Thursday, November 09, 2006

Midterm Exams

American midterm elections probably shouldn’t be days of reckoning. They only shift some of the power base, only give voice to a portion of the nation’s political will. They can punish an American president, but they do surprisingly little to empower the opposition. They grant a platform to speak but offer the opposition remarkably little capacity to do anything more than slow things down. This is, more or less, what Americans voted for the other night.

Democrats having won control of the House and likely the Senate, and President Bush will be able to do very little without their consent. But then, the Democrats will be able to do very little without his. The risk for the Democratic Party is simple enough—they’ll be judged almost as much as Bush for whatever happens in the next two years, and with things likely to go badly (imagine a two year argument about troop withdrawals from Iraq) a crippled presidency can only be held accountable for so much.

Much of this falls to the incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Nobody seems entirely sure what she’ll do once in the job, leaving aside her known liberalism. This is a good thing, but she also seems unlikely to set as measured or as subtle a tone as outgoing Republican speaker Dennis Hastert. She might turn out to be a well-intentioned and politically desirable loose cannon.

Bush’s presidency as we’ve known it—the moral highhandedness, the strident bellicosity—is more or less over. Sometime Wednesday morning, a long, ugly, and inevitably confused presidential campaign started. Neither party has a presumptive candidate. Neither clearly has a policy platform that will capture the American electorate or lead the country back into the political mainstream of the developed Western World. The Democrats will try to capitalize on very real failures of leadership, but they’re left mostly to criticism the Whitehouse for a war in which they themselves largely acquiesced.

The good news, at least if you agree with me on these things, is that some Democrat or other will probably still win in 2008, and this will represent some measure of improvement. It isn’t clear what they’ll do though about America’s damaged international reputation, much less the unfolding (and increasingly unmitigated) disaster in Iraq, but the proverbial bleeding might at least stop. The bad news is that the American electorate now has two full years to learn just how uninspired the Democrats are about these things. The political campaign will be bloody, messy and, frankly, a lot of fun to watch. In the meantime, foreign and domestic policy will stagnate at the worst of times.

Looks like a long wait—and there might not be much progress at the end of it.

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