For the past two years, the political landscape in the United States has been a quagmire. After 2004's "mandate" for President Bush to press forward in Iraq, continue to cut taxes and address Social Security, Washington became a vicious battleground rather than a place of progress. An insubordinate Democratic Congressional minority refused to concede defeat and vowed to oppose policies that they saw as unfit for the American public and those that would continue to drive a wedge between the parties, particularly Bush's numerous controversial judicial nominations.
Fast-forward to November 2006. Like a dose of deja vu, the Democrats did the unthinkable in the face of a strong and successful strategy of voter mobilization crafted by Bush's deputy chief of staff Karl Rove. In a time of desired stability and increased polarization, they led a major turnover promised to bring a new wave into the bog that is Washington, D.C.
What accounted for this turn of events?
Without question, many voters saw this midterm election as a referendum on the Iraq war. The Bush administration has found it increasingly difficult to promulgate genuine feelings of support for the effort in the Middle East, given the constant images and stories of war, increasing sectarianism and a growing number of insurgents.
Add to that the incompetence — not immediately attributed to his intelligence or lack thereof — in President Bush's response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi. Many of the African-American victims and survivors in New Orleans got a taste of the "compassionate conservatism" that the President has trumpeted since the 2000 presidential campaign.
Moreover, lest we forget Tom DeLay and Bob Ney, let us remember the beacons of corruption in the Republican Party.
Add the racist sentiments of those in the former majority who proposed xenophobic legislation against Mexican immigrants. The perfect recipe for disillusionment.
What will result from the new Congress that will convene shortly? Both sides have voiced a hope to put aside partisanship and tackle issues that have been plagued by gridlock. The tackling, however, will be done from a Democratic agenda, one that will m0st likely be focused on Iraq and the economy.
The biggest problem for the 110th Congress will be how it interacts with a Republican President who sets the course for foreign policy, especially in light of Democrats' hopes to significantly withdraw troops by 2008. Though Bush has expressed his desire to work across party lines in the future, his disappointment in his party's loss was clearly visible in his concession of defeat. It probably hurt even more realizing that he would have to deal on a regular basis with Democrats like California Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the recently elected Speaker of the House and Joseph Biden (D-Del.), who is expected to take the helm of the Foreign Relations Committee. It's not what Bush envisioned as an ideal exit from office.
The makings of a bitter two years of positioning, bickering and impasse emerge from all of this. The newly invigorated and empowered Democrats will, as expected, pay lip service to the hope of bipartisanship. Yet the reality of the matter is that they now have a majority because of opposition to the status quo and the Iraq war. More importantly, this Congress will be focused on the near future — in other words, 2008. For those of you hoping for progress in Iraq, whether you consider it "defeating the enemy" or withdrawing all of the troops, welcome to the reality: The chances of either happening are very slim. Instead, expect to see a lot of talk in heated debate on the floor and in the much-rehearsed appearances on the Sunday morning news circuit.
Sooner rather than later, it is going to go right back into campaign mode. "You should keep us in power because..." on one side and "The 2006 midterm election was a fluke because..." on the other. As both sides attempt to court the public's vote for 2008, keep in mind why each American voted the way they did this year. In general, there is a hope that change in policy will come with change new leadership. Will the Democrats be able to take advantage of this? Their success hinges on their ability to focus on their victory this month, but their appetite will only be whetted when the presidency is theirs.
The most we can hope for from the next two years in Congress is the sideshow for what's to come in 2008. The battle lines have been drawn: Brace yourselves for all-out war. Walter Griffin is a freshman from Philadelphia, Pa. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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