Commentary: Don't Break Out The Champagne Yet For Election Day 2006

Since nobody else is saying it, we will: A big "thank you" to everyone who voted in Tuesday's mid-term elections. It shows you actually care about what's going on in your own country, and about the direction in which it's headed.

That said, the next logical question is, which way is it headed?

Well, Democrats now have the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as this is written, may have the slimmest of majorities in the Senate or may break even, with "independent" Joe Lieberman likely to decide any close votes, and on the few issues where ex-Dem Lieberman doesn't agree with Bush, VP Dick Cheney will step in as the tie-breaker.

That's both good news and bad news. The good Senate news is that a couple of incredibly high-profile theocrats, Rick Santorum (Pa.), Mike DeWine (Oh.) and Jim Talent (Mo.), got dumped, with George "Macaca" Allen (Va.) another possible loser at press time. House members come and go every two years, but such decisive victories in the Senate where members have six-year terms, over politicians who put their religion and pro-corporate partisanship at the front of their campaigns is just heartwarming.

The good House news is, John Conyers will head the House Judiciary Committee, where he can get started on the numerous investigations he's been talking about for at least the last three years, the first of which should be, but is unlikely to be, drafting articles of impeachment for George W. Bush. The other good House news is that Henry Waxman will head the Government Reform Committee, which will probably pass real ethics reform though sadly not real restrictions of lobbyists' gifts to members. Waxman's office, it will be remembered, released an excellent study on the failure of abstinence education which the theocrats have recently tried (and, of course, failed) to refute.

Also, conservatives are a bit pissed that John Dingell will head the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"Goodbye drilling for oil in Alaska and lower prices for gas at the pump!" wrote reactionary right activist Chris Carmouche. "Hello amnesty for 12 million illegal aliens!"

But without conceding that Carmouche is right about any of that, with any luck, it will also mean "Goodbye attempts to censor sexual content on the Internet," and "Goodbye hefty fines for 'indecent' radio and TV shows."

Oh, yeah; and "centrist" Nancy Pelosi will be Speaker of the House. What neither house of Congress needs now are Democratic "centrists," and certainly not someone who, before the election, summarily ruled out impeaching Bush.

Before moving on, it's important to remember that this was not a presidential election. George Bush is still president and Dick Cheney is still VP. Bush still gets to nominate federal Supreme Court, Appeals Court and District Court judges. Alberto Gonzales will remain Attorney General of the United States, and Rumsfeld's replacement is likely to be just as bad if not worse as Secretary of Defense as his predecessor. The new Democratic majorities will have an uphill battle all the way, with likely no help from the conservative near-majority on the Supreme Court. is currently running a poll, "What Changes Should Democrats Make in the First 100 Days," and despite the fact that the poll seems to ignore that yesterday's winners won't take their seats for another couple of months, some of the early top contenders are "Habeas Corpus: restore access to courts for all prisoners of the U.S."; "Minimum Wage: increase to "living wage" above the poverty line and index to inflation"; "Taxes: shift burden from working families to wealthy and corporations"; and the one with the most votes, "Impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney: for Iraq War lies, Illegal Wiretapping, Torture, and other High Crimes."

A few more local issues are worth mentioning as well. In South Dakota, for instance, a law prohibiting abortions under any circumstances was decisively struck down by referendum (the it's rumored that a similar, more sustainable bill that included health exceptions might be in the offing), and state Attorney General Phill Kline of Kansas was summarily ditched. Kline, it will be remembered, waged a two-year fight to obtain the records of underage girls who'd had abortions, allegedly with the intent to prosecute, for statutory rape and/or child molestation, the men who impregnated them. Kline was one of the main speakers at September's Values Voter Summit, sponsored by Family Research Council.

Other victories for women's rights included the defeat of anti-choice Rep. (Dr.) Curt Weldon in Pennsylvania, and Randy Graf in Arizona. Also defeated were California's Proposition 85, which would have changed the state constitution to impose government-mandated parental notification for young women seeking abortion care, even if it jeopardized their safety, and Oregon's Measure 43, which would have established mandatory parental notification with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

Also in the plus column is the loss by Indiana Republican John Hostettler, the author of the Public Expression of Religion Act, to his Democratic challenger, Sheriff Brad Ellsworth.

Some commentators have blustered that since the Democrats did so well this time around, that their earlier claims of election fraud – pre-programmed electronic voting machines, flooding Democratic telephone lines (reactionary radio talk host Laura Ingraham suggested yesterday afternoon, "I think we all need to call 1 888 DEM VOTE all at the same time."), incessant "robo-calling" by Repugnican activists pretending to be Democrats, 'Pugs distributing phony ballots in Maryland and other dirty tricks – were obviously just empty politically-motivated accusations, because if there were any truth to them, then how did the Democrats win so decisively?

Aside from the fact that the Dems have been gearing up for 'Pug thievery for weeks, commentator Avedon Carol (ß notes, "We know there was heavy voter-suppression by the Republicans, and we knew there were plenty of voting machines that had a tendency to refuse to register Democratic votes. We also know that it's pretty difficult to find people outside of the lunatic fringe who didn't want Congress to change hands. (We know most of the country wishes the White House could change hands at this point, too. There is a lot of buyer's remorse out there.) For all we know, in real life it [the election] wasn't even close, and the desire for change was so overwhelming that even all their cheating was unable to make any difference. When you're going into a race where candidates have double-digit leads (or as many as 20 points in some races), no one is going to believe that the other side somehow pulled it out with a last-minute surge."

Still, some of the trickery may very well have worked. Racist TV ads in Tennessee implying that congressional candidate Harold Ford Jr., a black man, was dating white women may have influenced the Confederates in that state to vote for his 'Pug opponent, while Peter Roskam, the Illinois contender for Rep. Henry Hyde's vacating seat, may have scored points by describing his legless Iraq War vet opponent Tammy Duckworth as a "cut and run liberal." (After all, Saxby Chambliss did pretty much the same thing to triple amputee Max Cleland in one Georgia House race in '02, and look where that got him!)

But aside from whatever dirty tricks the 'Pugs pulled or tried to pull this time around, the mere fact that many of them were defeated doesn't mean they've gone away and that the public won't hear from them for the next couple of years. As former White House counsel John Dean stated during a talk before Progressive Democrats of L.A. (ß in September, when Republicans lose elections, their authoritarian personalities demand that they redouble their efforts to win next time.

That "redoubling" will take many forms. Part of it will be self-flagellation for having lost this election, and attempts to lay blame for that on everything except the failed philosophy that voters rejected overwhelmingly at the polls.

"[E]very political movement that succeeds pays a price for its success," wrote conservative "godfather" Paul Weyrich. "In its early stages, as an outsider, it can be true to its agenda. But once it takes power, it inevitably comes to find much of its agenda politically inconvenient. It gets in the way of making deals, gaining more power and collecting money. In time, it ceases to be a real movement and becomes an Establishment... The old conservative movement is now so compromised that it has little grass-roots credibility." (Well, DUH!)

But Donald Devine, editor of Conservative Battleline Online, was ready to jump right back into the fray ... because "real" conservativism didn't lose a thing yesterday.

"Conservatism is dead," Devine wrote. "Anyway, that is how the media read the “good news” of the election results. As usual, they have it exactly backwards. The real good news is that if the Republicans had won the election, conservatism would be dead as a doornail... First of all, as a result of their humiliating loss and the necessity to revive their grassroots, the GOP will get religion and return to their limited government, restrained spending roots, limiting what the majority can do. Second, President George W. Bush might find his veto pen and the Democrats do not have the votes to override it."

Pundit (and former California gubernatorial candidate) Arianna Huffington wrote before the polls closed, "Sensing victory in the House, and keeping their fingers crossed on the Senate, the Democratic Party's competing factions — DLC [Democratic Leadership Council] centrists on one side, progressives on the other — are eagerly trying to frame the hoped for good news as proof that their side is right."

"Leading the charge for the centrists, as he has for the last 14 years, is Bill Clinton," Huffington continued. "At a private fundraiser last week, the DLC Dem's Big Dog framed the Democrats' '06 return from the dead as a victory for triangulation and the party's ability to make itself more appealing to conservative voters... In other words, Democrats are winning because they have run to the right and cloaked themselves in the mantle of conservatism."

There's little doubt about that. Pelosi's refusal to consider impeachment for Bush, Hillary Clinton's pro-war stance and the fact that several Dems, including former Rep. Sherrod Brown, voted for Bush's Military Commissions Act, which denies the right of habeas corpus to everyone not a native-born U.S. citizen. Those are hardly Democrat values.

And rest assured that every time a Democrat betrays progressive values, there will be dozens if not hundreds of reactionary theocrat talk-show hosts, all at the beck and call of Dirty Trickster In Chief Karl Rove, ready to pounce on that flaw and label the transgressor a hypocrite – in doing so, attempting to lay the groundwork for a Repugnican comeback in '08.

Never mind that hypocrisy has been shown to be the hallmark of the right-wing over the past few months. One need only mention Rep. Mark Foley and how his sexual predation was covered up for months if not years by fellow House members Dennis Hastert, John Boehner and others, or Rev. Ted Haggard, who preached loudly against same-sex marriage while paying for the services of a male prostitute, with whom he used methamphetamines.

Or as theocrat "Morality Czar" William Bennett put it, "Hypocrisy is better than having no values at all."

Also noteworthy is that history has shown that in times when Democrats are in the majority in Congress, the classic Republican ruse is to make noises like a libertarian, knowing that some will be fooled into believing that they actually support civil liberties. We'll wait to see if that turns out to be the case, but we're not putting any money of their proving themselves worthy.

Bottom line: While yesterday's election has its good points, Democrats and progressives can't afford to lose sight of the goals of civil liberties, fiscal responsibility and repairing the U.S.'s relations with the rest of the world, even with both the administration and possibly even the highest court in the land allied against them.