Topic: Election Notes
By late Wednesday it was clear what had happened. The nation seems to have agreed it might be nice to have a House and Senate of new people, not the old crew making their friends and families rich and agreeing to whatever the president said, and when they eventually got around to working concerned with issues like changing the constitution to ban flag-burning as a form of protest and making sure gay people couldn't ever get married or even have the legal rights straight folks have. Three weeks before the election they spent a day or two working on banning the commercial production of horsemeat - a niche export industry but very worrisome. With legislator after legislator reading statements into the record documenting the love of horses things did reach the near edge of the absurd. (For the record, Just Above Sunset thinks horses are fine animals.)
Late Wednesday is when Associated Press and NBC called the final Senate race - Jim Webb over the incumbent Republican, George Allen, in Virginia. That assured Democrats of fifty-one seats when the Senate convenes in January. That was a net gain of six seats - a sweep. Earlier, State Senator Jon Tester - the outspoken organic farmer who long ago lost three fingers in a meat grinder accident (a "man of the people" in some strange way) - had won over the incumbent Republican Senator Conrad Burns Montana. Both races were close and the results late, but the possibility of a recount changing things was so remote only the concession speeches were in question - seeing who could be most gracious. Rick Santorum had set the bar high there.
The Democratic Senate total does include two independents - Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont - but they both say they will caucus and vote with the Democrats. Bernie Sanders certainly will, but Lieberman is an odd duck - a six term Democrat with a long history, from the Civil Rights days in the sixties, of voting with that side, but a recent history is whining and voting with the Republicans on all issues and scolding Democrats for any public or private disagreement with any policy or position of the president. He's the wild card, publicly saying the war in Iraq is going great and no one should disagree with this particular president on anything. And when he lost the Democratic primary and ran as an independent, financed to a large extent by the White House and saying it would be better than having him in the Senate rather than the man officially selected by the Party, he burned a few bridges. The Senate may actually be split in an odd way.
The House will not be split - by Wednesday the Democrats had gained almost thirty seats, and they only had needed fifteen for a majority. Ten more seats were too close to call, but control of the House was not in question. Things had changed.
And other things had changed. Conservative values were in question.
In Arizona voters rejected a measure to ban gay marriage and any sort of civil unions - in spite of John McCain arguing that this had to pass for the moral good of that state and the whole nation. So in the land of Barry Goldwater the people spoke in one voice - restricting the rights of gay folks was dumb, intrusive and mean-spirited. The late Barry Goldwater had actually held that same position, although the issue at that time was gays in the military and in public office. He didn't see the big problem. And neither did the voters there now - they'd had enough of being jerked around by the "values" crowd. (Oddly enough, somewhere around here, perhaps in a box in the back of the closet, I have a tape of my second ex-father-in-law, when he was Assistant Secretary of Defense for Heath Affairs in the Reagan administration, appearing on the McNeill-Lehar News House show arguing the opposite, and not very convincingly.)
In Missouri the voters also told the values crowd to take a hike - the initiative funding stem cell research passed handily, and the incumbent Republican senator who opposed it was tossed out as well. The argument that such research involved murdering actual children - or that it secretly legalized human cloning - didn't gain much traction. The "values" crowd seemed a bit loopy on the issue.
In another setback for values conservatives, South Dakota rejected a law that would have banned virtually all abortions. This had been passed overwhelmingly by the legislature earlier in the year and would have been the toughest abortion law in the country, allowing abortions only to save a pregnant woman's life. The idea was that the ban would be challenged in court, and that might provoke litigation that might eventually lead to a Supreme Court reversal of Roe v Wade. It lost by a 55-45 margin - folks saw it as too intrusive, with language that failed to guarantee the rights of victims of rape and incest. It was a bullshit ploy, and they'd have none of it.
"It was a thumping," Bush conceded in his press conference Wednesday at the White House. "It's clear the Democrat Party had a good night." (He will not use the term "Democratic" Party - it gives them too much respect - it's the "Democrat" Party.)
But with power on Capitol Hill tilting the other way now, the president faced the unpleasant reality of both houses in the opposition's hands for the final two years of his term. This will not be nice. He announced that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would step down as Democrats, and most everyone, have demanded.
That was a surprise. Two weeks earlier he had said Rumsfeld would stay on to the end of his term - two more years - as Rumsfeld had done an "excellent job." He was adamant, and vehement about that. Things change, and the big issue really was the war. Something is happening.
Internationally, you got things like this -
Will there be a change in policy? Rumsfeld was cut loose while his old friend and best friend from their days together in the Nixon and Ford administrations, Vice President Cheney, was off on his first hunting trip since he shot another old friend in the face. One of Lloyd Bridges' lines in the movie "Airplane" was "I guess I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue." Cheney picked the wrong day to go hunting up by the Canadian border. Or he knew what was coming and decided it would be best to be out of town, shooting small animals.
The replacement is Bob Gates, and one way of looking at it is like this -
A more conventional way of looking at it is this -
So one of Daddy's friends is coming in to clean things up, a man who is already part of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group - charged with developing an array of alternatives to the current Iraq policies. Gates recently traveled to Iraq as part of that team and met with Iraqi leaders and our military commanders. The intervention has begun. The president's father is reported to have a long-standing problem with Rumsfeld - he would have nothing to do with him, and the son appointing Rumsfeld to Defense, or letting Cheney tell him he should, had been an in-your-face thing in the family. Things change.
And the big change may be this -
Listening and questioning your own assumptions? Things really are changing at the White House.
Rumsfeld was a leading advocate for invading Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11 - deposing Saddam Hussein was unfinished business the wimp father had screwed up. Gates was one of those who cautioned the first President Bush not to press toward Baghdad after we fixed the Kuwait thing in 1992. To be fair, of course, Cheney was saying the same thing at the time.
And for the record, Gates was first nominated to be CIA director by Reagan in 1987, but he withdrew due to congressional opposition - he was too closely tied to the Iran-Contra scandal, and that had been engineered by CIA Director Casey while Gates was his deputy. He was not charged with anything, but people wondered. Instead Gates joined the National Security Council staff at the White House, where he made connections with Brent Scowcroft and Condoleezza Rice. When he finally got to run the CIA four years later one of his first initiatives as director was to deal with the accusations that that intelligence had been politicized within the agency. He appointed a task force on "analytic objectivity" and implemented all of its recommendations. So we're talking a major change here - he'd not tolerate visits from Cheney to anyone to badger them for the "right" results. He may run Defense the same way - let's deal with what we know for sure, the actually facts. Yipes! New thinking!
As for Rumsfeld, there was one last shot -
Ah! He got it, no one else did, and they we're not as smart as he is, and people are just so stupid.
An assessment of that from Andrew Sullivan -
But other than that he did a fine job. It should be an interesting next two years.
As for the election itself, Sullivan had a few choice words -
The short version of that - the Republican Party is now the party of the Old South, racist, delusional, anti-science, xenophobic and evangelical. That's all they've got left. The real and principled conservatives have gone and hooked up with the progressives/liberals to deal with reality. (And that's where Barry Goldwater would be too.)
There is too a lot of comment out there on the Rove strategy floating around, and it hooks into that. Since before 2000 his "genius" was realizing you could win by removing the middle, the "swing voters" and moderates, as there really were no such people. You rile up your base against the godless liberals, and make them seem somewhere between evil and stupid, and by default you get just enough of the uninformed to augment your unwavering base, and you get 50.0001 percent of the vote and insist you have an overwhelming mandate that's so obvious that the media concedes that the nation has obviously changed course and become just like your base. And it worked for six years. Then it didn't. There actually seems to have been a middle after all.
Juan Cole, the University of Michigan Middle East scholar, puts it this way -
And that happened fast. And then the Democrats called for a summit on Iraq -
That might not be a bad idea, given this -
Yep, what we've been doing is just not working. It's time for a change. We got one.
Curious post-election quotes from Rush Limbaugh -
It's a new world.