Sunday, November 19, 2006

Bush Biffed by Voters

Mid-Term Election Results Analysed and their Significance Considered

The Results Analysed
The Democratic victory in the mid-terms should not be regarded as all that astonishing as after six years in power most presidents manage to alienate/ annoy/bore a fair number of US voters. Nevertheless winning both houses of Congress is still an unusual feat and, given Bush’s so called ‘political genius’ Karl Rove’s dream of making America a one party state for a generation, this ranks as a major defeat for George Bush.

Senate: 2004Republicans-55 2006-49
2004 Democrats- 44 2006-499plus 2 Independents
House of Representatives
2004 Republicans-232 2006 203
2004 Democrats 202 2006-232
Men 2004-44% 2006-52%
2004-55% 2006-45%
Women 2004-51 2006-57%
2004-48% 2006-42%

Democrats 2004-41% 2006-49%
Republicans 2004-58% 2006-50%

Race: African American –Democrats 2004-88% 2006-88%; Republican 2004-11% 2006-12%

Hispanic: Democrats 004-53% 2006-72%; Republicans2004-44% 2006-27%

Religion:WhiteEvangelical Christian:Democrats2004-21% 2006-29%;Republicans2004-78% 2006-70%

Regions (2006): West: Democrats-54% Republicans-43%; Midwest Democrats-52% Republicans-47%; South Democrats-45% Republicans-53% North East Democrats- 63%

In just about every category Bush’s party received the ‘thumping’ he ruefully mentioned in his comments after the results came through. Only African Americans showed an increase d confidence in him –up from 11 to 12%; and only the South as a region gave him a decent majority vote. Religious support still indicated a majority for Bush but the numbers were significantly down. Maybe the biggest transformation was in the women’s vote where the democrats won by 57% to 42%- quite astonishing. The House of Representatives’ strength has reversed its majority from 232 for the Republicans to the same number now for the Democrats. The damage in the Senate was limited to an equal tally of 49 seats but: two independents are to vote with the Democrats and the Republicans, astonishingly, lost the solidly ‘red’ cowboy state of Montana and the key state of Virginia where the once presidential hopeful George Allen was defeated by former Republican national office holder, Jim Webb. This contest, recall was characterized by Allen attempting to smear Webb by quoting sections of his novels and claiming they indicated he was in favour of rape and incest. Allen had sustained a self inflicted wound early on in the campaign by describing Webb’s dark skinned aide as a ‘macacca’, a racist term from North Africa where Allen grew up.

Results in Historical Context.
Democrats gained more seats than in any elections since the mid-terms after Watergate in 1974. Only three times-1932, 1952 and 1994 has either party taken both houses at a single election. Only one of those- Republicans in 1994, were in the mid-terms. To cap it all Democrats did not lose a single seat of their own, in either house or in governor elections. They now enjoy a bigger majority in the House than the Republicans have ever had in 12 years in control. This was indeed a watershed election like 1958 when Ike lost so many seats and ushered in a period of democratic dominance; 1966 during the Vietnam war when the Republicans began their recovery; 1974 the Watergate election; and most recently in 1994.

Bush and His father Fixation
Clearly among the key issues in the election were: most importantly Iraq; corruption, the economy, immigration and the issue of Bush’s leadership itself. Andrew Sullivan wrote a perceptive article in the Sunday Times 12th November suggesting that Bush’s motivations can only be understood in terms of his love for and yet rivalry with his father, George Bush senior. He reveres his father-giving up the drink when he felt he might be shaming his father- yet seeks to prove himself by outdoing him. So we see him invading Iraq to ‘avenge’ his father’s failure to remove Saddam yet appointing Rumsfeld, a man his father thought, according to Bob Woodward’s excellent State of Denial, ‘arrogant, self important and Machiavellian’. The irony is that his father was wholly opposed to W’s Iraq war but kept out of this and other issues as he did not think it his place to interfere. Another irony is the W has now begun to appoint his father’s close associates to positions of power: James Baker to find a way out of the Iraq mess and Robert Gates to implement it.

How the Democrats did it
Karl Rove’s aura of invincibility has been shattered by the recent defeat and it was two Democrat strategists who attracted the plaudits
Rahm Emanuel, representing a Chicago seat Congress since 2003, has been credited with a huge role in the Democrat victory. A doctor’s son and former ballet dancer, he worked as a Clinton aide before entering politics himself. He masterminded the raising of £108m, equaling the Republican war-chest and carefully supervised candidate selection to ensure they were likely to have a chance in a US political culture which has shifted rightwards in recent years.

Charles Shumer, is the fellow new York Senator with Hillary Clinton. He did something similar to Emanuel, for the Senate races, introducing a ’24 hour’ rule whereby any attack from the Republicans was immediately rebutted.

Blue Dog Coalition
This was set up in the Democratic Party in 1994 comprising social conservatives-typically anti-gay marriage, abortion and gun control- in order to represent such views in the their party. In the 2004 elections Blue Dog candidates were quite successful and a raft of them were offered in2006, 27 getting elected, winning the soubriquet ‘Blue Pups’. The fact is that America has swung to the right in terms of political culture in recent years and the Democrats have been forced to tack to the right to stand any chance against the party of Bush and his religious evangelical supporters.
The Times 9th November sees this Blue Dog tactic as a means of Democrats approaching mid-west and southern contests in the 2008 presidential election. Jim Tester, for example, who won in Montana, is anti-abortion, pro-gun, three generation farmer who does not like Hillary Clinton. Others are firmly protectionist economically also to garner support in area of falling employment. As for Bush he will find a possible torrent of criticism from republicans who had held their tongues before the vote but will now take him to task. It will be a tough two years for him.

Nancy Pelosi and Bush
The Congresswoman for San Francisco is likely to be the most leftist Speaker of the House of Representatives there has ever been as well as being the first woman. A chastened George Bush, in the wake of the results, spoke of the need to seek out the ‘common ground’. Pelosi replied in conciliatory terms of the need for a ‘bipartisan’ approach and a new ‘civility’ in US politics; she looked forward to a ‘partnership to end the war in Iraq’. Harry Reid, the new Democratic Senate majority leader said similar things.
Within an hour of Pelosi saying new civilian leadership was needed in the Pentagon, Rumsfeld was sacked. Some Democrats have spoken of wanting to impeach Bush but Nancy has squashed that idea. Inquiries are another matter and Iraq will not be excluded e.g. $20bn allocated to reconstruct Iraq has just disappeared and many wish to find out what has happened to it.
Nancy Pelosi has attracted much flak from the right as an elitist Californian liberal who wears designer clothes and who will raise taxes, threaten national security and had her eyes on the White House. But she has proved a strong Congressional leader who has avoided unnecessary fights and, leading from the centre, brought unity to the divisive party in Congress.

Democrat Agenda
1. Iraq: press for an exit timetable; Bush ‘open to ideas’ and will welcome Baker’s ISG report.
2. Inquiries: likely into faulty intelligence and corruption in Iraq.
3. Climate Change: Democrats favour comprehensive policy while Republicans argue for ‘energy efficiency’.
4. Immigration: Bush will seek Democratic agreement on guest worker programme and on border patrols.
5. Minimum wage: Bush agreed to raise it to $5.15.
6. Stem cell research: Democrats want federal funding while Bush opposes.
7. Democrats can initiate bills in Congress and Bush can always veto them but to get his own legislation through he will need to compromise and take a much more bipartisan line.
8. The new chairmen of the key foreign affairs committees are both committed to a multilateral approach to foreign affairs so a new approach is likely.
9. Backing up this point, Democrats are likely to throw out any further attempt to ratify John Bolton as US ambassador to the UN, a body which he has suggested should be disbanded.

Implications for Presidential Race in 2008
The elections have had quite an impact on the presidential plans of both big parties. Hilary Clinton has built up a formidable warchest and shown by her relentless campaign- winning by 2-1- that she is the person to beat for the Democratic nomination.
Barack Obama: the Chicago Senator has revealed his own talent plus his charisma and is clearly a potential competitor for Hillary. But he is young as yet and maybe it is too soon for a black US president.
John Edwards- who fought with John Kerry in 2004 did himself no harm with a spirited campaign, and he is from the south, but he is perhaps too associated with past failure to win the nomination. The same can be said of Kerry who some say wants to run again.

Rudolph Guliani: Former Mayor of New York who was a hero during 9-11 and brought crime down dramatically but his personal life has been perhaps a little too colourful and he is pro-choice on abortion.
John McCain: Former Vietnam war hero of well known liberal leanings but favours more troops for Iraq and is quite old at 70 for the top job.
Mitt Romney: Governor of Massachusetts and popular with rightwing conservatives but is a Mormon.

Limits of the Victory
1. Over the last century, in the mid-terms, the president’s party has lost on average 32 seats in the House and six in the Senate; precisely the case this year.
2. Clinton lost disastrously in 1994 but went on to win in 1996.
3. The polls suggest this was not really a ‘paradigm shift’ election. It was a protest against Bush in Iraq and the scandalous behaviour of his party in Congress. But Bush will not fight another election and republicans are now in opposition.
4. Gerard Baker in The Times (9/11/06), points out that the Republicans have some promising candidates for President in 2008 but: i) they have lost their dominance on national security; ii) Democrats are now fielding less leftwing candidates; iii) Democrats did well in areas where population is shifting and expanding.
5. Former Bush speech writer, David Frum, writing in the Sunday Times 13/11/06, said:
6. a) ‘America remains a very, very conservative country’. In a blizzard of bad news the GOP lost only half the seats the Democrats lost in 1994 and the senate only just went the challengers’ way.
b) And the new boys are much less liberal than previous influxes in 1974 and 1986.
c) Gun control was scarcely mentioned and gay marriage opposed by all but the safest democrat incumbents.
d) polls still show nearly half respondents favouring a military strike on Iran.
e) rather as in the Korean War, which did not change anti-communism, Iraq has not reduced opposition to Islamic extremism.
7. The Economist (11/11/06) points out that a hobbled USA is not necessarily such an advantage in that:

‘The radical Islamists and rogue states who wish America harm are no more benevolent when it comes to the rest of the civilized world’.

8. Writing in The Guardian, 13/11/06, Economics editor Larry Elliot cautioned against excessive optimism regarding the Democrat victory presaging much movement on climate change or a world trade system which is fairer to poor countries. He points out that a world which cannot organize clean water to prevent the annual deaths of 5000 children, is scarcely well placed to introduce an international system of greenhouse gas emission controls. He also warns that the Democrats are likely to support protectionist measures which will not do the developing world much good either.

‘For the time being the Democrat message is likely to be ‘troops out’ and ‘import tariffs’ than Doha and climate change’


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