetorical devices -- such as refusing to answer hypothetical questions -- when asked about news that he is not ready to announce. Sometimes that can get tricky.

Joe Lockhart, who was Clinton's press secretary from 1998 to 2000, said he was surprised that Bush would "get up and say, 'I didn't tell you that because it wasn't convenient for me to tell the truth.' It's a stunning admission that when something is politically inconvenient, you don't have to be straightforward."

Whereas Clinton was long saddled with an image of being slippery, "Bush came into the White House with the reputation of being a straight shooter and was given the benefit of the doubt," Lockhart said. But after Bush's repeated insistence that things are going well in Iraq and his initial defense of the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, Lockhart said, "that's gone."

Ron Nessen, President Gerald Ford's spokesman, said he advised public figures to "always tell the truth," or else "you're going to get caught a lot of the time and have to explain your way out of it, and that hurts your credibility."

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said Bush's original answer was "qualitatively different than saying 'I never had sex with that woman,' " as Clinton did about Lewinsky, but still "a knowing falsehood. And it's odd because he could have said it many other ways. One of the ways we judge politicians is how they finesse when they don't want to reveal something, when they want to dodge or weave or even misdirect."

Kevin Phillips says fasten your seatbelts, bumpy ride ahead

Kevin Phillips says fasten your seatbelts, bumpy ride ahead
by monkeybiz
Fri Nov 10, 2006 at 08:16:41 AM CST

Last night, I saw Kevin Phillips ("American Theocracy" and other works) speak not only about the themes of his latest book, but also about the mid-term elections, Robert Gates, and stressing the base. Phillips is a pleasure as a speaker, and is as erudite as his latest book suggests. He's also franker, funnier, and, if possible, more worried about what the next two years may hold.

Come on in for a rundown of how Phillips, a conservative thinker and the architect of the Southern Strategy, made a room full of Democrats, liberals, and progressives listen -- and laugh.

Phillips opened his talk by saying that he's still trying to sink his teeth into what happened in the elections, and said that it was "amusing to hear about the Administration's interest in bipartisanship." Equally amusing, he added, is the thought of Democrats getting along with Bush, "which would be kind of foolish [in terms of winning in '08] -- unless circumstances compel it."

He reiterated the conventional wisdom about mid-term elections being a six-year itch, and part of an historical pattern of rejecting the policies of those in power, but also noted that the Democrats successfully overcame the most effective Republican machine ever. He also said that this rejection by the voters was a big one, and that "even the Republicans feel that the animosity was decisive." The biggest immediate question, said Phillips will be how the opposition party (his term) and the Administration conduct themselves.

Phillips expects that even with Democrats in power in the house and Senate, Iraq will continue to hang over the Republicans' heads. Unless the Democrats screw up, he said. But when Bush leaves office, there will still be troops in Iraq and, he noted, the longterm bases they don't talk about. Rumsfeld's departure will not be enough to salvage the Administration, and Phillips finds the idea of hearings "fascinating." (No elaboration there, unfortunately.)

Economically, Phillips expects that the recession will have turned into a recovery by '08, making it harder for the Democrats to tap it as a political point. However, he foresees that the next two years will hold something messier, and deeper than other recessions, exacerbated by record levels of debt and borrowing.

"Gridlock will not be cheered," said Phillips. Bush will try to blame the Democrats, but larger dynamics will be at work against the Republicans, and "it's hard to see how Republicans don't get blamed for a very difficult coming two years."

At that point, Phillips launched into a discussion of themes from "American Theocracy," namely, that economic and political empires are eventually brought down by six factors: a sense of decay; religion run amok; the war against science, led by the faithful; global overreach; debt; and energy depletion. (For further discussion of his theses, go here, here, and here, for starters.) He ran through these as a matter of course, and spoke mostly without notes and with precision. The good stuff came as commentary on these themes. Of interest in the asides:

* Other world leaders have historically claimed that intervention in the Middle East wasn't about oil. They've been laughed at -- with the exception of Bush. "The press let him get away with that."

* The southern wing of the Republican party has not only dominated the Republican party, but has turned rogue.

* The financial sector is "running amok on debt."

* Peak Oil will be a real problem in the next two years. Where is the debate? There isn't any. The experts have discussions, but the major political parties don't, and neither Democrats nor Republicans have laid the groundwork for dealing with the issue seriously.

* Phillips may have authored the Southern Strategy, but he missed the changing redistribution of religious voters. Guiltier is the media, who avoid discussion of how religious beliefs influence geopolitical strategy and policy. After outlining Bush's sense that he's on a mission from God -- and a Duke University study of mental illness and the Presidency -- Phillips commented, "I'm thinking, here's this guy in Iraq because of a religious feeling of mission...I can't understand why the media doesn't get into some of this."

* Phillips can't see how to mobilize the incoming congress to do much of anything, as Democrats will do best if they stick to their course of letting the Republicans take the blame, and the Administration has no intention of changing its course. "We're not going to have an effective government," said Phillips, adding that the only thing that would disrupt this pattern would be a crisis.

* The first question Phillips took after his lecture had to do with changes to the system by which we elect representatives. He basically said that while there are real and pressing problems with how we elect office holders, the real issues (debt, Peak Oil) are too serious to waste time. "The American people rise to challenges," he added, "but they can't do what they don't know" -- and that neither politicians nor the press are helping get the big issues on the table.

* Asked whether there are tensions between old-style Republicans and the southern Republicans, Phillips answered that the tensions are breaking open but that the Democrats are ill-equipped to exploit them. "Democrats," he said, "don't know how to stress the Republican coalition." This is important -- he feels that in the wake of Foley and Haggard, many evangelicals and fundamentalists will feel like they did in the post-Scopes trial era: depressed. Democrats, liberals, and progressives will never convince them of anything, he argued, but should instead work to depress (NOT suppress) the vote. His prediction is that the fundamentalist/evangelical vote will turn out to be 6-8 points lower than in 2004. "You don't want goo-goo [translation: pie-in-the-sky] programs, you want the opposition's president to be a flaming moron!"

* Our manufacturing base is gone, lost to the growth of the financial services sector, "and you don't get the old stuff back." The world will seek our expertise less and less.

* Was Rumsfeld's compulsory plank walk a sign of the Administration's willingness to compromise? "Oh, NO," laughed Phillips, and stated that calling for Rumsfeld's head was a common campaign theme among Republican candidates. Rumsfeld had become increasingly irrelevant anyway, he added, "and when is the last time Rumsfeld's made a decision intelligently?"

* He had no kind words for George W. Bush tapping George H.W. Bush's brain trust, either, describing SecDef nominee Robert Gates as "an old retainer" and "one of the bagholders for Bush ineptness" in ever supporting Saddam Hussein.

* As for Condoleeza Rice? "She makes no difference anywhere... She looks like she's always posing for a Ferragamo shoe ad."

* Phillips acknowledged that civil liberties have taken a hit, but, in his words, "wars produce some of this stuff." [!] "It hasn't gotten too far out of hand. Bush would like more power, but he certainly doesn't deserve it."

* Asked about the racism evident in the Ford-Corker battle, and his role in developing the strategy that started it all, Phillips looked a little uncomfortable. He bordered on cryptic, and said that all he'd say was the following: "Harold Ford has a big mouth, and should have shut it. Corker baited him."

* On Cheney, as the God whose voice Bush hears: "Well, he's certainly not the sharpshooter of the west." He went on to say that Cheney obviously has a lot of influence over Bush, but essentially wouldn't know what to tell him as far as religion and politics.

* In closing, Phillips asserted that gutsy Democrats should take on Bush's assertion that God speaks through him, and whether that's a proper thing for any president to say. He sees the "God speaks through me" meme as a wedge issue that should be taken seriously, and not as a joke -- this kind of thinking, and the policies that flow from it, are a menace.

A good lecture, overall, and worth attending if only for the insight that this is the time to stress the Republican coalition. The way to attack its weakness is to question its strength, and the hubris of a man -- and an Administration -- on a mission from God.

Joe Conason - Howard Dean, vindicated

Howard Dean, vindicated
The DNC chairman's "crazy" strategy of rebuilding the Democratic Party across all states helped it ride the national wave against the GOP.

By Joe Conason

Nov. 10, 2006 | Only weeks after the Democratic National Committee chose Howard Dean as its chairman last year, the nasty whispers began to circulate around Washington and among longtime party donors and activists in cities from New York to Los Angeles. "He's going to be a disaster," they muttered. "He can't raise any money. He doesn't know what he's doing. And what does he mean by this crazy 50-state strategy?"

Those early days must have been painful for the former Vermont governor -- still smarting back then from his presidential primary defeat and that endlessly looped "scream" video -- and he endured a barrage of snarks and snipes from the Democratic congressional leadership as well. Unfortunately for Dean, he doesn't play the Washington press corps nearly as well as do rivals like Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., who ran the House Democrats' campaign committee, or Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who performed the same role in the Senate.

But this week, he is enjoying vindication far earlier than he ever expected.

Despite all the complaints and demands directed at him over the past 18 months, Dean stuck to his principles. He and his supporters in the netroots movement believed that their party needed to rebuild from the ground up in every state, including many where the party existed in name only. These Democrats prefer to think of their party as one of inclusion and unity. They openly disdain the divisive strategies of the Republicans who have so often used racial, regional and cultural differences to polarize voters.

And they believe that relying on opportunistic attempts to grab a few selected states or districts as usual -- rather than establishing a real presence across the country -- conceded a permanent structural advantage to the Republicans that would only grow more durable with each election cycle.

Breaking that advantage would be costly and difficult, as Dean well realized, but it had to be done someday, or the Democrats would fulfill Karl Rove's dream of becoming a permanent minority party -- or fading away altogether. Against the counsel of party professionals, whose long losing streak has done little to diminish their influence, the new chairman began the process of re-creating the Democratic Party in 2005. And contrary to the gossip and subsequent press reports, he succeeded in raising $51 million last year, about 20 percent more than in 2003 and a party record for an off year.

Much of that money was spent in ways that obviously paid off on Tuesday, including the 2005 election of Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine in Virginia -- where Jim Webb's upset victory over incumbent Sen. George Allen overturned Republican control of the Senate. Several million dollars was spent on rebuilding the party's national voter files, yet another essential sector in which the Republicans have enormous technological superiority.

Less obvious but equally significant was the spending on hundreds of organizers and communications specialists -- and their training -- in every state. In some places this meant taking the chains off locked, dusty offices that had seen no real activity in years; in others, it meant bailing the state party out of literal bankruptcy and convening meetings in counties where party activists had given up.

In Indiana, among the reddest states north of the Mason-Dixon line, the Democratic National Committee placed two field organizers and a new party communications director on the ground a year before the midterm elections. While that doesn't sound like a very impressive assault on a Republican stronghold, those few organizers created a party presence and started preparing for battle in vulnerable congressional districts. Suddenly the Republicans had to deal with ground opposition where traditionally they had faced no field operation at all -- not only in Indiana but in deep-red Idaho, Wyoming, Kentucky and Nebraska, too.

The Democrats didn't win in all those districts, of course, although they did enjoy several unexpected victories. What Dean and his organizers created, however, was an environment that allowed insurgents and outliers as well as the party's chosen challengers to ride the national wave of revulsion against conservative rule. That enterprise, in turn, surprised and overwhelmed the Republican capacity to respond. Faced with many more viable challenges than anticipated, the Republicans made mistakes in allocating resources -- and were forced to defend candidates in districts that are usually safe.

For now, Dean has reached a peaceful accommodation with his internal critics and enemies, many of whom were motivated by his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq and his support from the unruly netroots. Debate will continue over the wisest national strategy for 2008. Should Democrats continue to pursue the 50-state strategy, even in the difficult terrain of the deep South? Or should they seek to consolidate and expand the gains made this year in the mountain states and the Midwest?

Ultimately, the party's presidential nominee will make that decision. In the meantime, the party chairman has won the argument he started last year. Rebuilding the Democratic Party in every state is as much a matter of pragmatism as principle. There would have been much less for the Democrats to celebrate on Election Night if Howard Dean hadn't been so "crazy" -- and so persistent.

Paul Krugman - The Great Revulsion

The Great Revulsion


I’m not feeling giddy as much as greatly relieved. O.K., maybe a little giddy. Give ’em hell, Harry and Nancy!

Here’s what I wrote more than three years ago, in the introduction to my column collection “The Great Unraveling”: “I have a vision — maybe just a hope — of a great revulsion: a moment in which the American people look at what is happening, realize how their good will and patriotism have been abused, and put a stop to this drive to destroy much of what is best in our country.”

At the time, the right was still celebrating the illusion of victory in Iraq, and the bizarre Bush personality cult was still in full flower. But now the great revulsion has arrived.

Tuesday’s election was a truly stunning victory for the Democrats. Candidates planning to caucus with the Democrats took 24 of the 33 Senate seats at stake this year, winning seven million more votes than Republicans. In House races, Democrats received about 53 percent of the two-party vote, giving them a margin more than twice as large as the 2.5-percentage-point lead that Mr. Bush claimed as a “mandate” two years ago — and the margin would have been even bigger if many Democrats hadn’t been running unopposed.

The election wasn’t just the end of the road for Mr. Bush’s reign of error. It was also the end of the 12-year Republican dominance of Congress. The Democrats will now hold a majority in the House that is about as big as the Republicans ever achieved during that era of dominance.

Moreover, the new Democratic majority may well be much more effective than the majority the party lost in 1994. Thanks to a great regional realignment, in which a solid Northeast has replaced the solid South, Democratic control no longer depends on a bloc of Dixiecrats whose ideological sympathies were often with the other side of the aisle.

Now, I don’t expect or want a permanent Democratic lock on power. But I do hope and believe that this election marks the beginning of the end for the conservative movement that has taken over the Republican Party.

In saying that, I’m not calling for or predicting the end of conservatism. There always have been and always will be conservatives on the American political scene. And that’s as it should be: a diversity of views is part of what makes democracy vital.

But we may be seeing the downfall of movement conservatism — the potent alliance of wealthy individuals, corporate interests and the religious right that took shape in the 1960s and 1970s. This alliance may once have had something to do with ideas, but it has become mainly a corrupt political machine, and America will be a better place if that machine breaks down.

Why do I want to see movement conservatism crushed? Partly because the movement is fundamentally undemocratic; its leaders don’t accept the legitimacy of opposition. Democrats will only become acceptable, declared Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, once they “are comfortable in their minority status.” He added, “Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they’ve been fixed, then they are happy and sedate.”

And the determination of the movement to hold on to power at any cost has poisoned our political culture. Just think about the campaign that just ended, with its coded racism, deceptive robo-calls, personal smears, homeless men bused in to hand out deceptive fliers, and more. Not to mention the constant implication that anyone who questions the Bush administration or its policies is very nearly a traitor.

When movement conservatism took it over, the Republican Party ceased to be the party of Dwight Eisenhower and became the party of Karl Rove. The good news is that Karl Rove and the political tendency he represents may both have just self-destructed.

Two years ago, people were talking about permanent right-wing dominance of American politics. But since then the American people have gotten a clearer sense of what rule by movement conservatives means. They’ve seen the movement take us into an unnecessary war, and botch every aspect of that war. They’ve seen a great American city left to drown; they’ve seen corruption reach deep into our political process; they’ve seen the hypocrisy of those who lecture us on morality.

And they just said no.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Guardian UK - Thank You, America

Thank You, America

For six years, latterly with the backing of both houses of a markedly conservative Republican Congress, George Bush has led an American administration that has played an unprecedentedly negative and polarising role in the world's affairs. On Tuesday, in the midterm US congressional elections, American voters rebuffed Mr Bush in spectacular style and with both instant and lasting political consequences. By large numbers and across almost every state of the union, the voters defeated Republican candidates and put the opposition Democrats back in charge of the House of Representatives for the first time in a dozen years.

When the remaining recounts and legal challenges are over, the Democrats may even have narrowly won control of the Senate too. Either way, the results change the political landscape in Washington for the final two years of this now thankfully diminished presidency. They also reassert a different and better United States that can again offer hope instead of despair to the world. Donald Rumsfeld's resignation last night was a fitting climax to the voters' verdict. Thank you, America.

In US domestic terms, the 2006 midterms bring to an end the 12 intensely divisive years of Republican House rule that began under Newt Gingrich in 1994. These have been years of zealously and confrontational conservative politics that have shocked the world and, under Mr Bush, have sent America's global standing plummeting. That long political hurricane has now at last blown itself out for a while, but not before leaving America with a terrible legacy that includes climate-change denial, the end of biological stem-cell research, an aid programme tied to abortion bans, a shockingly permissive gun culture, an embrace of capital punishment equalled only by some of the world's worst tyrannies, the impeachment of Bill Clinton and his replacement by a president who does not believe in Darwin's theory of evolution. The approval by voters in at least five more states of same-sex marriage bans - on top of 13 similar votes in 2004 - shows that culture-war politics are far from over.

Exit polls suggest that four issues counted most in these elections - corruption scandals, the economy, terrorism and Iraq. In the end, though, it was the continuing failure of the war in Iraq that has galvanised many Americans to do what much of the rest of the world had longed for them to do much earlier. It is too soon to say whether 2006 now marks a decisive rejection of the rest of the conservative agenda as well. Only those who do not know America well will imagine that it does.

The Democratic victory was very tight in many places, but its size should not be underestimated. November 7 was a decisive nationwide win for the progressive and moderate traditions in US political life. The final majority in the House will be at least 18. The recapture of the Senate, if it happens, will involve captures from the Republicans in the north-east, the north-west, the midwest and the south. The Democrats won seven new state governorships on Tuesday, including New York and Ohio, and now control a majority nationwide. Republican governors who held on, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in California and Charlie Crist in Florida, only did so by distancing themselves from Mr Bush. The statewide Democratic wins in Ohio give their 2008 presidential candidate a platform for doing what John Kerry failed to do in this crucial state in 2004.

Claire McCaskill's win in the Missouri Senate race showed that Democrats can win a state which almost always votes for the winning presidential candidate. If Jim Webb has won the recounting Virginia Senate seat, Democrats will have gone another step towards re-establishing themselves in a changing part of the south. In almost every one of these cases, as in the Connecticut contest won by Joe Lieberman running as an independent, the Democrats have won by cleaving to the centre and winning the support of independent voters. The new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may be the Armani-clad San Francisco leftwinger of the caricaturists' dreams but she heads a caucus that will demand caution on some of the baby-boomer liberal generation's pet subjects.

The big questions under the new Congress will be the way that Mr Bush responds to this unfamiliar reduction in his authority and whether the Democratic win will push the president into a new Iraq policy. At his White House press conference yesterday, Mr Bush inevitably made plenty of suitably bipartisan and common-ground noises. He had little alternative. But they rang hollow from such a tarnished and partisan leader. It will take more than warm words in the immediate aftermath of an election reverse to prove that Mr Bush is now capable of working in a new way.

The departure of the disastrous Mr Rumsfeld has come at least three years too late. But it shows that Mr Bush has finally been forced to face the reality of the Iraq disaster for which his defence secretary bears so much responsibility. As the smoke rose over the Pentagon on 9/11, Mr Rumsfeld was already writing a memo that wrongly pointed the finger at Saddam Hussein. He more than anyone beat the drum for the long-held neoconservative obsession with invading Iraq. It was he who insisted, over the advice of all his senior generals, that the invasion required only a third of the forces that the military said they needed. He more than anyone else is the architect of America's humiliations in Iraq. It was truly an outrage that he remained in office for so long.

But at least the passing of Mr Rumsfeld shows that someone in the White House now recognises that things cannot go on as before. Business as usual will not do, either in general or over Iraq. Mr Bush's remarks last night showed that on Iraq he has now put himself in the hands of the Iraq Study Group, chaired by his father's consigliere James Baker, one of whose members, Robert Gates, an ex-CIA chief, was last night appointed to succeed the unlamented Mr Rumsfeld. Maybe the more pragmatic Republican old guard can come to the rescue of this disastrous presidency in its most catastrophic adventure. But it has been the American voters who have at last made this possible. For that alone the entire world owes them its deep gratitude today.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006

It all started with the Patriot Act and one lone senator

It all started with the Patriot Act and one lone senator

by Petercjack (dailykos)

Back when the momentum for getting into an ill-fated war and taking away our civil liberties was fashionable and voicing your opposition was considered treasonous, my great senator from the State of Wisconsin took a prinicipled stand, which few others dared make, let alone a United States Senator.

In a vote of 99 to 1 in the United States Senate, Senator Russ Feingold voted against the Patriot Act. He stated:

Protecting the safety of the American people is a solemn duty of the Congress; we must work tirelessly to prevent more tragedies like the devastating attacks of September 11th. We must prevent more children from losing their mothers, more wives from losing their husbands, and more firefighters from losing their heroic colleagues. But the Congress will fulfill its duty only when it protects both the American people and the freedoms at the foundation of American society. So let us preserve our heritage of basic rights. Let us practice as well as preach that liberty. And let us fight to maintain that freedom that we call America."

It was truly an heroic effort to remind all Americans of how this country came to be, and how fragile democracy really is. Can you imagine what it must have been like for him to vote against the Patriot Act in October 2001??!!!

Russ continued to be a minority voice throughout the entire debacle of the Iraq war and the supposed "War on Terror" to encourage us all to not let a few rabid individuals take control of our country and invite dictatorship. He had to continually remind people that President Bush was NOT King Bush.

Russ is now considering a run for President. He is mulling this over but it all depends on whether there is the energy and committment to support such a run. He will likely make a decision VERY SOON.

There is a pledge-drive effort to get Russ to run at I urge you all to sign up and pledge. Even if you are supporting another candidate or have reservations about whether he can win, please support this effort to get Russ into this race. WE NEED HIS VOICE OUT THERE FOR THE NEXT TWO YEARS TO THE RUN UP TO 2008!!!. And with his reasoned voice and willingness to take a stand with ordinary American citizens, I believe it is entirely possible that he will have a shot, no one can predict how the 2008 presidential campaign will play out.

Sara Robinson - Liberals And The Vison Thing

Liberals And The Vison Thing
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Sara Robinson

We all know the story now. In 1964, after Barry Goldwater's humiliating defeat, a group of Republicans doggedly set forth on the path that led them to the pinnacle of power in all three branches of government 40 years later. Starting with a kernel of corporatists, small businesspeople, and military leaders and contractors, the conservative army grew by assiduously courting powerful new allies -- the deep South in the sixties, the fundamentalist right in the seventies -- and integrating them into a tight, seamless vision of power and glory that ultimately brought us here -- to George Bush, to Iraq, and to this Election Day.

Today is a referendum -- not just on Bush and his regime, but on the whole four decades over which that post-Goldwater Republican juggernaut has been rolling. When we look behind us now, we can see, beyond any possibility of denial, where it has taken us -- and where they mean to take us. The landscape they've dragged us through is scarred by broken lives and ruined hopes: the gutting of the middle class; the growing divide between rich and poor; the raging ugliness of the Culture Wars; the collapse of the educational, scientific, and planning infrastructure that fed our industries and empowered us to meet the future on our own terms; the humiliating exposure of the limits of American power; the reckless fouling of our air, land, and water; and -- perhaps most iconically -- the battered and exhausted army now making its last stand in the sands of Iraq.

Americans are looking at trail behind them -- the blood and the mud, the stench of corruption and decay, the undrinkable water and unbreatheable air -- and realizing that nothing about this trip looks like the sunny golf courses and well-kept Main Streets pictured in the GOP's bright and happy Morning-In-America travel brochures.

Our Depression-era grandparents could have told us this was coming. After all, the GOP has driven us into precisely the same ditch it ran them into in 1929, fueled by the same ignorance and graft, flaunting the same blatant disregard for any sense of the common good, pillaging our vast accumulated social capital for its members' own private enrichment. Now that the devastating results are coming clear to all but that last deluded 30%, we need to make the words "conservative" and "Republican" forever synonymous with this mess.

We need to teach it in our history classes, and tell the tales to our own grandchildren. This, children, is what happens when you abandon liberalism. This is what's happened every damned time we've ever handed conservatives the keys and let them drive. Don't let them kid you. It's not about two different views of democracy; it's about whether your democracy lives or dies.

Today, as the final hours of that triumphant and disasterous ride tick away, I'd like to talk a little bit about vision and leadership. The GOP may have dumped us in this swamp. Some of them may have even known from the outset that this is where we were headed. Still, they got hundreds of millions of us to sign up for the trip, mostly because they understood things about vision and leadership and commitment that the Democrats once knew, and had forgotten. Before we leave the wreckage behind and try to slog our way out of this mess on foot, I'd like to stop and take a minute to see what lessons we can pull off their collapsing machinery that might aid our own coming ascent.

1. The core philosophy -- I've already given too much space here to John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience, but still unmentioned (here or anywhere) is one of the book's most interesting chapters, in which he freely admits that the conservative movement has almost no coherent intellectual basis. Unlike liberalism, which is rooted in the contributions of dozens of the Enlightenment's most insightful thinkers, Dean argues that conservatism started with Burke...and pretty much ended there, too. (Even Adam Smith doesn't offer conservatives much comfort if they read him in full, instead of selectively.)

This lack of depth on their intellectual bench, Dean continues, was a huge problem in the early days of the Goldwater Revolution. The founders of that movement understood they needed a set of core principles on which to build an enduring vision for where they wanted to take America -- principles that Americans would recognize as being part of their own native traditions of government. However, since great philosophers have seldom offered lofty justifications to robber barons and earth-rapers, they were coming up embarrassingly short. That, says Dean, is how Leo Strauss was recruited to fill the hole; and his neo-conservative disciples at the University of Chicago became the intellectual lights of the new era. Lacking a philosophical foundation, the modern conservatives had to jerry-rig one out of whatever they found, and hope it was good enough to build a movement on.

In the 70s, this core structure was plastered over with Christian fundamentalism, which had to perform impossible perversities upon its own philosophical corpus in order to turn Jesus into an anti-Communist, pro-military free-marketeer. If you looked at it closely, the whole edifice was nothing more than spit, duct tape, and paint; but given sufficient ignorance and the right lighting, it looked like a plausible spiritual and philosophical foundation on which to construct a conservative vision for America's future.

Moving foward, liberals are facing no such poverty. If they could build all this on such a rickety intellectual foundation, we're starting with more granite than El Capitan. The Constitution and the Declaration are, at heart, liberal documents. We could ask for no clearer or more unassailable statements of our core philosophy of government. The language is lucid, strong, and beautiful; the ideals stand in such stark contrast to Republican rule that no one will fail to see the implicit choice inherent in them.

For those who like their morality in absolutes, we can offer a beauty. You stand with us for democracy -- or you stand against everything this county was built on.

2. A detailed dream -- The dreams of 1964 succeeded because huge numbers of Republicans saw, in intricate detail, what they wanted to achieve. They wanted a return to the 50s. A well-ordered world for the white, male, and wealthy. The "freedom" for business to profit however and wherever it could, with generous government help. Docile, properly-girdled wives. Obedient, shaven, and respectful children. People of color who "knew their place." An American empire that controlled the world's goods and people. Some added: A country run according to the Bible instead of the Constitution.

One of the core tenets shared by futurists is that the future belongs to groups of people who share clear, detailed dreams of what they want to create, and are able to continue to hold fast to those visions through all manner of change and adversity. The odds of any given future ever happening go up with the number of people who share it, the clarity and detail with which they can envision it, and the tenacity with which they pursue it over time.

Without a doubt, this clarity and tenacity were the GOP's single biggest advantage over the past 40 years. They had the courage of their convictions, boundless enthusiasm in selling their vision, the willingness to endure ridicule, and a constancy that allowed the vision to endure almost unchanged for nearly half a century. They showed people a strong picture of where they were leading them; and they confidently proceeded to take them there (…or, at least, so they said...)

So far, Democrats have been very slow on the uptake when it comes to presenting a detailed vision of what our 21st century America will look like. Part of this is that we're still in opposition mode, and still factionalized enough that it's hard to reach consensus. But we had better get on with this, and soon. We might win this election on voter disgust with the Republican vision; but we will lose the next one if we can't replace it with a strong, vibrant, enduring narrative of our own. They need to know, immediately, what the progressive movement stands for and where we intend to take America -- not just programs and processes, but the entire philosophical value system that will guide our moral and political decision-making. This must be our very first task, starting tomorrow morning. It will not wait.

3. Vision over leadership -- Everybody knows that the job of a leader to articulate visions. However, there are two serious and common misunderstandings that follow from this. Both lead straight into a pair traps that we will need to avoid -- and, which, remarkably, the rising GOP kept itself almost entirely out of.

First, we misunderstand exactly what visions are, and what role they play in the life of an enterprise. At their best, they are overarching statements of meaning. Who are we? What is our enterprise about? What value do we bring to the world? What future are we in business to create? These aren't slogans or mottos or mission statements or policies (though all those should proceed from the core vision); they are long-term answers to long-term questions. The most successful enterprises are the ones that are able to develop a rock-solid vision of what purpose they serve -- and then sustain that same vision for decades at a time, regardless of who's leading them or how conditions change. Strategy and methods come and go. Leaders are hired, fired, or retired. All of these changes are endurable, as long as they're made in the service of the larger vision.

The GOP set its vision in the late 1960s; and it formed the unchanging map for everything they've done since. While they've had some serious setbacks, and their leadership has varied from charismatic to criminal, their vision has survived, undimmed and largely unchanged.

Second, we misunderstand the role leaders play in articulating visions. Modern CEOs market themselves as visionaries, their services bought by companies who want to sign on to their vision. The dismal upshot of this is that company visions change every time upper management changes. The new Big Dog comes on board, pisses on the goals laid down by his predecessor, and proceeds to rip up the doghouse to re-arrange it according to his own plan.

This constant psychic remodeling is hell on any enterprise, and a set-up for ultimate failure of the entire structure. If you've been in corporate life for a while, you've probably succumbed to "vision fatigue" as you watched these guys come and go. From below, all the lofty posturing and preening about "vision" just looks like a bad sales job. You know instinctively that it's nothing more than a colossal time and energy sink, that it promotes nothing but cynicism and draws people's energy from the real work of the business. If this goes on long enough, the institution finally loses its ability to engage any vision at all. Adrift without purpose or coherent meaning, its collapse is not far behind.

On the other hand, we can all name companies that have walked the same talk for 20 or 30 years. Their employees are engaged with the firm's vision; and feel supported by it in return. Creating and maintaining this kind of vision is what real leadership is all about. Worthwhile visions take years, even decades to emerge; and when you've got one that's working for you, everything -- including your CEO's ego -- needs to be subordinated to it. That's why successful companies hire low-key leaders who are willing to serve and nurture the existing vision, rather than egomaniacs who will attempt to impose nightmares of their own.

Again, the GOP did this well. Their vision, however horrifying we find it, proved durable enough to transcend the leaders who promoted it. It survived Nixon, found its avatar in Reagan, and was barely dented by Bush I. Still, all things must end -- and, finally, this vision may also be running out of relevance, the shine obscured by the grease of corruption, the sand of Baghdad, and the mud of New Orleans. Even so, it's served them so well for 40 years that we'll probably be finding pockets of die-hards tenaciously keeping a grip on it for the rest of their lives.

4. Faith in their own inevitability -- If it ever occurred to the GOP for a moment that long-term failure was even possible, they kept it to themselves. Even defeats were spun as victories. Whatever happened, it was good news for Our Side. With God and Wall Street at their backs, their glorious vision was such a fait accompli -- and their confidence in it so assured -- that small setbacks (or even large ones, like Watergate) just rolled off them. And they kept on rolling.

These days, we're hearing a lot about how "Conservatism didn't fail -- specific people failed conservatism." This is also a necessary stance if you're holding a vision that's bigger than any specific leader, and are convinced of that vision's ultimate rightness. Liberals would do well express an equally confident belief in liberal Constitutional democracy -- an idea that is bigger than any person or party, and cannot be defeated by any human failure.

5. A commitment to the long haul -- The post-Goldwater conservatives believed from the start that they were in this battle not just for life, but for generations. To that end, they started early on to find and cultivate young conservatives, and founded institutions -- colleges, churches, media outlets -- that would serve as perpetual repositories and promoters of their vision. They were, and will continue to be, determined to bring down liberal democracy in America, and replace it with a hereditary aristocracy governed (at least nominally) by the Word of God. As long as that institutional infrastructure stands, they'll be producing soldiers to keep up the fight.

Right now, the Republicans are facing some bad moments. The recent sexual scandals may peel off some of their Evangelical base. The horror of Iraq, and the mounting financial scandals yet to come from it, are scaring off the investors whose funding they depend on. Americans are looking at the mess, and losing confidence in both the GOP vision and its leadership.

But Watergate did not stop these people. Iran-Contra barely slowed their pace. The embarrassment of the Clinton impeachment debacle hardly registered at all. If we think they're going to slink away quietly after today's defeat, we will only choose greater defeat for ourselves.

We may vote them out of Congress today. We might even, with luck, take back the Senate. We can make George Bush's next two years a living hell (and I hope we do). But let's not forget that these are True Believers with 40 years already invested in a vision -- and no matter how badly we thrash them at the ballot box or on the floor of Congress, they will not be going away.

The only way we can defeat them is:

1) Reaffirm our deep philosophical commitment to Constitutional principles as the guiding force for a truly American morality and politics

2) Draw our own vibrant narrative about the kind of America we want to create -- one that will not require much change or amendment, and which we can rely on to guide our choices for the next 50 years

3) Elevate and support that vision over the priorities any faction, any strategy, or any single leader. The ultimate criterion for all our choices should be: "How does this help manifest our vision?"

4) Have complete and unshakeable confidence in the inevitability of our own victory. We will win because we are keeping faith with the best ideals of America.

5) Realize that we and our children and grandchildren will be in this battle, probably fighting these same people, for as long as it takes to win. In the long term, defeating them will not mean defeating individuals or candidates, but rather the issues and institutions that feed their cause.

Sidney Blumenthal - Fall of the house of kitsch

Fall of the house of kitsch
Like Haggard and other GOP cultural warriors, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were empty historical characters -- faux "war heroes" who trafficked in style over substance.

By Sidney Blumenthal

Nov. 08, 2006 | The cultural crackup of conservatism preceded the final political result. For weeks before Election Day, prominent figures on the right threw themselves into their culture war only to be left in the trenches battered, scorned and disoriented. They were unable to shield themselves through their usual practices. Their prevarications were easily penetrated; derision hurled at their targets backfired; hypocrisy was fully exposed. These self-destructive performances were hardly peripheral to the campaign but instead at the heart of it.

The Bush administration and the Republican Congress could not defend themselves on their public record and urgently needed to change the subject. They required new fields of combat -- not the Iraq war, certainly not convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, convicted Rep. Duke Cunningham, investigated Rep. Mark Foley or indicted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. So they launched offensives on Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's disease, Jim Webb's novels and gay marriage. Yet battle-hardened cultural warriors -- Rush Limbaugh, Lynne Cheney and the Rev. Ted Haggard, among others -- did not find themselves triumphant as in the 2004 campaign, but unexpectedly wounded at their own hands.

The president, vice president and secretary of defense, meanwhile, marched to their Maginot line to defend the fortifications of the "war president" and his war paradigm ("alternative interrogation techniques" ... "terrorist surveillance program" ... "terrorists win, America loses"). Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld behaved as though they were the latest in a straight line of descent from heroes past, inheritors of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Winston Churchill. Mythologizing themselves as they struggled to gain support for "victory," they sought to distract from catastrophe by casting deepening failure as inevitable success. Envious of the "Greatest Generation," they claimed its mantle. But elevating themselves into the latter-day versions of the leaders from World War II was delusional imitation as the highest form of self-flattery.

And now the first of the Bush "warrior-heroes" has fallen. Although President Bush had said he would keep Rumsfeld in his job until the end of his term, on Wednesday Bush announced Rumsfeld's resignation, naming former CIA director (under the elder Bush) Robert Gates as his replacement. Currently serving on the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker, secretary of state under the elder Bush, Gates remains close to the realist foreign policy circle that has been excluded and dismissed for six years. With Gates' appointment, it appears that the father is at last being acknowledged by his son.

The cultural style of the Bush warriors is the latest wrinkle in one of the most enduring modes of antimodern aesthetic expression. "Kitsch is mechanical and operates by formulas," wrote art critic Clement Greenberg in his seminal essay, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch," in 1939. "Kitsch is vicarious experience and faked sensations. Kitsch changes according to style, but remains always the same. Kitsch is the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our times."

Kitsch is imitative, cheap, sentimental, mawkish and incoherent, and derives its appeal by demeaning and degrading genuine standards and values, especially those of modernity. While the proponents of the faux retro style claim to uphold tradition, they are inherently reactive and parasitic, their words and products a tawdry patchwork, hastily assembled as declarations against authentic complexity and ambiguity, which they stigmatize as threats to the sanctity of an imaginary harmonious order of the past that they insist they and their works represent. Kitsch presumes to be based on old rules, but constantly traduces them.

The Bush kitsch warriors have created a cultural iconography that attempts to inspire deference to the radical making of an authoritarian presidency. These warriors pose as populists, fighting a condescending liberal elite. Wealthy, celebrated and influential, their faux populism demands that they be seen however as victims.

Having risen solely by association with sheer political power and economic force (News Corp., etc.), the cultural charlatans become the arbiters of social standing (especially in a capital lacking a secure and enduring establishment). In Washington, the more status-conscious elements of the press corps, aspiring to the shabby fringes of the talk-show media (the low end of the entertainment state), often serve as publicity agents in the guise of political experts, and it is from this platform that they then derive greater status. Indeed, the conservative kitsch cultural industry is centered in Washington, where Republican political power has protected philistinism from the ravages of cosmopolitanism, unlike in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.

Under Ronald Reagan, conservative kitsch was the last nostalgic evocation for a glowing small-town America before the New Deal, with its raucous city dwellers, brain-trusters and an aristocratic president gleefully swatting "economic royalists." Reagan drew his raw material for "morning again in America" from an idealized view of his boyhood in Dixon, Ill., where his father was the town Catholic drunk, rescued at last only by a federal government job. Reagan also had a well of experience acting in movies romanticizing small-town life, produced by the Jewish immigrant moguls of Hollywood for whom these gauzy pictures enabled them to assimilate into a country that had richly rewarded them but in which they remained outsiders.

Bush's America contains no nostalgic evocation of small-town life. The scion of the political dynasty, raised in the oil-patch outpost of Midland, Texas, where the streets are named for Ivy League universities, and whose family retained its summer home in its New England base of Kennebunkport, Maine, attended all the right schools as a legacy, one of the last of his kind before more meritocratic standards were imposed and religious and racial quotas abolished. George W. Bush's inchoate resentment at the alteration of the world of his fathers impelled the son of privilege to align with the cultural warriors of faux populism.

The pathology of Bush's kitsch is the endless reproduction of vicarious hatred of the "other," who is the threat to the sanctity of what kitsch represents. The "other" lies beyond the image of the lurking terrorist to the lurking Democrat -- "America loses." "You're either with us or with the terrorists," Bush said famously. You either have a "pre-9/11" mind-set or a "post-9/11" one, according to his strategist Karl Rove, who carefully set the terms of demonization. In the great act of kitsch, Bush et al. apotheosized their fiasco in Iraq into a battle against Hitler -- "appeasers" ... "Islamofascism." By impersonating a historical context, they projected themselves into it.

Unlike the kitsch before and during the Reagan era, the Bush warriors' kitsch lies beyond unintentional camp. Their kitsch lacks more than irony or self-consciousness. It is deliberately sarcastic, mean-spirited, fearsome and fearful. Their unbridled bullying reveals their deep fears within. Their personal disintegrations expose what they fear most about themselves. Whether it is accused sexual harasser Bill O'Reilly (the biggest right-wing TV star), thrice-divorced drug addict Rush Limbaugh (the biggest radio star) or closeted gay drug abuser Ted Haggard, their self-destructive patterns invariably emerge.

The results of exit polls on Election Night 2006 showed that the voters were most outraged by "corruption," as well as the predictable issue of Iraq. This revulsion at "corruption" was more than the sordid wheeling and dealing of the Republican congressional barons. It was disgust at the moral hypocrisy and false sanctimony of the cultural warriors and the transparent fakery of Bush's imagery. The fate of the Senate turned on many contests, including crucial ones in Missouri and Virginia. In Missouri, an initiative that would authorize embryonic stem cell research that could lead to cures of many diseases divided the candidates. Actor Michael J. Fox made a TV commercial for the Democrat, Claire McCaskill. Looking straight into the camera, with no imagery other than his constantly swaying body, racked with the effects of his medication for Parkinson's disease, Fox made a simple appeal wholly on the basis of the stem cell research issue. Fox was a promising young actor whose his career came to a halt when his disease seized control of him. Now he plays only himself. Immediately, Rush Limbaugh was thrown into the breach against the new enemy. Earlier this year, he had declared, "What's good for al-Qaida is good for the Democratic Party in this country today." Mocking Fox by spastically wriggling in his chair as he spoke on his syndicated radio show, Limbaugh told listeners that Fox's jerky movements were "purely an act" and that he'd whack him "if you'd just quit bobbing your head." In the ensuing uproar, Limbaugh steadfastly refused to apologize. He depicted his mockery and physical threats as expressions of conservative conviction: "I stand by what I said. I take back none of what I said. I wouldn't rephrase it any differently. It is what I believe. It is what I think. It is what I have found to be true." As the criticism built, he acknowledged: "So I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox, if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act."

Limbaugh's act as an embattled profile in courage continued to influence his followers. In Wyoming, the hard-pressed Republican incumbent, Rep. Barbara Cubin, after a televised debate, vented her frustrations by turning on her Libertarian opponent, Thomas Rankin, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. "If you weren't sitting in that chair, I'd slap you across the face," she said. After apologizing, she explained that she had been inspired by Limbaugh's example in his attack on Fox. Cubin narrowly survived on Election Day. But, in Missouri, McCaskill ousted the Republican, Sen. James Talent, in an indispensable victory in turning the Senate Democratic. In Virginia, Sen. George Allen had planned for this race to serve as the trampoline for a presidential campaign in 2008, where he expected to become the consensus conservative candidate and thus the Republican nominee. His opponent, James Webb, had a résumé that not only included winning the Navy Cross in combat in the Vietnam War, and serving as Reagan's Navy secretary, but a career as an acclaimed novelist. His novels, based on his experience in Vietnam, are realistic, harsh and disturbing. For the beleaguered Allen and his Republican supporters, Webb's writings provided a source for out-of-context negative attacks. Scenes depicting unsettling sexual behavior were lifted to taint Webb as a pervert. Allen ran TV spots with Webb's words obliterated by huge red letters: "Censored." On Oct. 27, Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice president, who bills herself "Grandmother of the United States," but who is also an ardent conservative, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and ferocious former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities during the Reagan period (during which he established her bona fides as a cultural warrior), appeared on CNN to discuss her new children's book, "Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America," and to attack Webb's novels. "His novels are full of sexual explicit references to incest, sexually explicit references -- well, you know, I just don't want my grandchildren to turn on the television set," she told interviewer Wolf Blitzer. In fact, in 1981, she had published a novel, written in the kitsch softcore pornographic style of a Harlequin romance, featuring a bisexual heroine in the Old West. To wit: "The women who embraced in the wagon were Adam and Eve crossing a dark cathedral stage -- no, Eve and Eve, loving one another as they would not be able to once they ate of the fruit and knew themselves as they truly were." The attack on Webb as novelist failed; he narrowly defeated Allen. On used copies of Cheney's novel are selling for $495.

In Colorado, as Republicans tried to muster support for their candidates through a statewide initiative against gay marriage, a homosexual prostitute named Mike Jones disclosed that the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, confidant and one of the most influential backers of President Bush, a participant in a weekly White House telephone conference call with evangelical leaders, was one of his regular clients for three years and also a purchaser of methamphetamine. After initially denying the accusations, Haggard resigned from his New Life Church in Colorado Springs and issued an apology. "I am a deceiver and a liar," he said. "There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life." Haggard's self-loathing confession continued his projective campaign against homosexuality as satanic, even within himself. However personal his drama, the fallout had a political effect. In Colorado, Democrats took the governorship and a congressional seat.

At the White House, on Oct. 25, Bush summoned a gaggle of conservative columnists to the Oval Office. He confided in them his self-comparison to presidents past. "That's what makes this more difficult -- I don't know what Harry Truman was feeling like, or Franklin Roosevelt."

The day before, the White House had summoned dozens of right-wing radio talk-show hosts to conduct interviews with officials to rally the Republican faithful before the election. Vice President Cheney, interviewed by Scott Hennen of WDAY in Minnesota, posed as the virile tough guy. Hennen asked Cheney if he was in favor of waterboarding detainees, an interrogation technique that is a form of torture. "Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" "Well," said Cheney, "it's a no-brainer to me, but I -- for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president for torture. We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in." For the next week, the White House issued a series of denials that Cheney had said anything about waterboarding or torture.

Rumsfeld, who had been holding forth for years about his fascination and identification with Churchill, on Oct. 26 held a peevish press conference at the Pentagon in which he said simply, "Back off." His analogies had run their course -- but by Wednesday he no longer needed them.

With their fabrication of faux identities, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were of a piece with the other cultural warriors. Fashioning themselves in the image of historical characters was ultimately fashion. Rather than the real things, they were impersonating the genuine articles. And after the judgment of Election Day, they were revealed as historical reenactors without the costumes.

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.