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Americans choose Democrats

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Americans have chosen to send Democrats to Capitol Hill in hopes that they will restrain the the bumbling and imperious Bush administration and correct its many blunders. According to exit polls, nearly 40 per cent of voters said they were consciously voting against the President and his numerous failed policies and national misadventures.

Democrats now enjoy a comfortable majority in the House. At this writing, the Senate remains too close to call, with key races in Virginia and Montana showing a slight advantage for Democrats, but possibly requiring recounts. Democrats do stand a reasonable chance of taking control of both chambers, but, even without the Senate in Democratic hands, the political climate in Washington is about to change, although perhaps not as much as citizens would wish.

If the Democrats have been given a mandate by the people, it has little to do with their own leadership. As an opposition party, they were continually intimidated by Republican national-security rhetoric. For five years, they allowed Congress to operate as an arm of the White House. They voted for the war in Iraq, and for the so-called "Patriot" Act. It was not until the national mood swung against the White House and Congress that they began to venture the occasional complaint.

Vague rumblings came only after the populace noodled out for itself the futility of the Iraq war and the outrage that many thousands of people have been killed, maimed, and dispossessed over a catastrophic blunder made possible by bald-faced lies; the sheer duplicity of the so-called war on terror, which has been used as a pretext to erect the surveillance society that federal bureaucrats have lusted after for so many decades; and the scam accounting by which Congress has permitted the government to borrow more money than it can imagine ever repaying.

Democrats had little to say on these matters, until Republican national-security rhetoric and family-values alarm bells stopped working in the face of unpleasant facts too vast to be concealed. Democrats minded their place until the public could no longer overlook the incompetence, corruption, and duplicity at the centre of the Bush administration and its handmaidens on the Hill.

The party has not earned its current good fortune: this change is the product of widespread public disgust with the status quo. The election was for the Republicans to lose, which they did by themselves. The American people have turned forcefully against the incumbent government, all right; but the Democrats are a mere beneficiary. They might as well have won a lottery. They're in power only because the Republican government has discredited itself so profoundly.

Consider the observation of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat, Nevada): The nation has "come to the conclusion - as we did some time ago - that a one-party town simply doesn't work." Translation: 'It's good that the Republicans were thrown out of Congress, just as it was good that we Democrats were thrown out during the Clinton administration.' Hardly the words of a man who deserves to become a leader of the United States Senate.

There will of course be some changes. There will be hearings, and possibly some insight into the mechanics of how the USA was led by the nose into a major war for no reason. If Democrats take the Senate, as they might well do, there will be fewer right-wing federal judges appointed. And there could be some positive changes to the nastiest of the national-security legislation passed by Republicans on behalf of Dick Cheney. For example, wiretaps might again require a warrant; foreign prisoners might be permitted to challenge their detention in federal court, and so on.

But it's important to note that Republicans always make for a more effective opposition party. They will find ways to jam up Democratic initiatives in ways that the Democrats would never have dared attempt. Republicans are eager to cry foul, to go for the throat, and are largely unafraid of offending people who would never vote for them in the first place.

Democrats don't enjoy these luxuries. They're in power now because they straddled the fence and successfully courted independents. They will not risk alienating them before 2008. For the next two years, they will experience powerful temptations to be moderate and reasonable to a fault.

Thus The Register won't be expecting much from the 110th Congress. We suggest that readers might do well to revise their own expectations accordingly. ®

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