The Nation

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.


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.

The Netroots Election? Not So Fast

Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel say they are happy to sharecredit for the Democrats' electoral success, but not everyone in theparty is feeling as generous. Progressive bloggers, who often promoteand criticize the Democratic Party with equal vigor, want their props. MyDD blogger Chris Bowers concluded that netroots activists werecrucial to victory--long before the votes were counted. Last month, hewrote that"most, if not all, of the significant improvements Democrats have madefrom 2004 to 2006 were generated primarily within the netroots and theprogressive movement." Yet the election results suggest the netroots'scorecard is decidedly mixed.

The blogs' most famous candidate and top fundraising beneficiary, NedLamont, lost his bid to unseat Senator Joe Lieberman. One of thecampaign's senior advisors, former Clinton White House counsel LannyDavis, said the victory "proved the blogosphere is all wind and verylittle sail." Bloggers tell a different story: the unusual, three-way raceshould not be judged strictly by who won but also by its success inhelping "make Iraq the center of this electoral season," as JoelSilberman wrote on FireDogLake. If Lamont's loss is counted as a symbolic effort thatbeat expectations, his performance fits a pattern. Many of thenetroots' most popular House candidates beat expectations this week,but ultimately lost.

While there is no single, authoritative list of netroots candidates, ActBlue.com, a Democraticfundraising clearinghouse, lists the candidates nominated by top blogsand ranks them by total donors. Looking at their top 20 DemocraticHouse candidates, so far ten have lost, three have won and the otherseven are in races that are still too close too call at the time ofwriting. The netroots' lost races include national names, such as FBIwhistleblower Coleen Rowley in Minnesota and New York's Eric Massa, thepopular former aide to Gen. Wesley Clark. Winners include attorneyPaul Hodes in New Hampshire and two veterans, Joe Sestak inPennsylvania and Tim Walz in Minnesota. (Bloggers also providedcritical early support to long-shot Senate challengers Jon Tester andJim Webb, who were locked in races that were also still too close tocall on Wednesday morning.)

Yet regardless of the remaining results and recounts, the fact is thenetroots' favorite candidates did not perform as well as the Democratstargeted by party leaders. And they were never supposed to. Many ofthe bloggers' picks were aggressive Democrats in long-shot districtswho were neglected by the Beltway establishment. There is no doubtthat bloggers leveraged money and political buzz to make races morecompetitive and put Republicans on the defensive, but it was simply notthe decisive factor in the elections

John Aravosis writes AmericaBlog, which raised over $100,000 from about1,900 activists this cycle, but on election night he resisted attemptsto measure the netroots' impact. "It's too hard to define who didwhat. We could have defined quite easily that John Kerry lost it forus if he had not shut up after two days, but to know whether blogs [hada bigger effect than] unions is like saying was Rahm Emanuel moreeffective than Howard Dean? I don't know," he told The Nation. That sentiment is probably shared by many netroots activists, who aremore focused on the Democratic victory than parceling out credit.

The more interesting question, Aravosis argues, is how will the blogsadapt to working with "Democrats who actually have power." In theshort term, he hopes to hammer home the message that the electionproves Americans think conservatism is "inherently wrong," rallysupport for voting rights reform, and support the House Democrats' newagenda. Other bloggers are more interested in crafting the agenda:Arianna Huffington's top blog on election night chastised HowardDean for backtracking so far on Iraq in a CNN interview that he soundedlike he was pitching "the president's plan."

Mr. Davis, a self-described "liberal Democrat" who repeatedly tangledwith bloggers during his work on behalf of Joe Lieberman, said onelection night that the blogosphere must evolve in order to have abroader impact. "If the blogosphere is to have an impact on changingthe country as opposed to talking to each other, the Lamont campaign isa lesson in exactly what not to do. They came out of a primary and theycontinued to wage a primary," he said, "but they weren't talking tounaffiliated voters and moderate Republicans." Davis told TheNation he has a new proposal that the blogosphere establishvoluntary rules for "fairness, accuracy and accountability," requiringwriters and commentors to provide their real names, phone numbers andaddresses, and forbidding anonymous comments offering misleading orpersonal attacks. He argues that Democrats cannot change the minds ofpeople voting against their "economic self-interest" by offering "wordsof hate" or "anonymous attacks."

Benjamin Rahn, President of ActBlue.com, believes online activists havealready cleared that hurdle, because they are part of the offlinepolitical dialogue across the country. "In many ways the netroots arejust the most visible part of the nationwide grassroots movement. Theconversations happening online, in the blogosphere, and by e-mail fromfriend to friend to friend, are also happening in bars and coffee shopsand PTA meetings. We just don't happen to mike them and put the audioonline for everyone to hear," he explained via e-mail. "And the peoplewho used ActBlue to fundraise are also the people who made phone callswith MoveOn's call to change, and waved signs at street corners today,and helped out at polling places. And those are the people who aregoing to wake up tomorrow and say "Damn, that felt good. Let's do itagain."

The Unstoppable Harold Ford

It was tough for any self-respecting progressive to root wholeheartedlyfor Harold Ford Jr. In his longshot bid to replace retiring SenateMajority Stiff Bill Frist, Tennesee's wunderkind Democratic congressmantook the tired old "Republican Lite" strategy and amped it up intosomething more akin to "Republican Squared." War? Absolutely.Immigration? Inexcusable. Guns? Blast away! Gays? Keep yourdistance--from each other. Jesus? To Him be all glory.

My introduction to Ford's unorthodox campaign strategy came last summer,when I landed in Nashville International Airport, climbed into my rentalDodge, clicked on the radio, and heard this blast: "Every day over 5,700miles of border stands unsecured.... Every day almost 2,000 people enterAmerica illegally. Every day hundreds of employers look the other way,handing out jobs that keep illegals coming.... And every day the rest ofus pay the price.... I'm Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. For too manyyears Democrat and Republican presidents alike have looked the otherway. Now 11 million people live here illegally...and while most comefor jobs, the odds are any terrorist with a map can also get inundetected."

Ford couldn't talk enough about "illegals." Or quote enough from theHoly Bible. Or adjust his accent often enough as he raced across thestate, seemingly trying to personally wrestle every voter's doubt intosubmission. Like Bill Clinton, you hate to like Ford--but you can't helpit. With his twinkish good looks and winningly oily charm, he easilyout-campaigned and out-charmed his opponent, the supremely bland,moderately conservative Bob Corker.

In the end, Ford also out-Republicaned the Republican nominee. It wasquite a feat for a Democrat to do that, you had to admit. But you alsohad to wonder: What kind of victory would it be for Democrats to electsomeone who's staked himself out in opposition to practically every coreprinciple of the party?

But there was another principle at stake in this race--thanks not somuch to Ford's being black, but to the very worst instincts of theRepublican Party. Everybody knows about the blatant race-baiting of theinfamous "Harold, call me" Playboy ad. What's received less attention isthe way Corker and the national GOP steadily led up to their dropping ofthat "final solution." All campaign long, in ads and on their website FancyFord.com, they whispered into Tennesseans' ears that Ford embodied all theworst stereotypes of that creature called Black Democrat: shifty, horny(for sleazy white women especially), posturing and profiteering. ThePlayboy ad turned the race from a likely Ford win to a narrow Corkerelection--but not simply because of its own malignant impact. The skidshad long been greased. A certain set of white Tennessee men was ready totake the message to heart once it came hurtling at them so explicitly.

It's easy to see Ford's loss as a sign that the old racial mistrust --the old prejudices--remain shockingly strong in 2006 Tennessee. There'sno question that Ford was a far superior candidate, or that he hadtailored himself to snugly fit the conservative leanings of many of thestate's available independent and Republican voters. There's no questionthat race-baiting sunk him. But there is also this: In a supposedlysolid-red Southern state, an African-American Democrat from awell-known, ethically challenged (and liberal) political family nearlybeat a conservative Republican for a US Senate seat. A whole lot ofTennesseans voted for their first black person for a major office; awhole lot of others considered it for the first time. It will never benearly so hard for them to pull that trigger again. And Ford, given hisgleefully vaulting ambitions, will sure enough give them another chance.

A New Morality

Citizens in Arizona, Missouri, Montana, and Ohio resoundingly passed minimum wage initiatives today. And in Colorado, voters are evenly split on the issue in early returns at the time of this post.

It is clear – as I suggested in a recent post – that the economy has emerged along with the war in Iraq as the defining moral issues of our time. And while the GOP has tried to sell voters on a bill of goods that the economy is strong and people are prospering, people know better. In the same way that it has ignored the facts on the ground in Iraq, the Administration and its Republican enablers have ignored the economic struggles of middle and working class Americans.

Today -- in states labeled moderate to conservative -- the people have spoken clearly: when it comes to the economy, they're looking for a model that better serves the real and common good.