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Tuesday's Stunners

Few people thought there would be a competitive race in Iowa's 2nd Congressional district, including myself--and I grew up there!

The local Congressman, Jim Leach, was an old-school liberal Republican who'd been in Congress since 1976 and opposed the war in Iraq. If anyone could withstand a Democratic wave, it would be Leach. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) took a poll a week before the election and found Leach comfortably ahead.

But his challenger, Dave Loebsack, an antiwar international relations professor at Cornell College in Cedar Rapids, blanketed Eastern Iowa with signs reading "Had Enough?" When the results came in, Loebsack won by 6,000 votes. Hawkeye Democrats also picked up an additional Congressional seats in the 1st District, both state Houses and the Governor's mansion.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, former Republican pharmaceutical exec Nancy Boyda knocked off GOP Rep. Jim Ryun in another shocker in Kansas. Nobody believed Ryun was in trouble until the DCCC launched an ad against him a week before the election. The surprise attack worked, with Boyda winning by 4 percent.

Other upsets came in states like New Hampshire, where two antiwar Democrats knocked off Republican incumbents, in Kentucky, where liberal newspaper publisher John Yarmurth bested Anne Northup and in Pennsylvania, where rising Republican star Melissa Hart lost by ten thousand votes to 38-year-old healthcare exec Jason Altmire in Pittsburgh.

President Bush got one thing right about the elections. The "prognosticators" aren't always right.

The Big Story

Maryland State Senator-elect Jamie Raskin won 99 percent of the vote today -- this after a brutal primary in which pundits declared his chances of winning were "impossible." His victory is cause for genuine celebration, hope, and expectations of great things to come. Raskin – a professor of Constitutional Law at American University as well as a valued Nation contributor – offered these reflections on a night of political change across the nation as seen through his own experience running for State Senate.


"When I first announced against a 32-year incumbent who was President Pro Tem of the Maryland State Senate and Chair of the Montgomery County delegation in the Senate, all of the pundits and politicos said victory was impossible. Now they're saying it was inevitable. But of course it was neither--it was just possible, but it became increasingly likely with the infusion of incredible progressive energy and imagination from dozens and dozens of really fired-up Democrats disenchanted with lethargic machine politics and our constant right-ward drift. When I announced my candidacy, I had the support of no elected official and the incumbent already had more than $200,00 in the bank. We won based on relentless door-knocking and a grassroots uprising focused on political substance and hunger for change.

The big story in my mind is how the huge blue tide bringing in Democratic victories all over the country has been powered by less-visible grassroots insurgencies and progressive challenges within the Democratic Party animated by horror at the War in Iraq and the catastrophe of Katrina and everything it represents. Maryland's most populous jurisdiction is my county, Montgomery, which is home to more Democratic voters than any other county. Before the great victories of Ben Cardin for U.S. Senate and Martin O'Malley for Governor came tonight, there was a big progressive upsurge in our county politics over the last year against machine Democrats who are heavily influenced by development interests. In the September primary, two fine progressive candidates, Duchy Tractenberg and Marc Elrich, defied all the odds and took two at-large County Council seats away from candidates bankrolled by the developers. The newly elected County Executive in Montgomery, Ike Leggett, is the first African-American ever elected to that office; he challenged the power of the developers and organized the neighborhoods. Similarly, in my race, all of the huge landlords and apartment owners took note of my pro bono work for tenants in Silver Spring and contributed furiously to my opponent. They placed her Orwellian-sized campaign signs, complete with a yearbook-like photo, in front of their buildings while the tenants put my campaign signs in their windows! That juxtaposition captured a lot about the dynamics of my election. My part of the County also propelled Valerie Ervin, a brilliant union organizer and school board member, to the Council--Valerie becomes the first African-American woman ever to serve on the Montgomery Council.

The point is that the stunning upsets scored by so many progressive candidates in Maryland--and some near-misses, like Donna Edwards' astonishing 48% showing in the primary against Congressman Albert Wynn in Prince George's and Montgomery Counties--unleashed the energy, hope and new political activism that we needed to beat the Republican money machine statewide. Had our insurgent candidacies never happened, it would have been much harder for O'Malley and Cardin to pick up the momentum they needed. We brought in hundreds of new activists and thousands of new voters. Many of these people are disenchanted by machine politics and traditional partisan appeals, and they are unhappy with Democratic surrender to the Bush agenda on issues from war to energy policy to bankruptcy reform etc. They are hungry for a radical break from status quo politics. The Democratic leadership is waking up to this fact. A great leader for the future is John Sarbanes, the new Congressman from the 3rd district, who ran on a tough anti-war and progressive change platform.

Negative politics lost almost everywhere. Time and again the more conservative candidates--either Republicans in the general or machine Democrats--resorted to nasty personal attacks to cover up for their lack of a positive program. Voters weren't buying it. In my race, the incumbent's demonstrably absurd negative mailings (which twisted my First Amendment work to falsely depict me as pro-life despite my 100% NARAL Pro-Choice rating and endorsement by the National Organization for Women!) backfired and infuriated progressives who were not about to indulge the smear of a constitutional lawyer for standing up for the Bill of Rights. It was very important that we pointed out to people that negative personal politics and false advertising are the very opposite of progressive politics. We seek to build people up and spread solidarity while negative politics works to tear people down and undermine social trust.

People are finally seeing the ways in which Republican hypocrisy and cruelty support one another. Their whole ideological system--promotion of international and domestic state violence, homophobic moralism and religious zealotry, corruption and piety, prostitution of government to big business--is on the verge of collapse. Politicians and lobbyists on their way to jail, right-wing preachers paying for the kind of sex they denounce, rampant profiteering, a disgraceful and chaotic war--they all add up to an obsolescent governing model.

What will we replace it with? If you use the micro-example of my insurgent State Senate campaign, we must use a central focus on defense of the rights of the people; seriousness about climate change as the framing catastrophe-in-waiting that forces us to invent new models of transportation, growth and housing; comprehensive environmental protection and energy alternatives; strategic emphasis on grassroots political education and mobilization of young people and children to get involved in public life at every level; a refusal to condescend and patronize people or to dumb down our politics in Bush's dumbed-down culture; a sweeping challenge to corporate financial dominance of our politics combined with strong support for small business and a passionate commitment to universal health care; and a determination to make politics fun, multicultural and engaging for people at every turn.

I will continue to be a professor of constitutional law at AU and will teach a course on Legislation in the spring. I hope to bring my students to Annapolis to work on bills.

Thanks to you and the Nation community for your solidarity and encouragement from day one.

Yours, Jamie Raskin

PS: There is very little time to read on the campaign trail but I always kept up with the Nation, which is a fountain of creative political ideas and practical hope. Having drunk from the fountain a lot during my campaign, I hope to put something back in over the next four years!

White Resentment in Michigan

By a large margin -- sixteen percentage points --Michigan voters have rejected some forms of affirmative action. State Proposal 2 forbids the use of race and gender preferences in university admissions as well as in government hiring and contracting. It was a victory for the angry white people behind the cleverly-named Michigan Civil Rights Initiative(MCRI), headed by Jennifer Gratz, who after being rejected from the University of Michigan in 1995, cried reverse discrimination and sued the school. The U.S. Supreme Court took her side, in part, striking down the racial preference programs at Michigan's undergraduate school of Literature, Science and the Arts (my alma mater, by the way), but in a related case, the court allowed the use of race in admissions to the UM Law School. Hence Jennifer Gratz's continued campaign. You may wonder why this doesn't backfire -- why Gratz doesn't come off as a whiny, sore loser who should get over her college rejections just as the rest of us have done. But the answer lies in the hostility that so many white people have to affirmative action. This really is a tough issue to organize around .

There has also been rampant fraud in the MCRI campaign. According to an opinion by federal judge Arthur Tarnow last August, after a suit brought by pro-affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary alleging dirty tricks in the petition drive, that "the evidence overwhelmingly favors a finding that the MCRI defendants engaged in voter fraud." Voters say they were told that the petition would defend affirmative action. That's shameful and the MCRI shouldn't be allowed to get away with it. But the huge margin of Proposal 2's victory shows that a whole lot of white Michiganders don't support affirmative action. I'm just guessing, but maybe quoting Malcolm X isn't the best way to convince them.

Tester Takes Montana; Dems Close In on Majority

Democrat Jon Tester has defeated Montana Republican Conrad Burns, winning the 50th Democratic seat in the Senate.

The Tester victory by a margin of more than 3,000 votes out of a little over 400,000 cast in Montana assures Democrats an even split in the 100-member Senate.

Will they get the 51st seat and a clear majority? Probably.

With Democrat Jim Webb holding a lead of more than 7,000 votes in Virginia over Republican incumbent George Allen, it looks increasingly likely that the seat there will go to the Democrats. Republicans are talking about demanding a recount, but Webb's lead appears to be sufficient to withstand any challenge.

The Tester win is especially impressive, as it comes in a state that not long ago was considered to be reliably red.

Democrats began their climb out of the political wilderness in Montana in 2000, when Democrat Brian Schweitzer mounted a populist challenge to Burns that came close to winning.

Schweitzer ran for and won the governorship in 2004, a year that saw Democrats make major advances in other statewide races and the contest for control of the legislature.

Tester, an organic farmer and state legislator, has been an ally of Schweitzer. But he was not the choice of Washington Democrats to make this year's Senate race. DC Democrats preferred a more centrist contender in the primary, but Tester prevailed by highlighting his antiwar stance, his ethics as opposed to those of Burns -- who was linked to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal -- and his flat-top haircut.

In the general election, Republicans tried to paint Tester as a standard-issue liberal. But it did not sell, in part because the Democrat campaigned as something of a libertarian in civil liberties issues. Accused of plotting to undermine the Patriot Act, Tester responded that he did not want to undermine the measure. Rather, he said, he hoped to repeal it.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Blunt language and that flat-top haircut trumped the Republican attacks. And the voters of Montana painted a western state blue.

Mandate for Peace

As the midterm election approached, polls showed Iraq as the number one issue on voters' minds and the number one issue they expect the new Congress to quickly address.

"Despite all the attempts to spin Tuesday's election results as something else," John Nichols wrote in The Online Beat, "the single most important message to take away from the voting is this: The American people cast their ballots against the Bush administration's approach to the war in Iraq."

In response, national peace groups have launched a "Mandate for Peace" campaign to immediately follow the election. Organized by United for Peace and Justice, Iraq Veterans Against War, True Majority, Progressive Democrats of America, Peace Action, Goldstar Families for Peace, Network of Spiritual Progressives, CODEPINK, Iraqi Voices for Peace, Global Exchange, Pax Christi USA and others, the coalition intends to ramp up grassroots pressure on the new Congress to enact a speedy end to the occupation of Iraq.

The Mandate reads in part: "We urge you to represent the will of the peace-loving people of the United States by immediately passing legislation requiring the prompt removal of all US troops from Iraq and discontinuing funding for military purposes in Iraq except the safe withdrawal of all US forces."

Check out the group's new website, sign and circulate the petition, click here to tell your rep you expect him/her to work for peace, and see how else you can help hold Congress responsible to the majority of Americans who are saying the Iraq war needs to end.

Donald Rumsfeld Is Stepping Down

Who says elections don't change anything?

On the day after Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and, by all indications, the Senate, word comes that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is going to leave the position he has held since the Bush administration took office in 2001.

Just a week ago, Bush said he wanted Rumsfeld and the Vice President to serve out the last two years of the second term.

The voters said different.

They elected Democrats who made Rumsfeld the poster boy for many of the Administration's failures in Iraq. And those Republicans who survived in close races often joined Democrats in calling for Rumsfeld's resignation.

The question now is whether Rumsfeld's exit will mean anything. He carried out policies favored by President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Has the President decided simply to get rid of one man with a bad reputation, or is he thinking about changing course now that the American people have made clear their position?

The answer is likely to come in the confirmation hearings for the man Bush is proposing as a replacement for Rumsfeld: former CIA director Robert Gates. The Gates confirmation hearings should be the most significant that the Senate has held in a long time. The fact that Gates is a member of the bipartisan committee that is studying the Iraq War -- a committee headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former US Representative Lee Hamilton -- could make him a transition figure if the committee comes in with a recommendation of a policy shift.

But don't bet the farm on that happening quickly.

Bush defended his Iraq policies at an early-afternoon press conference. The President made conciliatory noises, but he indicated that, while "the elections have changed many things in Washington," he did not sound like he was preparing an exit strategy.

The Democrats, with their more recent experience of popular sentiment, ought to be doing so.

Five Questions

The wave -- and make no mistake, it's a global one -- has just crashed on our shores, soaking our imperial masters. It's a sight for sore eyes. As all of us look ahead, here are five "benchmark" questions to ask when considering the possibilities of the final two years of the Bush Administration's wrecking-ball regime:

Will Iraq Go Away? The political maneuvering in Washington and Baghdad over the chaos in Iraq was only awaiting election results to intensify. Desperate call-ups of more Reserves and National Guards will go out soon. Negotiations with Sunni rebels, coup rumors against the Maliki government, various plans from James Baker's Iraq Study Group and Congressional others will undoubtedly be swirling. Yesterday's plebiscite (and exit polls) held an Iraqi message. It can't simply be ignored. But nothing will matter, when it comes to changing the situation for the better in that country, without a genuine commitment to American withdrawal, which is not likely to be forthcoming from this President and his advisers anytime soon. So expect Iraq to remain a horrifying, bloody, devolving fixture of the final two years of the Bush Administration. It will not go away. Bush (and Rove) will surely try to enmesh Congressional Democrats in their disaster of a war. Imagine how bad it could be if -- with, potentially, years to go -- the argument over who "lost" Iraq has already begun.

Is an Attack on Iran on the Agenda? Despite all the alarums on the political Internet about a pre-election air assault on Iran, this was never in the cards. Even the hint of an attack on Iranian "nuclear facilities" (which would certainly turn into an attempt to "decapitate" the Iranian regime from the air) would send oil prices soaring. The Republicans were never going to run an election on oil selling at $120-$150 a barrel. This will be no less true of election year 2008. If Iran is to be a target, 2007 will be the year. So watch for the pressures to ratchet up on this one early next year. This is madness, of course. Such an attack would almost certainly throw the Middle East into utter chaos, send oil prices through the roof, possibly wreck the global economy, cause serious damage in Iran, not fell the Iranian government and put US troops in neighboring Iraq in perilous danger. Given the Administration's record, however, all this is practically an argument for launching such an attack. (And don't count on the military to stop it, either. They're unlikely to do so.) Failing empires have certainly been known to lash out. As neocon writer Robert Kagan put the matter recently in a Washington Post op-ed, "Indeed, the preferred European scenario [of a Democratic Congressional victory] -- 'Bush hobbled' -- is less likely than the alternative: 'Bush unbound.' Neither the president nor his vice president is running for office in 2008. That is what usually prevents high-stakes foreign policy moves in the last two years of a president's term." So when you think about Iran, think of Bush unbound.

Are the Democrats a Party? If Rovian plans for a Republican Party ensconced in Washington for eons to come now look to be in tatters, the Democrats have retaken the House (and possibly the Senate) largely as the not-GOP Party. The election may leave the Republicans with a dead presidency and leading candidate for 2008 Senator John McCain is wedded to possibly the least popular war in our history; the Democrats may arrive victorious but without the genuine desire for a mandate to lead. Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats in recent years were not, in any normal sense, a party at all. They were perhaps a coalition of four or five or six parties (some trailing hordes of pundits and consultants, but without a base). Now, with the recruitment of so many ex-Republicans and conservatives into their House and Senate ranks, they may be a coalition of six or seven parties. Who knows? They have a genuine mandate on Iraq and a mandate on oversight. What they will actually do -- what they are capable of doing (other than the normal money-, career- and earmark-trading in Washington) -- remains to be seen. They will be weak, the surroundings fierce and strong.

Will We Be Ruled by the Facts on the Ground? In certain ways, it may hardly matter what happens to which party. By now -- and this perhaps represents another kind of triumph for the Bush Administration -- the facts on the ground are so powerful that it would be hard for any party to know where to begin. Will we, for instance, ever be without a second Defense Department, the so-called Department of Homeland Security, now that a burgeoning $59 billion per year private "security" industry, with all its interests and its herd of lobbyists in Washington, has grown up around it? Not likely in any of our lifetimes. Will an ascendant Democratic Party dare put on a diet the ravenous Pentagon, which now feeds off two budgets -- its regular, near-half-trillion-dollar Defense budget and a regularized series of multibillion-dollar "emergency" supplemental appropriations, which are now part of life on the Hill? What this means is that the defense budget is not what we wage our wars with or pay for a variety of black operations (not to speak of earmarks galore) with. Don't bet your bottom dollar that this will get better anytime soon, either. In fact, I have my doubts that a Democratic Congress with a Democratic President in tow could even do something modestly small like shutting down Guantánamo, no less begin to deal with the empire of bases that undergirds our failing Outlaw Empire abroad. So, from time to time, take your eyes off what passes for politics and check out the facts on the ground. That way you'll have a better sense of where our world is actually heading.

What Will Happen When the Commander-in-Chief Presidency and the Unitary Executive Theory Meets What's Left of the Republic? The answer on this one is relatively uncomplicated and less than three months away from being in our faces; it's the Mother of All Constitutional Crises. But writing that now, and living with the reality then, are two quite different things. So when the new Congress arrives in January, buckle your seat belts and wait for the first requests for oversight information from some investigative committee; wait for the first subpoenas to meet Cheney's men in some dark hallway. Wait for this crew to feel the "shackles" and react. Wait for this to hit the courts -- even a Supreme Court that, despite the President's best efforts, is probably still at least one justice short when it comes to unitary-executive-theory supporters. I wouldn't even want to offer a prediction on this one. But a year down the line, anything is possible.

So we've finally had our plebiscite, however covert, on the failing Outlaw Empire of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. But what about their autocratic inclinations at home? How will that play out?

Will it be: All hail, Caesar, we who are about to dive back into prime-time programming?

Or will it be: All the political hail is about to pelt our junior caesars as we dive back into prime-time programming? Stay tuned.

For more on these matters, see "Outlaw Empire Meets the Wave" at Tomdispatch.com.

The Sun Rises in the East

The Northeast is now to Democrats what the South has recently been for Republicans: an absolute political stronghold.

"A Category 5 political storm hit the shores of the Northeast on Tuesday, realigning the region from a moderately competitive terrain between the two parties to solidly Democrat," wrote Chuck Todd of National Journal.

In 1994, Republicans won sixteen House seats in the South, claiming a majority of the old confederate states for the first time since Reconstruction. In 2006, Democrats picked up ten seats in the Northeast, a third of their new 30ish seat majority.

In Pennsylvania alone, Democrats won four new House seats and added two more each in Connecticut, New Hampshire and New York, according to the latest figures.

Sam and I spent the last three days before the Election in suburban Philadelphia (for an upcoming Nation video), talking to swing voters in three tightly contested Congressional districts. These voters, a significant number of them longtime Republicans, were fed up with George W. Bush and the GOP Congress, angry about the war in Iraq and deeply unsatisfied with the direction of the country.

Exit polling released by CNN confirmed what we'd been hearing over and over anecdotally. Sixty-eight percent of voters in the East disapproved of Bush and the job he was doing. Only 35 percent approved of Republican leaders in Congress.

National issues were of particular relevance here. Sixty-eight percent of voters said that Iraq was extremely important or very important to their vote, an issue trumped only by the economy, which a majority described as "not good" or "poor." Sixty-five percent believe it's time to start bringing our troops home.

Self-identified moderates outnumber both liberals and conservatives by a 2-1 margin in this region. It was these voters, on the streets of suburban Philadelphia, in upstate New York, in rural New Hampshire, in middle-class Connecticut, who deserted the GOP in droves. It may be a long time before they come back.

The People Speak on Raising the Minimum Wage

It now looks as if voters approved all six of the state-level minimum-wage initiatives. In addition to Missouri and Ohio--which you read about on the Notion last night--the measures also passed in Arizona, Colorado, Montana and Nevada. That amounts to a rejection en masse of right-wing economic ideology; when asked, Americans obviously think hard-working poor folks deserve better. Most also required adjustments for inflation or changes in the cost of living. The overwhelming margins in most of the races were also exciting: more than two-thirds of voters approved the initiatives in Montana, Nevada, Missouri and Arizona.

These increases, small as they sound, will have a far more direct effect on the daily lives of Americans than many of the other matters so hotly debated and horse-raced in election season. That alone is reason for celebration. But the other question, of course, is, Did they have a broader impact on the elections? Was minimum wage the gay marriage of the left? That is, did these initiatives help turn out the Democratic base and help the Democrats win? We'd need more analysis of the data to say for certain, but it looks like they may have helped. Democrats took Senate seats in Ohio, Missouri and most likely Montana.