Saturday, November 11, 2006

Yet Another Electoral Post-Mortem

The Democratic victory in Congressional eletions has been analyzed to death, but since everyone else is doing it, I might as well weigh in with a few unoriginal remarks.

Republican Reaction

I find it encouraging that George Bush, after spending the last few months proclaiming that a vote for Democrats is a vote for terrorists, has changed his tone in the wake of his defeat. At the post-election press conference, Bush said:

To our enemies: Do not be joyful. Do not confuse the workings of our democracy with a lack of will. Our nation is committed to bringing you to justice. Liberty and democracy are the source of America's strength, and liberty and democracy will lift up the hopes and desires of those you are trying to destroy.

Of course, telling the American people they have just voted for terrorism is not a smart political move. But it suggests much of the hysteria and fear-mongering preceding the election was just hype, and that Bush and the Republicans have not forgotten the concept of loyal opposition.

What the Democrats Should Do

I generally agree with conventional wisdom here. Democrats should not set out to impeach George Bush, only to investigate what he has been doing. My advice would be to start with investigations most likely to arouse popular outrage, such as an investigation of the inept handling of the Iraq War, Halburton profiteering and the like. Move from there to somewhat more controversial matters, like manipulation of intelligence to justify the war and whether there have been abuses of warrantless wiretapes. Save the most controversial matters, such as the indefinite detention and abuse of terror suspects, for last until after awakening sufficient outrage against the Administration on other matters.

I fully share the outrage of other civil libertarians against the Military Commissions Act and general denial of hearing to detainees, but to immediately attack the Administration on these issues is to risk a replay of the Iran/Contra hearings. The Iran/Contra hearings were an attempt to investigate the Reagan Administration's lawlessness, but they largely backfired because Colonel North and others were able to portray their actions as patriotic and accuse Congressional Democrats of aiding and abetting Communists. Many members of the current Administration are all too eager to cry "rights for terrorists." The Bush Administrations lawlessness in these matters should be investigated, but it is best to wait until it is further weakened. Also, if the Administration claims intelligence secrets, go ahead and agree to hold investigations behind closed doors. You can always decide later what to release and what not to.

Various commentators have recommended that the Democrats pass as many popular laws as they can think of. If Bush signs the laws, they will get credit for passing them; if he vetoes, he will be blamed. This is probably good advise for non-controversial matters. Any attempt to pass controversial legislation will be futile. President Bush will veto it (and Senate Republicans may very well filibuster it).

How to deal with Congressional Republicans is somewhat more problematic. Rolling Stone Magazine has documented in detail the dirty tricks Republicans have played since taking control of Congress to shut Democrats out of power entirely. Tactics include secretly sneaking provisions into bills at the last minute without informing the opposition party, forbidding amendments to bills other than appropriations bills, excluding Democrats from conference committees (the committees that reconcile separate versions of bills passed by the Senate and the House), making major modifications to bills in conference committee, and rushing the modified bills to a vote before anyone has a chance to read them. So the obvious question is, retaliate in kind, or take the high road. The obvious flaw in treating the Republicans as the Republicans have treated the Democrats is that it leads to further partisan bitterness and will corrupt the Democrats as surely as it corrupted the Republicans. The disadvantage in being nice is that Republicans are apt to take it as a sign of weakness to exploit. I would propose as a reasonable compromise, treat Republicans fairly now, but thoroughly investigate their past corruption. That will be punishment enough.

The Effect on the Iraq War

This election is unlikely to have much effect on the Iraq war. Matters of war and foreign policy are uniquely executive concerns. President Bush has fired Donald Rumsfelt and replaced him with a more reality-based appointee. He has promised to listen to the Baker Commission, which is expected to recommend negotiations. All this is rather late in the game, but I suppose there is room for hope. Just not much.

Long-Term Political Consequences

I believe it would be a mistake to read this election as part of any long-term trend. The long-term consequences will happen in the long term and will depend on how effective this Congress is and how external events play out. I remember well when the Republicans took over Congress in 1994 they acted as if they had a veto-proof majority and soon learned otherwise. When they overreached themselves and provoked a backlash, I was so naive as to believe the Republicans had learned there was such a thing as being too right wing. And tempting as it may be to believe now that the Republican party will finally learn that its right wing is gangrenous and must be amputated to ensure the patient's survival, any such conclusion is premature. The current Democratic Congress will undoubtedly make its share of mistakes and experience its share of setbacks. The main lesson of this election, I believe, is that any hard-core ideologues, given enough rope, will hang themselves.

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