Friday, November 10, 2006

Changing all the drapes

Tuesday was a day of rare events. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration reported that the planet Mercury passed between the earth and the sun in an infrequent celestial transit. The five-hour event, NASA says, was visible in parts of North and South America, Australia and Asia, and won't be repeated until sometime in 2016.

Equally rare, and no less momentous for some of us who inhabit the American corner of the third stone from the sun, is the outcome of the 2006 midterm election, a national canvass that saw a sea change in congressional leadership on Capitol Hill. With stunning swiftness, Americans turned out in near-record numbers for a midterm vote and transferred control of Congress to the Democrats for the first term since the Newt Gingrich-authored Contract on America in 1994.



It was more than a shot across the bow of the Bush administration; the outcome was a sound rebuke of administration policies, most notably the approach to prosecuting the war in Iraq.

The good news for Democrats actually unfolded over Tuesday and Wednesday. When the election was over on Tuesday, it was clear the Democrats had exceeded their own expectations of victory. Pundits like Craig Crawford at Congressional Quarterly and Charlie Cook at the National Journal had long predicted gains for the Dems in the House of Representatives. True to form, when the votes were counted, the House had overwhelmingly changed hands, with no fewer than 33 seats moving from the Republican side of the aisle to the Democrats. In the process, the change also ushered in the pending escalation of Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California to be Speaker of the House, the first female speaker in American history.

So chastened, President Bush walked Wednesday morning down the long red-carpeted hallway of the White House leading to the East Room, where the press was waiting, the president's face betraying in glimpses the expression of a man about to ascend the steps to the gallows.

"Say, why all the glum faces?" Bush asked the scribes assembled there, mentioning nothing of the glum faces that must have haunted the West Wing in the hours before.

The president went on to formally concede the outcome. "The Democratic Party had a good night last night," he said. Then, alluding to a comment he made days earlier about the Democrats presuming victory to the point of ordering new drapes for the offices in the House, Bush acknowledged speaking with the Speaker-to-be. "And in my first act of bipartisan outreach since the election, I shared with her the names of some Republican interior decorators who can help her pick out the drapes for her new offices," he said.

That backhanded concession was only part of the story. What made the change in leadership so satisfying for the Democrats was the fact that, when the president conceded defeat, the second shoe -- the outcome on the vote count for seats in the Senate -- hadn't yet dropped.

That other Florsheim dropped soundly about 9 p.m. Wednesday night (probably after Bush had gone to bed), when word trickled onto the wires that the one race still outstanding -- the Senate race in the state of Virginia, bastion of the Confederacy, bulwark of the Southern strategy -- was over. Democratic challenger James Webb had by slightly more than seven thousand votes defeated incumbent Sen. George Allen, to become the senator-elect, thus completing an historic reordering of the national political calculus.


There was gravy on the icing on the cake for the Democrats. No sooner had the Democrats solidified their hold on the House than news came from the White House that Secretary of Defense & Hawk-in-Chief Donald Rumsfeld, the lightning rod for administration policies in Iraq, had tendered his resignation effectively pretty much immediately.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer perfectly captured the moment in huge type on the front page: BLUE WAVE.

The weakness of the Republican strategy for this midterm was almost immediately obvious in retrospect. At his first Wednesday news conference, on the strength of some of his comments, it was clear that President Bush had been relying on the pocketbook issues -- the stellar status of the stock market, the steadily decreasing price of a gallon of gasoline -- to exonerate him and his party at the polls, and validate the trajectory, and the tragedy, of the war in Iraq.

But the voters saw no daylight between the issues. The war -- its cost in lives and limbs, money and materiel, global prestige and gravitas -- was as pressing a matter to John & Jane Q. Public as the price of unleaded at the neighborhood Texaco. And maybe more.

"You are entitled to your math, and I'm entitled to the math," White House senior adviser and Prince of Darkness Karl Rove told a National Public Radio interviewer before the election, after NPR dared suggest the Democrats might win.

Rove was last seen scuttling out of the White House with a box of Milton Bradley arithmetic flash cards.

# # #

Where things go from here is still to be seen. The Bushies made the obligatory overtures to bipartisanship, and not just talk about the drapes.

"It is our responsibility to put the elections behind us and work together on the great issues facing America," Bush said after huddling with his Cabinet, and with House and Senate Republican leaders. "Some of these issues need to be addressed before the current Congress finishes its legislative session, and that means the next few weeks are going to be busy ones."


But already the White House is said to be ready to dig in its heels on everything from execution of the Iraq war -- a matter you'd think was pretty well decided by the election! -- to the future of the National Security Agency's domestic wiretapping program, to the prospects for John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who got the job as a recess appointment who bypassed the usual Senate hearings.

And then there's the little matter of judicial nominations. To judge from the early reactions from the Democrats, no doctrinaire strict constructionists need apply. "Send us more moderate people or don't waste your time," Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois told The New York Times. And Durbin should know: as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he'll be in a yea-or-nay position to approve those nominees. or not.

"This isn't my first rodeo," Bush said Wednesday morning with an insincere cockiness, before the bull had stormed all the way out of the gate, before the dimension of the Republican shellacking was fully known.

The stage is now set, poliltically, for what will clearly be his last.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Ross, I've sent an e-mail through you MSNBC feedback account. I'd like to speak with you as soon as possible regarding your recent trip to Iraq.

    --Perry D.

    ReplyDelete

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