The Odd Couple
The 110th Senate will be comprised of 49 republicans, 49 Democrats, and two Independents -- more specifically, two Jewish men in their mid-60s from New England states who will caucus with the Democrats but hold out the possibility of breaking with them. I speak of Connecticut's Joe Lieberman and Vermont's Bernie Sanders.
Those wondering when we might expect the Independent Caucus to put forth its own issue agenda could be in for a long wait. Lieberman's election-night proclamation that his was a victory of "the mainstream over the extreme" was aimed more at Ned Lamontist Democrats than the GOP. By contrast, avowed socialist Sanders' declaration that "we are sick and tired of the right-wing extremists who have been running this country" presumably didn't pertain to crunchy liberals. Lieberman wasted no time after the election making clear he was "beholden to no political group." Sanders, too, stressed his independence, but did so by explaining his intention to push Democrats to pursue left-wing policies that went beyond merely ending Bush's tax cuts and restoring domestic spending ("That's the easy stuff!"). One of these independents was long touted as a possible replacement for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; the other's election garnered a celebratory article in the People's Weekly World. We could go on. Their differences extend down to matters of personal style -- Sanders is avuncular, scruffy; Lieberman is prim and a touch school-marmish. They're not just the outliers but the Oscar and Felix of the new Senate majority.
-- Sam Rosenfeld --
Accentuate the Negative
In the initial round of election post-mortems, one conservative after another offered up a humorous (if poignant) explanation for the GOP's crushing losses: the party's abandonment of rigid right-wing orthodoxy regarding government spending. That seemed hard to top for sheer perversity, but then beleaguered National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds rose to the challenge. He explained to reporters that Republicans lost … because they ran insufficiently negative campaigns. "I accept the fact that you have good people lose in hard-fought battles, but I can also unfortunately show examples of some of my colleagues who did not disqualify their opponents at all, or too late," Reynolds said. Those Republicans -- such famous namby-pamby softies on the campaign trail. When will they learn?
Though George W. Bush's presidency should be said to have exploded the notion that electoral "mandates" exert a meaningful effect on political officials' behavior, a look at the aggregate vote totals for November's midterms is still instructive. On the Senate side, economist Brad DeLong pointed out that about 32 million Americans voted for Democrats compared to about 24.5 million for Republicans -- a 13.4 percent margin of victory. As for the House, Columbia statistics professor Andrew Gelman compared the 2006 return to the much ballyhooed Republican Revolution, and noted on his blog that "[t]he Democrats received 54.8 percent of the average district vote for the two parties in 2006, whereas the Republicans only averaged 51.6 percent in 1994." Consider it a mandate, then -- whatever that might mean.
The Terrorist Vote: Crucial
The American people spoke on November 7, and the ballots they cast sent a decisive message of aid and comfort to Osama bin Laden. As George W. Bush had told supporters just days before the election, "However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses." Never to be outdone, Dick Cheney had explained to FOX News that the jihadists believe "they can break the will of the American people" and "that's what they're trying to do" -- by, of course, electing Democrats. The American public listened, and voted accordingly. Let us now genuflect before Speaker Nancy al-Zawahiri, Ways and Means Chairman Khalid Shaikh Rangel, and, of course, Rahmzi Emanu-El of Illinois, the first-ever Jewish member of al-Qaeda.
Honest About Lying
At the president's November 8 press conference, a reporter cited the "America loses" line and asked the president what had changed to prompt his new calls for engaging constructively with the Democrats. "What's changed today is the election is over," was Bush's reply. The "Of course I lied, there was an election happening!" defense was, in fact, a running theme of the press conference. Reporters pressed Bush to explain why he had told three journalists a week prior to the election that he had no plans to replace Donald Rumsfeld. Bush first answered that he didn't "want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign. And so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer." Another journalist followed up to confirm that the president did in fact knowingly have plans to replace Rummy when he assured reporters before the election that he didn't. "No, I did not" know Rummy was a goner, said Bush. "And the reason I didn't know is because I hadn't visited with his replacement -- potential replacement." Well that clears things up.
Noted Without Comment
For the record: On October 18, a reporter in Iowa had asked John McCain what his reaction would be if Democrats took over the Senate. "I think I'd just commit suicide. I don't want to face that eventuality because I don't think it's going to happen."
There were other elections of note in November. For example, before The Atlantic released its "100 Most Influential Americans" cover story, it conducted an online poll to see how some of the candidates ranked among readers. Ronald Reagan came out on top. George W. Bush scored about the same as Martin Luther King Jr. Oprah Winfrey only snuck in at number 10. She should demand a recount.
Before the midterm elections, Congress helpfully provided official backing for the administration's then still-rogue approach to holding, trying, and prosecuting terror detainees. The congressional sanction has evidently put the wind back in the sails of administration lawyers, who, in simultaneous filings on November 13, both argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that Guantanamo Bay prisoners have no constitutional rights because they are being held overseas and claimed before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that immigrants arrested in the United States for suspicion of terrorist activities can be held indefinitely and without appeal to civilian courts. The Bush presidency: not over yet.
THE QUESTION: Did this election augur a permanent structural realignment of the electorate?
"Yes. The decades-spanning Southernization of the GOP has finally wrought its complement: consolidation of Democratic control in the North."
-- Jules Max, Junior Deputy Editor, The American Prospect --
"I tend to blanch at such overly sweeping claims. Local and temporal contingencies play the biggest role in elections."
-- Madeline Pressley, Junior Managing Editor, The American Prospect --
"Nonsense on stilts! This was merely Bush fatigue. And hasn't David Mayhew definitively debunked realignment theory already?"
-- Mara Lurie, Junior Director of External Relations, The American Prospect --
PARODY: Rush Limbaugh, Still Liberated
"Now I'm liberated from having to constantly come in here every day and try to buck up a bunch of people who don't deserve it, to try to carry the water and make excuses for people who don't deserve it." -- Rush Limbaugh, November 8, 2006
The second week of my liberation still feels great. Republicans, you stink. I always said so, at least quietly inside my head. Plus, you're ungrateful, and I'm done being taken for granted. I've worked too hard and too long to earn a reputation for moral and intellectual debasement to be treated this way. I was even fully and publicly on board with your proposed bill empowering small business owners to drive around with firearms and randomly shoot children under four. And now you tell me you weren't serious.
So let me be honest, for once. I'm completely inspired by Nancy Pelosi's "Six for '06" agenda. The government should absolutely be allowed to negotiate prices for prescription drugs -- I can tell you from experience that you've got to haggle if you don't want dealers to rob you blind. And Pelosi's pledge to expand Pell grants is positively Churchillian. Churchill, of course, is a hero of mine, because he reminds me of Jimmy Carter. And, to pay for it, let's by all means preserve the capital gains tax. I never did mind that tax, actually.
So, yes, I've been a Democrat all along. But I know you all have one last question. What about Abu Ghraib? Did I really think it was just like a frat house, as I claimed? Well, actually, yes. My own hazing experience at Omega Gamma Psi involved a fairly rigorous program of naked human pyramids, death, and sodomy. It also left me with a severe case of obesity and mental retardation. So I don't think inmates at Abu Ghraib experienced such a bad thing. They received the best preparation possible for a great future: a career in right-wing radio. And that isn't just the massive dose of hydrocodone talking.
-- T.A. Frank --