Under the Democrats
These are times when you have to read the newspapers while holding your breath. If you believe pollsters and political prognosticators, at least one body of Congress may change hands in November. Political Animal quit making political predictions back in 1996, after being certain that Texas senator Phil Gramm would beat Bob Dole for the GOP presidential nomination that year. It wasn't our first spectacularly wrong prediction, but it was likely our last. So you won't see any guesses in this column.
But it's worth taking a look at what a changed political climate would be like if even just the House of Representatives switched hands from Republican to Democratic leadership. GOP leaders are already using this as a campaign tactic, making it sound as if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would be like the gates of Sodom and Gomorrah opening and loosing their contents across the heartland of America. This isn't a new trick for the GOP--the well-honed "San Francisco liberal" charge they make, with its latent appeals to homophobia, has been wheeled out against nearly every Democratic female leader to hold office from that part of the country.
One thing we are willing to predict is that media mavens will start crying for a return to "comity" and "civility" in national politics. Shock, horror, and dismay! Where were those same pundits back in 1994 when Newt Gingrich, whose acolytes have been running much of the country since 1995, advised his New Republicans to call their opponents traitorous, un-American tax raisers? Since then, the term "traitor" has been used more than ever in public discourse, both during war and peacetime, and nearly always against Democrats. Sleazy attack bimbo Ann Coulter wrote a best-seller with the title, and she's still being invited to headline conservative fundraisers and rubber-chicken dinners.
The so-called dean of political punditry, David Broder, once famously wrote of Bill Clinton during the ginned-up impeachment hearings, "he came in here and trashed the place, and it wasn't his place." Let us recall that in the last 10 years Republicans tried to railroad a popular and successful president out of office over transgressions that pale in comparison to the things GOP officeholders have done since--both personally and politically. Republicans have left office over financial corruption (California Rep. Duke Cunningham and Ohio Rep. Bob Ney) and sex scandals (Florida's Mark Foley), they have had to apologize for assaulting their mistresses (Pennsylvania Rep. Don Sherwood), and former House majority leader Tom DeLay was chased out of office over charges of money laundering and conspiracy.
Since their ascension to power, especially after the start of the George W. Bush presidency, the Republicans have run the country like only one political party existed. Bills that had even a smidgen of bipartisan cooperation were shelved in order to push a primarily hard-right agenda--no Democrats needed. Budget "earmarks" exploded--remember Alaska's famous "Bridge to Nowhere." And yet here are the Republicans making the same old hoary claim that if Democrats take over, "they'll raise your taxes."
Here's the dirty little secret: Republicans like to lower taxes--but only for the wealthy, who then contribute money to keep those Republicans in office. Bush has been lying for six years about the effect of his tax cuts; the people who are benefiting from the largess are the Halliburton investors, the boards of directors of places like Chevron and ExxonMobil, and all those friends of Dick Cheney and his energy task force. You, the little guy, are working harder and harder, and the spoils are going to people who do nothing but sit and watch their bank balances multiply.
Clinton passed a deficit reduction package in 1993 that caused a gigantic surplus, and Republicans howled that it was "the biggest tax increase in history." Bush took that surplus and threw it away, by giving six successive tax cuts to his rich friends and throwing $380 billion into an unprovoked war of choice that will turn out to be the quagmire of this and quite possibly a future generation of Americans. And they campaign on the argument that Democrats will raise your taxes?
There's no reason for Michigan Rep. John Conyers, who would become the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee should Congress change hands, to immediately begin impeachment hearings against Bush--there's enough simple oversight into what has been done over the last six years to keep him busy all the way until 2008 (and possibly beyond, given the way this president has operated). Speaker Pelosi can roll out issues like the national minimum wage to get the Democrats on track with an agenda. And perhaps the Democrats will ignite a real discussion about what should be done in Iraq, since Bush has claimed that we'll be there even if the last people who support him on the issue are his wife and dog.
But don't expect any kind of bipartisanship in the next Congress. After all, famous GOP strategist Grover Norquist has already called it "date rape." It might be time for the "date" to start fighting back.
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