Sunday, January 07, 2007

Thoughts on the Midterms

Written 11/10/06

Leading up to the midterm elections, I must admit I was getting a little nervous that the Democrats would find some way to blow it. I was nearly certain that they would take a majority in the House, but a slim majority and not taking the Senate would have been disappointing.

Watching the early returns only added to my apprehension. Since there are so many House races, I focused my attention on the Senate and perceived those results as potentially predictive of the general trend in the House as well. Bad news…Ford was down almost double digits in Tennessee, Webb was down to Allen in Virginia, McCaskill was down in Missouri and Lieberman had held off the more progressive anti-war democrat Ned Lamont in Connecticut. While I was glad to see Rick Santorum, a cultural reactionary, get the boot, the expected dramatic Democratic wave didn't seem to be building.

In the end, all but Ford among the aforementioned Democrats surged ahead late in the evening and by the next day the Democrats had seized a majority in the Senate in addition to a strong majority in the House. I was happy to see it and, if nothing else, there will be some check on the Executive branch for the next 2 years. I was especially glad that Rove's "metrics" were way off and that the electorate wasn't so easily scared into submission as they had been in 2002 and 2004. It was validating that liberal and moderate voters came out in opposition to the Iraq war and basically forced a change. Rumsfeld's forced resignation after the election is evidence that Bush felt the pressure of the anti-war sentiment.

Of course, the mainstream political coverage was conventionally horse-race oriented and the talking heads played up the election as a "revolution." From where I sit, Bush and his administration still controls the Executive, the Supreme Court still over represents a culturally conservative worldview and the Republicans still have the numbers in the Congress to prevent overriding a presidential veto. Hardly a revolution. Chomsky would argue that this is a prime example of those who hold power restricting and managing political discourse. The general public feels like there has been major change even when little has actually shifted in terms of political power and policy. We have to avoid that trap and push the politicians to actually change policy and set the tone for a progressive president in 2008.

Obama's Time has Come


Barack Obama has opened up to the possibility of a presidential run in 2008. The largest concerns against his running and winning are that he is too inexperienced and that his race may be a divisive issue. I don’t feel that either concern is overly warranted. The general public seems less concerned with experience than character and an ability to convey a message that resonates. What truly prepares one to be president? Prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate, Obama was a State Senator in Illinois, a professor of Law at the University of Chicago and a prominent civil rights lawyer. He holds a degree in political science from Columbia University and a JD from Harvard. If he can survive the rigors of general election and can convince the general public of the usefulness of this experience to the presidency, he should be fine. Another 10 years in the Senate will only provide his competitors with more votes to mischaracterize and attack him over. Kerry fell victim to this tactic in 2004- being labeled as a flip-flopper based primarily on his votes in the Senate.

The racial issue is definitely an interesting one. On one hand, I doubt that many with racist tendencies will vote for a Democrat anyway- so it may be a non-issue. However, historically the winner of the presidency has to appeal to moderate voters and some may be scared off by Obama’s biracial identity and international heritage. However, I can already see that Obama’s larger message and vision promote his biracialism as an asset rather than a detriment. He has focused on bridging gaps in American culture and strived to deliver a message of pluralism and tolerance. Diversity is a strength of America for Obama and his ethnic background could lend credibility to this message. Concerns over race definitely shouldn’t prevent Obama from at least running. If he believes the time has come for America to embrace his multi-cultural vision than perhaps his time has come as well.

It seems the perfect time to try. Obama, in many ways, is the anti-Bush. Presidential politics are often dialectical, with the electorate voting in reaction to the last regime. Jimmy Carter probably wouldn’t have been elected if it wasn’t for the fact that he stood in such sharp contrast to Nixon’s corruption and Ford’s anti-intellectualism. Obama may get the same bump from his obvious contrasts with Bush. One’s father was president, the other’s was a sheep-herder. One is thoughtful and the other crafts policy based on gut instincts. Obama would certainly offer a contrasting leadership style and vision that could overshadow his race, or even turn it into a positive.

The Non-Option in Iraq


The political players and the media are now isolating 3 overly simplistic strategies for US policy in Iraq. 1) Go Big 2) Go Long 3) Go Home. Catchy, I guess, but these seem to just be a short-cut to thinking. Only “go long,” (continue the current policy) is even possible based on the way these options are framed. “Go big” would require increases in troop levels, but we don’t have the troops to send for this option. Unless there is a draft, or some drastic measure taken to increase troop levels, this option seems unlikely. “Go home” is possible, but even more unlikely and hardly proposed by anyone. Even the most anti-war democrats propose a redeployment of troops and a gradual withdrawal of major combat troops. “Go long” is of course opposed by a vast majority of the public and is also unlikely.

So…the 3 options being outlined in the mainstream media are all unrealistic and unsophisticated options. My fear is that the public will be frightened into a “go big” approach. Fearful of a never-ending quagmire, but equally scared of Iraq becoming a terrorist haven- some may opt for what seems like a faster solution. I also fear a repeat of Nixon strategy of bringing home troops while escalating bombing and major military operations. I could see this new commission coming up with this kind of a strategy. Get US troops out of the way so we can bomb the militias into submission. This would lead to massive collateral damage, as it did in Cambodia.

The reasonable proposals by Democrats of a Middle East conference and a strategic redeployment are unfortunately being overshadowed by these non-options.