2006-11-10 / Editorial/Opinion

From the Editor's Desk

Commentary By Howard Schwach

All Politics is Local!

Unless it isn't.

House Speaker Tip O'Neill is credited with saying the famous words that drive the conventional political wisdom. Candidates sitting at O'Neill's knee were tutored to remember that they could campaign on national issues but when it came right down to the nitty-gritty, it was the local issues that won the election.

Actually, it wasn't O'Neill who said it first, but Finley Peter Dunne (1867 to 1936).

In yesterday's election, however, local issues were pushed aside by the Republican president's policies in Iraq and his insistence that his neoconservative, anti-science, pro big business ideas would "stay the course" no matter what the people wanted, forced the debate away from such local issues as jobs, housing, taxes and quality of life.

Sitting at The Wave office on Wednesday morning, I awaited the results from Montana and Virginia to find out if the Democrat's trouncing of the Republicans throughout the nation is complete or partial.

Prior to this election, the Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate. As of now, the Democrats have taken over the House of Representatives from the hapless Republicans by more than 30 seats (227-194) with 14 seats yet to be decided.

In the Senate, the score is tied at 49 (out of 100 total members) with Virginia and Montana still too close to call, although Democrats lead by miniscule majorities in both.

Should the Democrats take either or both of those seats, the rout would be complete.

And, while midterm elections are historically disappointing for the party in power, this year's rout went far deeper than those that came before.

To begin with, the President's policies, rubber-stamped by his Congressional majorities in both houses, have destroyed the party's credibility with voters.

No matter what the president and his close advisors think, the electorate is not stupid.

They know that we are never going to see the light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq as long as our present policies are followed in that beleaguered nation. They know what the president will never admit - that the majority of the people in the Muslim world do not want to live under a Democracy, preferring a religious theocracy instead and that a civil war between Shia and Sunni is just over the horizon no matter what we do there.

They know that stem cell research is necessary to keep moving medical knowledge forward.

They know that the president's health care plans are flawed and that the government has to have the right to negotiate with drug companies to keep Medicare costs down. They know that the "donut hole" in his drug plan is literally killing many middle class seniors.

They know that the tax cuts made by the president were for the benefit of the rich and the large corporations, for his friends in the oil business.

They know that this government has gone out of its way to undermine the fundamental checks and balances inherent in the Constitution. And, they know that the Democrats will do just about as well in fighting terrorism despite the president's assertion that a Republican loss would bring the terrorists marching into New York City within days of that loss.

And, the Republican Congress knew those things as well, yet they did everything they could to insure that the president got his way.

That is why they are gone today, replaced by Democrats, many of whom are from the more conservative wing of the party.

In fact, Nancy Pelosi, the probable Majority Leader of the House come January, will have more trouble keeping those new Democrats focused on what the more liberal branch of the party wants than in dealing with Republicans.

As a New York Times editorial prior to the election said, "An administration convinced of its own perpetual rightness and a partisan Congress determined to deflect all criticism from the chief executive has been the recipe for what we live with today." That writer might add today that it is also the recipe for the massive Republican implosion.

And that implosion tricked down even to local races.

Serph Maltese, a dean of the State Senate, kept his seat, but only by 1,000 votes while virtually all of the incumbent Democrats won their reelection with number above 80 percent.

In fact, Democrats took all of the major seats in New York State and increased its majority in the Assembly. The one bright spot for the Republicans was that it kept control of the state senate, but only by a couple of seats. The Democrats needed to pick up four seats and they failed to do that.

Virginia is a prime example of what the Bush presidency meant for Republicans in this election.

George Allen, the son of the famous football coach, is the incumbent in the race and, until a month ago, was considered a shoo-in for reelection. Virginia was not even considered a "battleground" state or a "state in play" until recently.

Allen's challenger was Jim Webb, a former Republican who was the Secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan. His recent claim to fame are the not-so-great military novels that he writes. As of late, after Allen made a few political gaffes, Webb started to gain. Webb's poll numbers rose in proportion to the decline of Bush's popularity numbers. Allen tried to portray Webb as anti-woman because the writer had denigrated women in the military in his novels. That didn't work. Now, the day after the election, Webb leads by a few thousand votes in a race that will probably draw a late-November recount.

That race might well decide who controls Congress for the next two years.

Even Long Island Peter King, the long-term Congressman who is the head of the house Homeland Security Committee and a sometime critic of the president, had trouble keeping his seat, winning only 57 percent to 43 percent.

There is no doubt in anybody's mind (except for the president's sycophants) that the election was a message to Bush that he has to start listening.

Will Bush heed the message? I doubt it. He is so convinced in the rightness of his cause and his religious zeal that he will probably attempt to go on doing just what he has been doing. Without the protection of his compatriots in the House and Senate, however, he will find it tough sledding. Perhaps he will find some help from the new conservative Democrats and form a coalition of sorts. That is always a possibility and it has happened before, the most notable example in the Eisenhower administration when the Democrats took over both houses of Congress in the midterm elections.

If Bush fails to heed opposition voices as he has in the past, however, then this nation will continue on a downward spiral that not even a new broom will be able to sweep away.

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