Sunday, February 11, 2007

Democratic Reality in Washington

In the November elections, the voters nudged our country back in a more responsible direction, but, with a thin majority in the House and a razor-thin coalition majority in the Senate, the task of stopping the most reckless president in our nation's history is difficult. It is difficult because the Democrats have few Republicans to rely on. The Republican Party itself is nearly as irrresponsible as Bush and his advisers. Despite Bush's dismal failures, what is astonishing is not the significant victory of Democrats in November, it is that the Republicans managed to hold on to so many seats. What kind of failure does it take for a Republican to lose a seat these days? How much corruption do voters need to see? How many lies will they endure?

I'm a strong believer in democracy, even when the results provide a hard dose of reality. The evidence is overwhelming that Bush and Cheney are reckless and incompetent. The evidence is overwhelming that Republican politicians are far more interested in their campaign donors than the American people. And yet large numbers of people still vote for these guys. Conclusion: most Americans are paying attention but just barely; large numbers of Americans have simply detached themselves from facts and events and either insist on not paying too much attention or insist on voting for illusions. But that is democracy. If we don't begin with the principle of democracy, everything falls.

One is allowed, of course, to argue the conclusion of elections, even favorable ones, all the way to the next election. Despite the slim majority the Democrats hold, nothing can be more obvious that Democrats will need more seats in Congress in 2008 to repair our nation. And we will need a Democratic president because neither Giuliani or McCain show any sign that they will be any better than George W. Bush.

But one also has to be realistic about what the Democrats can accomplish in the next two years. They can accomplish a lot in spite of Bush's veto but there should be no illusion that they can accomplish everything that voters want them to, at least not in the current environment. And it's important to remember that the biggest ally of Bush is the media, particularly TV media; the press is more critical of Bush these days but it is still reluctant to acknowledge what a walking disaster we have in the White House. As it has done for twenty-five years, American journalism by and large still favors Republicans over Democrats and that is a problem (how often have we seen this scenario: if a Democrat tells a lie, the media attacks the Democrat; if a Republican tells a lie, the media attacks the Democrat).

Margaret Talev of the McClatchy Washington Bureau has a story on the discontent of Democratic voters who are not satisfied with what the Democrats are accomplishing in Washington:
In Washington, Democrats are blaming Republicans for the Senate's failure so far to vote on a resolution opposing a troop increase in Iraq.

But in the heartland, some voters say such excuses no longer are good enough.

Having banked on the promise that Democrats would force a change of course in Iraq if they won control of Congress, some of the people who helped the Democrats get there are growing impatient.


The House of Representatives, sensing voters' impatience, is expected to go ahead next week with its own plan rather than follow the Senate.

"The people spoke pretty clearly in November, and nothing's happened," said Bill Fahrenwald, a marketer from Blue Island, Ill., a Chicago suburb. "It's pretty discouraging."

"They're being overly cautious, to the point of really not accomplishing anything," said Lisa Rone, a psychiatrist from Oak Park, Ill. "I thought the Democrats would be much more clear about that vote and be much more active."

I too find myself getting impatient. The Democrats in Washington can do more. But look again at that thin majority for Democrats in the Senate. First there is no majority. There are 49 Democrats, 49 Republicans and 2 independents. One of those 2 independents is Joe Lieberman who still supports the war and has praised Bush on a number of occassions in the last year. If 12 Republicans in the Senate and 65 Republicans in the House voted with the Democrats, we could have Bush's recklessness under control in short order. There's no sign that I can see that it's going to happen. A razor-thin majority requires getting a few Republicans to cross the line and even more Republicans to overcome a veto. And that requires work and negotiations. And that requires time.

I know, there isn't much time left for Democrats to act before Bush drags us into a third war, if indeed that's where we're headed. But this is the political reality. If a third war comes, it's in the hands of Bush and those Republicans still supporting him, not the Democrats. We need to be clear about that. And we need to be clear about one other thing. November 2006 was only one election. We need more moderates like Jim Webb and we need more liberals like Barbara Boxer; both have in common that they are fighters and they don't put up with nonsense.

We are in a generational battle for the future of our nation. Will we as a nation buy the lies of right wing Republicans who drag us into wars we don't need or will we begin to address our future and fully engage the real issues of our time?

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Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

"Despite Bush's dismal failures, what is astonishing is not the significant victory of Democrats in November, it is that the Republicans managed to hold on to so many seats. What kind of failure does it take for a Republican to lose a seat these days?"

Plenty. Each election has its own chemistry, to some extent. In some cases GOP incumbents held on because they've been there so long, constituents can't imagine voting for anyone else. That ties in with another voting dynamic: older folks who are especially impressed with experience and fond of the long familiar are much more inclined than younger people to actually vote.

Other Republicans held on because, although many a voter was burned about Bush and Republicans in Congress in general, they couldn't imagine their good ol' Congress member and senator were complicit in the corruption, lockstep marching, lack of oversight, etc.

On top of those reasons Republicans have gerrymandered with a vengeance, literally, all over the country.

On top of the fully paid for right-wing noise machine, the media generally have become as slanted to the right as they were years ago to the left.

Even when corporate profit motives, personal wealth motives and ideological predisposition aren't at work in media people's minds these days, there's the simple fact they've established ties and made contacts, supposedly reliable sources, in the Washington GOP establishment. The prospect of having to start over from scratch with Democrats, maybe even having to overcome some well-deserved resentment to do that, is not a welcome prospect, I'm sure.

Lastly, you have to remember congressional district and state Democratic organizations have been recruiting and running some good people, to no avail, for years. After two, three, four good Democrats give up weeks or months from their career or business to run, only to be spurned at the polls, it becomes harder to run really good and attractive candidates. So, the advantage accrues to GOP incumbents.

This last was somewhat less of a factor last fall in part because of a successful effort to recruit veterans that was aided by the national Democratic Party, I believe.

So, yes, unseating a well-entrenched and financed GOP incumbent can be a tall order these days, even given how richly deserved that outcome is.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Re: impatience about Democrats' lack of substantive action against escalating the war and staying the course.

I'm impatient, too. But the reality is that while Democrats have official control of the Senate, by the hardest, that status rests on a sand foundation.

First, you've got DINO Sen. Joe Lieberman, who I'm sure Republicans are working night and day to flip.

Second, Sen. Tim Johnson hasn't been able to vote and may not be able to for some time.

I think it's also true that the tenuousness of Democrats' Senate position affects how gung ho House members are to pursue bold initiatives. The Senate's role constitutionally is to hold sway where foreign affairs, including wars. It's traditionally had most of the clout.

The House has the funding plug, which it can pull at any time. But that's a nuclear option, not to be applied until all else has been tried and the natives are beating their drums and threatening riots in the streets.

It's not a pretty picture, but it's the picture we're stuck with for now.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

S.W., excellent analysis and I concur. It may take plenty for a Republican to lose a seat these days, but I'm still astonished. Voters are voting Republican even knowing that Bush could stumble into a broader war that could damage our country for a generation.

11:30 PM  

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