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What Is at Stake | The Nation

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What Is at Stake

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No one can really know until after the polls close, but November 7 has taken on the shape and feel of a fateful election. We hope the results add up to repudiation--the beginning of the end of the disastrous, corrupt reign of George W. Bush. If Democrats fail to recapture at least a working share of Congressional power, they and their party will rightly be cast into disrepute, too, and distressed citizens may reasonably begin looking for other options.

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But hope is good, a whole lot better than perennial gloom. If the Democrats do succeed in winning a majority in the House of Representatives and possibly even in the Senate, then the country has a chance to begin the fundamental task of restoring democracy and the constitutional order that Bush & Co. did so much to desecrate.

We emphasize the "country" because this challenge is too profound to leave to wobbly politicians in Washington who acquiesced so easily to Bush's extremes and to the powerful interests that rule the status quo. Americans who want a restored democracy and rehabilitated Constitution will have to fight for it, starting now.

If Democrats do win, the first order of business will be to stop cold the long march of right-wing ideological goals. Reversing the great damage to law and government and healing the social injuries will be far more arduous tasks. But if Bush is confined to ceremonial bleats, it will allow the country to change the subject and begin to think anew about restoring and creating.

Democrats could revive what used to be a staple of representative democracy--accountability, the power of Congress to question the chief executive and demand answers for misdeeds and misguided policies. A tall stack of outrages, lies and potentially criminal abuses awaits examination. Manipulation of intelligence. War profiteering. Energy policies that ignore global warming and fatten oil-industry hogs. The destruction of constitutional rights. The cynical neglect of citizens injured in New Orleans and elsewhere. The looting of the Treasury by lobbyist fixers and wholesale tax giveaways. A healthcare system that serves drug manufacturers and insurance companies instead of people. The list goes on and on. Some of the House members who would gain control of key committees with a Democratic victory--John Conyers at Judiciary, Henry Waxman at Government Reform, John Dingell at Energy and Commerce, Barney Frank at Financial Services, George Miller at Education and the Workforce, and others--are superbly equipped for digging out the truth.

Enacting legislation would be much more difficult, given that Bush will still have two more years in office and the power to veto anything Democrats might get through Congress. Even so, the legislative process can be a powerful engine for change, re-educating people on the political possibilities, vetting new ideas and building support for more ambitious goals. In the event they triumph, we urge Democrats to deliver on their promises: a minimum-wage increase, reform of Medicare drug benefits and other meat-and-potatoes issues. Just as important, they could work to design and perfect far larger measures: universal healthcare, financial regulation to clean up corrupt corporations, a rational military budget and other neglected concerns. If party leaders appear reluctant, citizens should press them--hard. Should Democrats choose caution over risk-taking, their resurrection might prove short-lived.

An off-year Congressional election that seemed less than enthralling only a few months ago has morphed into potential opportunity. It might change the flow of politics in ways nobody anticipated. It could suddenly open political space that has been closed for at least a decade. It could re-energize our imaginations and raise our expectations.

This is a big deal. We hope.

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