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2006 US Elections

Gary Younge

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"All the domestic controversies of the Americans at first appear to a stranger to be incomprehensible or puerile," wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in his classic 19th-century treatise, Democracy in America. "And he is at a loss whether to pity a people who take such arrant trifles in good earnest or to envy that happiness which enables a community to discuss them."

And so it is that, as the extent of the carnage in Iraq becomes evident and North Korea goes nuclear, America's political class obsesses over a single Congressman's predilection for teenage boys.

The scandal of Mark Foley, the Florida representative who sent lewd email messages to Congressional pages, has galvanised the Democrat leadership into aggressive opposition in a way that Abu Ghraib never could. They know how to make electoral capital out of a gay man propositioning American teenagers (as of yet there is no suggestion that he actually molested any of them). But when it came to American soldiers forcing Iraqi prisoners to masturbate for the camera, their ability to focus minds on inappropriate sexual behaviour and abuse of power somehow eluded them.

Now, with three weeks to go before the mid-term elections, the Democrats are flipping the traditional script. "Anybody who had a personal vulnerability before this is totally [at risk] with the spotlight on scandal," a Democratic aide told the Washington Post. "Frankly, it is a tough environment out there if you have a problem with the bottle or the zipper."

From the party that brought you Bill Clinton and Teddy Kennedy this is new territory indeed, but they are covering it like old pros. The handful of Republicans either personally close to Foley or who may be implicated in the alleged cover-up by the Republican leadership are in the direct line of fire, putting once safe seats in play. But elsewhere Democrats are simply looking for dirt, throwing it, seeing if it sticks, and then screaming "Foley". Last week in New Jersey, the Democrat candidate Linda Stender accused her Republican opponent, Mike Ferguson, of preying on young women in a Washington DC nightclub. In Pennsylvania, Chris Carney has accused his Republican opponent of "repeatedly choking" and "attempting to strangle" his young mistress. In upstate New York, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand is pressuring the Republican incumbent, John Sweeney, to explain a drunk-driving arrest 30 years ago as well as a more recent accident. The Foley scandal "opened the door to talk about the ethical challenge of my opponent", said Stender.

So the party that was only recently laid low by evangelicals is now running on moral values. The Republicans, who lead the charge on family values and gay marriage, are running away from them. And with 15 House seats and six Senate seats between government and opposition, at stake is who will run the country.

After 12 years of Republican domination of both Houses of Congress (give or take a brief interlude), the Democrats seem poised to retake the House of Representatives. They may even get the Senate, though that remains a long shot. In a system where, thanks to big money and gerrymandering, 98% of incumbents are usually re-elected, such changes in Congressional leadership are rare. The Republicans have far more money and are far better organised. But it looks increasingly likely.

"This is without question the worst political situation for the GOP since the Watergate disaster in 1974," wrote the veteran analyst Charles Cook in his political report on Friday. "I think a 30-seat gain today for Democrats is more likely to occur than a 15-seat gain, the minimum that would tip the majority. The chances of that number going higher are also strong, unless something occurs that fundamentally changes the dynamic of this election. This is what Republican strategists' nightmares look like."

A recent Pew research survey revealed 51% of voters plan to back Democrats against 38% for the Republicans. Moreover, Democrats are more pumped up. Currently 59% of Democratic voters say they have given a lot of thought to this election, 51% are more enthusiastic about voting than usual, and 71% say they are angry. Republicans are far more distracted and less keen.

The trouble is the things the Democrats are angriest and more enthusiastic about are, for the most part, not the things their party is talking about. The Foley episode is having about as much impact on voting intentions as the Lewinsky affair did on Clinton's approval ratings - none. The Pew poll was being conducted as the Foley story broke. Interviews before and after he resigned gave almost identical results.

True, along with the Abramoff lobbying scandal (which claimed another Congressional scalp last week with the resignation of Ohio representative Bob Ney), the manner in which the Foley saga was mishandled does compound the sense of an out-of-touch Republican leadership out to protect its own. Given Foley's sexual orientation the Republicans are less likely to take their gay-baiting rhetoric to the polls. All in all it has confirmed the sense that Republicans have been in power too long. But there is little evidence that it has changed anyone's mind or is likely to suppress even the evangelical vote.

For if America's political class are pushing de Tocqueville's "puerile trifles", the electorate is clearly far more interested in substance. With wages stagnant, health costs rising and the military death toll in Iraq this month hovering close to a two-year high, voters want serious answers to serious questions. The Pew survey showed that the six issues of most concern to the electorate were Iraq, terrorism, the economy, healthcare, immigration and energy policy.

Last week, the Democrat minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, addressed some of these concerns. She pledged that in the first 100 hours of a Democrat majority she will increase the minimum wage, reduce interest rates on student loans, expand federal funding for stem-cell research, and require the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower the price of prescription drugs for Medicare.

This is great as far as it goes. It provides an answer to those who claim there is no difference between Democrats and Republicans. But it also confirms the accusation that, given the challenges facing American society, this difference is inadequate. For one of the reasons the Democrats are so eager to talk about the Foley scandal is because they have little substantive to say on the matters on the American public's mind.

Pelosi might have added to her to-do list closing down Guantánamo Bay, setting a date for troop withdrawal from Iraq, raising taxes on the top earners to help curb the deficit, and putting a stop to warrantless wiretapping. But the truth is that Democrats have no consistent or coherent position on Iraq, terrorism or anything else much. The last few months have told the tale of Republican demise, not a Democrat revival.

So while November 7 promises the possibility of electoral change, the prospect of real political change seems remote. The Democrats are standing for office, but little else.


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  • 2 weeks later...
The projections for the House of Representative races have literally changed every 3-4 days for the past couple of weeks, all moving away from the GOP. Even Ann Northup's race (representing Louisville, KY) has moved from "Safe Republican" to "Leaning Republican." She's now running ads stressing her "independence," and her challenger made fun of her in a debate because she said she didn't know that VP Cheney was in town recently (it's extremely unusual that a member of Congress would fail to meet the US Vice President when he visits the town the member represents). It's not a good sign for Republicans that congressional candidates are so overtly distancing themselves from the Administration. And if you notice the numbers, and assume that the "leaners" will go in the direction they're leaning, you can see that the GOP basically needs to sweep all the "toss-ups" (13 out of 16), whereas the Democrats only need to win 4 of the "tossups" in order to gain a majority (218 out of 435 seats).

A report in the Daily Telegraph suggests that there will be a late swing to the Republicans. This is based on the idea that the Republicans will spend over £200m in smear campaigns against Democrats in states they are in danger of losing. For example, the attacks on Harold Ford in Tennessee who is being accused of receiving donations from a company that makes porn movies.

To people living in Europe, these smear campaigns would backfire over issues like this, although donations from companies that got contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan would have an impact on voting intentions. However, America is not Europe and maybe these “attack commercials” will work. If so, you deserve all you get.

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The important point to grasp about people like Bush and Cheney is that they are not really conservatives. A major factor in conservative philosophy is the belief in a reduction in government spending. Bush, like Reagan before him, has greatly increased government spending during his period in power. When Bush took over in 2000, the long-term fiscal liability of the federal government was $20 trillion. It now stands at $43 trillion. Bush has increased government spending at a faster rate than any Congress since the 1930s (Roosevelt’s New Deal).

Reagan and Bush had no option but to increase government spending in certain parts of the economy. This is the way governments pay back their financial supporters. Large Corporations do not give donations, they make investments. Who made money from the Vietnam War? LBJ’s long-term financial backers: Halliburton, General Dynamics, Bell Corporation.

The same is true of the Iraq War. The contracts for rebuilding Iraq was organized by a company called New Bridge Strategies. This company was owned by Barbour, Griffith & Rogers. The majority shareholder in this company is Haley Barbour, the Republican governor of Mississippi. His partners, Lanny Griffith and Ed Rogers, are two lawyers who formerly worked in the George H. W. Bush administration. Barbour is also in charge of raising money for Republican Senate campaigns.

Barbour is a long-term supporter of George Bush. He arranged for a small group of companies, Bechtel ($1 billon), Halliburton ($2.3 billion) and International American Products ($527 million), to get most of the contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq schools, airports, roads, bridges, hospitals and power plants. It is no coincidence that these three companies are all major political donors to the Republican Party.

This is the reality of American capitalism. You can’t let the deaths of US military or Iraqi civilians to get in the way of profits.

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When I'm trying to teach Swedes about how the US Constitution operates, one of the factors which needs a lot of explaining is gerrymandering. Another 'hard sell' is the positive aspects both of the US Constitution and US society in general …

My take on each of these issues is to try to point out the politics in the US and politics in Europe are still not quite the same - the US has no left-wing parties to speak of, which means that US voters don't have much of an alternative view of society presented to them (at least at the level of political parties - local races are another thing altogether).

I usually ask them why demonstrators in the US often walk around in circles, rather than standing still. (It's a way of avoiding a notorious piece of anti-union legislation from the early 20th century.) This strikes a chord - all over Sweden you'll find 'Folkets hus' and 'Folkets park' (literally "The People's House" and "The People's Park"!), which were started by left-wingers and trade unionists who had to build their own meeting places at the dawn of representative democracy, because the local land-owners, industrialists and priests usually conspired to try to deny the freedom of association.

However, at a crucial stage in the 1920s and 1930s, Swedes won battles which Americans lost … which is why Swedish democracy doesn't function in the same way as US democracy (gerrymandering is an impossibility here, for example), and why you don't ever see attack ads in the Swedish media.

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Thanks for those kind words, Daniel. I usually take a deep breath before I express opinions about how the US system works to Americans! I'm quite prepared to stand corrected by people who know better than I do.

One image I use to explain US politics to Swedes is a 'red shift' (bearing in mind, as I'm sure you know, that red is the colour of the *left* in Europe, whilst blue is the colour of the right). Any party in Europe which calls itself 'liberal' is a party of the right. The liberal parties (such as the Liberals in the UK, the FDP in Germany and Venstre in Denmark) originated before universal suffrage, and were, for a time, the vehicles by which working people had their views represented in Parliament (since working people didn't own enough property to qualify for the vote). The Swedish liberal party is even called 'Folkpartiet' - the People's Party.

In Swedish politics, you divide the blocs up into 'bourgeois' and 'non-bourgeois', with the old Communist Party and the Social Democrats in the latter bloc and all the others (except the Greens, who feel that they don't belong in either bloc) in the former. The US Democratic Party is definitely in the bourgeois bloc … which means that you don't have a 'non-bourgeois' bloc at all. The Swedish situation is mirrored right across Europe, even though there's a good case for saying that the 'non-bourgeois' parties have sold out.

There's a constant battle going on, though, with plenty of interference from the US.

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One of the revelations I had as a Brit coming to Sweden was that a high standard of living, a high degree of equality, a good welfare state, etc, etc aren't the *end* of a political discussion, but rather just the beginning. It's very difficult to find a space in your life to even think about how your country is being governed if you're having to scrape to get by, or to take two or three jobs just to make ends meet.

It's no accident that the first thing parties of the right want to do when they gain power is to create an underclass of the working poor, so that the broad mass of people are going to be too busy wondering how they're going to pay their bills at the end of the month to want to ask awkward questions.

It reminds me of the stories my grandad and uncles used to tell of life in Sheffield (England) during the Great Depression, when they often had no money at all in the house. The rentman used to come round with his leather money bag every week, and they'd put one penny a week by for private health insurance. When my Uncle Joe caught diphtheria, they used up all their insurance on medical care for him, and then were terrified that one of the other three boys would get it. If they had, they wouldn't have been able to call the doctor … No wonder Churchill lost the 1945 General Election.

The problem about being so ignorant about history and the world around you is that your ignorance comes back to bite you in the bum. I worked in Angola in mid-1985 when the Cubans were still there (and they were incredibly popular with the Angolans, BTW). Even though Angola was a war-ravaged country, it was in a better shape than parts of Savannah, just a couple of hundred yards from the waterfront, where I'd been a couple of years before …

Let's just hope for all our sakes that Americans manage to get a grip on their own future on November 7th … though I agree with Peter that the chances aren't great.

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First, let's lay down the mother of all caveats. The conventional wisdom says Democrats are about to win control of the House of Representatives and could well take the Senate too. But, and here's the mega-caveat, the conventional wisdom in Washington is often very, very wrong. Cast your mind back to election night 2004, when the US media anointed President John Kerry. The warning this time is that Republicans might be fewer in number, but more motivated and therefore likelier to turn out. Note, too, the reports that White House strategist Karl Rove, the election wizard famed as George Bush's brain, is in cocky mood. In the contests that matter, Rove reckons Republicans have the money and the machine to win.

So Democrats and their friends should approach next Tuesday's congressional elections with low expectations: that way, they won't be disappointed. Then, in the appropriate frame of mind, they can ask the question that matters: what difference will a Democrat win make, not only to the United States but to the wider world?

There are a handful of policy specifics, including a promise to raise the minimum wage, but the party's election programme is stunningly short on detail. It sets out six, general goals - Six for '06 is the not very snappy slogan - and runs to just a single page.

But that's not the point. For a Democratic victory would change the terms of trade of American politics. The precedent is the year the Republicans swept the House, ousting the Democrats who had ruled there for an unbroken 40 years. The Republican landslide of 1994 did what landslides are meant to do: it re-made the terrain. From that point onwards, the Democratic president, Bill Clinton, had to navigate around a landscape shaped by Newt Gingrich and his conservative revolutionaries.

Gingrich set the agenda; Clinton could only react to it. He was reduced to protesting that he was still "relevant". The result was that the president had to drop forever what had been his signature ambition - the reform of America's hideously unjust system of healthcare - and slash the welfare system for those without work.

Democratic success next week could mete out the same fate to George Bush. Since 2000, Republicans have been able to define the terms of debate. Bush, sitting at one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, has been able to count on a reliable amen corner at the other. A Democratic House would force Bush onto the defensive; if the Senate were also to fall, he would be crippled. The Bush presidency is already in its final phase; double Democratic success next week would all but end it.

Take two examples that matter most to those outside the United States. One is climate change. Democrats are not great on it, but they exhibit less of the wilful denial that characterises the Republicans. They would at least give the likes of Sir Nicholas Stern a hearing when he crosses the Atlantic to make his case for a cut in carbon emissions - even if they, like the Republicans, can't bring themselves to propose green taxes on anything.

The second critical matter is Iraq. The Democrats' brief policy document, A New Direction for America, calls for "the responsible redeployment of US forces" with "Iraqis assuming primary responsibility for securing and governing their country". Those are, admittedly, words that could be uttered by Bush or Donald Rumsfeld. They too say American troops will stand down as Iraqis stand up. But "responsible redeployment" at least hints at a different impulse: to get the hell out.

Now it's true that Democrats have a double credibility problem in this area. Almost all of them voted to authorise the use of military force in Iraq: they feared what the Republican attack machine would do to them if they didn't. Second, House Democrats may huff and puff all they like about troop withdrawals but that is not a decision for them to take. The constitution gives that power almost exclusively to the commander-in-chief. If Bush insists on staying the course in Iraq, there is little the House of Representatives can formally do to stop him.

But where the constitution ends, politics begins. For both houses of Congress wield a crucial power: the right to hold hearings into the conduct of the administration. For six years, Bush has been spared the ordeal of congressional investigation. While Clinton saw his every move subject to televised inquiry by hostile Republican committees, subpoenaing witnesses, demanding sensitive documents, Bush has operated with the lightest of scrutiny.

As of January 2007, when the new Congress is sworn in, that could change. Suddenly, Democrats would chair the pivotal foreign affairs committees. They could instantly establish the kind of sustained inquiry opposition MPs vainly sought in Westminster yesterday, subjecting the likes of Rumsfeld and others to fierce, public cross-examination.

It would require some careful positioning. Democrats would have to focus on the honesty of the initial case made for war, arguing that they were misled, that they would never have voted for invasion had they known the full truth. This is a debate Britain aired during the Hutton inquiry, but until now the US has lacked a formal outlet for such an examination. If the polls are right, Capitol Hill is about to be that outlet.

And Democrats will press the issue for all it's worth. Surveys show that the war is one of the core questions of the current midterm campaign: one poll saw voters ranking Iraq a single percentage point behind the economy in their list of most important issues. (Troublingly, perhaps, for Democrats, that same UPI-Zogby poll found the number one determinant for voters was the "values, morals and character" of a candidate.) A win in an election billed as a referendum on Bush's foreign policy would embolden Democrats to keep up the pressure: it would have confirmed Iraq as a seam worth mining for political advantage. There would be high-grade allies too, now that several senior Republicans, among them John Warner, chair of the senate armed services committee, have joined the chorus lamenting the Iraq war.

That process would have two long-term effects. First, a sustained assault could blunt at last the enduring Republican edge on national security. Since the cold war, the Republicans have been able to cast themselves as the party of strength in international affairs. That advantage, carefully nurtured and hardened by Rove and Bush, has cost the Democrats dear, helping to keep them out of the White House in all but three presidential elections over the last 40 years. If a new Congress puts the Republicans on the defensive over Iraq, and over the entire Bush approach to foreign policy, that would yield a major political dividend. Watch for Senator Hillary Clinton to follow the process with interest: she would like nothing more than the Republicans to be stripped of their traditional national security armour ahead of 2008.

The more important effect will be on what Bush does next. He could still embark on another crazed venture abroad, even in the face of opposition from the House, but it would be harder. Political reality will force him to operate within new constraints.

Next week's elections cannot, alas, remove George Bush from office. But they can hobble him badly. Those of us watching from afar can only hope that Americans seize their chance.


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That process would have two long-term effects. First, a sustained assault could blunt at last the enduring Republican edge on national security. Since the cold war, the Republicans have been able to cast themselves as the party of strength in international affairs. That advantage, carefully nurtured and hardened by Rove and Bush, has cost the Democrats dear, helping to keep them out of the White House in all but three presidential elections over the last 40 years. If a new Congress puts the Republicans on the defensive over Iraq, and over the entire Bush approach to foreign policy, that would yield a major political dividend. Watch for Senator Hillary Clinton to follow the process with interest: she would like nothing more than the Republicans to be stripped of their traditional national security armour ahead of 2008.

I am not confident that Hillary Clinton would make such a good president. The other day Rupert Murdoch admitted he had been making donations to her presidential campaign. Has Murdoch found another Tony Blair?

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CBS News

The latest CBS News/New York Times poll has good news for the Democrats. Asked about the House of Representatives, 52 percent of likely voters said they would vote for the Democrat running in their district and 34 percent said the Republican.

Forty percent of those polled said they were voting against President Bush, while just 14 percent said they were voting to support the president.

The poll showed Iraq is the most important issue in the coming election with nearly seven in 10 voters saying Mr. Bush does not have a plan for Iraq. The president's job approval rating remains at 34 percent.

Despite those numbers, CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports the president is giving no ground on Iraq. He told the Associated Press Wednesday that he wants Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to stay on the job for the rest of his term.


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Julian Borger in Washington

Saturday November 4, 2006

The Guardian

Several prominent neoconservatives have turned on George Bush days before critical midterm elections, lambasting his administration for incompetence in the handling of the Iraq war and questioning the wisdom of the 2003 invasion they were instrumental in promoting.

Richard Perle and Kenneth Adelman, who were both Pentagon advisers before the war, Michael Rubin, a former senior official in the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, and David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter, were among the neoconservatives who recanted to Vanity Fair magazine in an article that could influence Tuesday's battle for the control of Congress. The Iraq war has been the dominant issue in the election.

"I think the influence will be on morale [among Republicans]," said Steven Clemons, the head of the American Strategy Programme at the New America Foundation. "I think they are confusing the right. What this is yielding is ambivalence, and people will stay at home."

Mr Perle, a member of the influential Defence Policy Board that advised the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, in the run-up to the war, is as outspoken in denouncing the conduct of the war as he was once bullish on the invasion. He blamed "dysfunction" in the Bush administration for the present quagmire.

"The decisions did not get made that should have been. They didn't get made in a timely fashion, and the differences were argued out endlessly," Mr Perle told Vanity Fair, according to early excerpts of the article. "At the end of the day, you have to hold the president responsible."

Asked if he would still have pushed for war knowing what he knows now, Mr Perle, a leading hawk in the Reagan administration, said: "I think if I had been delphic, and had seen where we are today, and people had said, 'Should we go into Iraq?', I think now I probably would have said, 'No, let's consider other strategies for dealing with the thing that concerns us most, which is Saddam supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists'." The Bush administration admits it was mistaken in believing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but the president and other top officials maintain that Iraq is better off as a result of his removal.

An overwhelming majority of Americans, however, now believe the war was not worth the cost in blood and resources. The public rethink by top neocons comes at a time of rising violence, with the US death toll climbing steadily towards 3,000 and the United Nations estimating that many Iraqis may be being killed by the conflict each month.

Kenneth Adelman, another Reagan era hawk who sat on the Defence Policy Board until last year, drew attention with a 2002 commentary in the Washington Post predicting that liberating Iraq would be a "cakewalk".

He now says he hugely overestimated the abilities of the Bush team. "I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent," Mr Adelman said.

"They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the postwar era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."

He too takes back his public urging for military action, in light of the administration's performance. "I guess that's what I would have said: that Bush's arguments are absolutely right, but you know what, you just have to put them in the drawer marked 'can't do'. And that's very different from 'let's go'."

Mr Adelman, a senior Reagan adviser at cold war summits with Mikhail Gorbachev, expressed particular disappointment in Mr Rumsfeld, who he described as a particular friend. "I'm crushed by his performance," he said. "Did he change, or were we wrong in the past? Or is it that he was never really challenged before? I don't know. He certainly fooled me."

Mr Adelman said the guiding principle behind neoconservatism, "the idea of using our power for moral good in the world", had been killed off for a generation at least. After Iraq, he told Vanity Fair, "it's not going to sell".

Michael Rubin, who worked on the staff of the Pentagon's office of special plans and the coalition provisional authority in Baghdad, accused Mr Bush of betraying Iraqi reformers.

The president's actions, Mr Rubin said, had been "not much different from what his father did on February 15 1991, when he called the Iraqi people to rise up and then had second thoughts and didn't do anything once they did".

Mr Frum, who as a White House speechwriter helped coin the phrase "axis of evil" in 2002, said failure in Iraq might be inescapable, because "the insurgency has proven it can kill anyone who cooperates, and the United States and its friends have failed to prove that it can protect them". The blame, Mr Frum said, lies with "failure at the centre", beginning with the president.

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Andrew Sullivan was an enthusiastic supporter of George Bush in the early years. This is not surprising as he works for the Sunday Times, a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch. However, over the last couple of months Sullivan has begun to have second thoughts about Bush. This culminated in an amazing article in yesterday’s Sunday Times:


What’s at stake is saving the US from the incompetent, reckless fanatics now in control


It is difficult to look into the future when you are going through what America is going through. All I can say about the atmosphere in the United States right now is that it feels as if the country is about to vomit. The nausea is there; the vote is imminent; and the purge necessary. And yet it hasn’t happened yet. Americans are still staring at the porcelain. And those who desperately want a change — as I do — have to wait.

But there are some things that this election has already decided. Several national careers have ended; and the presidential race for 2008 — the most open in decades — has been winnowed.

Not so long ago the leading candidate to replace George W Bush for the Republicans was the Virginia senator George Allen. Allen is in a tight race for re-election. He may still win. But even if he does, his presidential hopes are over. In an incident captured on video, he called a dark-skinned supporter of his opponent “macaca”. It means “monkey”. When told he had a Jewish grandmother recently, he complained that people were casting aspersions in his direction. He is no longer a serious candidate.

The same, I fear, may be happening to the Republican senator John McCain. McCain’s selling point for years has been that he is a man of integrity — hence his appearance at the Tory party conference in Bournemouth last month. He wasn’t broken under torture by the Viet Cong; he fought the religious far right; and he voted against much of the insane Republican spending spree at the federal level. Yes, he loyally backed Bush in 2004. But those of us who differed felt that he was just doing what he had to.

But then, this autumn, McCain caved in on the question of allowing the CIA to torture military detainees. He surrendered habeas corpus to Donald Rumsfeld, the incompetent maniac running the Pentagon. He went to Jerry Falwell’s university to make nice with the religious right. He is even now appearing in advertisements to amend the constitution of his home state, Arizona, to strip gay couples of legal rights. In short, he’s become a compromiser on issues that cannot be compromised on — torture, honesty, honour — and his brand of integrity has been badly damaged.

The big winner for the Republicans is also clear: Mitt Romney. Romney is the Republican governor of Massachusetts and has been able to stay largely out of the fray of this dirty, ugly campaign. He has quietly been building a national campaign based on the religious right. He is vociferously against embryonic stem cell research, abortion and acceptance of gay couples as equal citizens. Right now, the Republican race is between him, McCain and Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York.

For the Democrats, Hillary is still there: sane on the war, smart on the issues, carefully honing a centrist message. She has lots of money — but not much enthusiasm. Some say she may not even run, preferring to become Senate majority leader. And she sees, as we all do, another light on the horizon.

That light is Barack Obama, a 45-year-old first-term senator from Illinois. He is the son of Barack Hussein Obama of Nyangoma-Kogelo, Kenya, and Ann Dunham of Wichita, Kansas. They met while his father was in Hawaii on a foreign student visa. In the middle of this election season, Obama’s manifesto, The Audacity of Hope, has been No1 for weeks. Its title tells you why. He was just on the cover of Time magazine. And he just pointedly said he has “thought about the possibility” of running for president in 2008.

Earlier this year he gave a superb speech on how faith and politics can intersect while keeping their distance — the central issue in American politics. He’s a centrist and a brilliant speaker who electrified the Democratic convention in 2004. If America is yearning for a cultural and racial healer, Obama looks like one.

But this election is not a presidential one. That race is still a long way off. What’s really on the ballot is the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s conduct of it. The result on Tuesday could therefore change a huge amount — or not much at all.

The awful truth is: whoever wins will be unable to alter the fundamental dynamic in Iraq. The project for a peaceful, democratic future in that country is dead. On Friday two core neoconservatives, Richard Perle and Ken Adelman, acted as coroners. Adelman told Vanity Fair that “the idea of a tough foreign policy on behalf of morality, the idea of using our power for moral good in the world”, is dead. Both define neoconservatism. When they have abandoned it, like Monty Python’s dead parrot it is truly pining for the fjords.

So what happens? We found out last week what the options are. One of the most astonishing things came out of the mouth of an American president in my lifetime. He declared that Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney had both done “fantastic jobs”, and that both would stay in office till his last day in 2009. No, I’m not making that up. The man responsible for what has happened in Iraq has, in Bush’s view, done a “fantastic job”. That’s how deep the denial goes. But then Bush also said that the man tasked with responding to Hurricane Katrina had done a “heckuva job”.

If the Republicans somehow manage to defy expectations and retain control of House and Senate, this dangerous denial will be empowered and enhanced. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld will be all the more convinced that they are right and all the more determined to pursue their manic dream of remaking the world. They will be like Nixon, the last to realise that their own fantasy has ended — but, unlike Nixon, with a Congress of their own party they will be able to drag the entire country with them. If that happens, the centre in America will not hold. And we will be facing severe strife within America itself — as well as a potential disaster in the Middle East.

That’s one option. But if the Democrats win and win handily, then the political tectonic plates will shift. Bush — for all his bravado — may be forced to fire Rumsfeld and face reality.

A huge and bloody battle for the soul of American conservatism will then take place. The neocons and religious fundamentalists, libertarians and fiscal conservatives, foreign policy realists and domestic policy pragmatists: all of these Republican factions will be scrambling for advantage, argument and candidates. And that will be a good thing. My own profound hope is for a resounding victory for the Democrats. That’s not because I agree with them on every issue. Far from it. But I can recognise incompetence, fanaticism and recklessness when I see them; and right now, all three have seized the White House and the Republican leadership. It will be good for the Republicans to lose this election. They need to lose as badly as the Tories needed to lose in 1974 and 1997. As they spend and spend and borrow and borrow and throw the American military against a brick wall like a broken toy, they have forgotten even the most basic principles of conservatism: competence, accountability, limited government, and prudence in foreign policy.

America’s founding fathers constructed a system so that if the president would not change a disastrous course, another branch of government could force him. A Democratic Congress would simply put a brake on the Bush express train. It could force the president to start vetoing some spending bills; it could encourage him to appoint moderate justices to the Supreme Court; it could demand an end to torture and a restoration of habeas corpus; it could compel him to be finally accountable for failure in Iraq; and it could investigate some of the many abuses of power that have accumulated during one-party rule.

Whether it does any of these things will be up to the Democratic leadership in both or either House. But that is a good thing too. Especially for the war. The Democrats need to be forced to take responsibility for the war on Islamist terror, to make the hard choices it demands. With a Democratic victory, we may — finally — have a serious debate about how to do triage in the ravaged country of Iraq, how to grapple with America’s dangerously growing debt, and how to defang the growing menace of Iran. Bush may even have to go back to some of his father’s wise men again, hire a new defence secretary and listen to a military leadership that wants a decent outcome in Iraq.

We may get, in other words, sane conservatism back again. And it may require a big Democratic victory to do it. Given the level of denial in the White House, this is not really an election. It’s more like an intervention. To save Republicanism from Bush, to save Bush from himself, and to save the world from impending crisis.

But this is a democracy. Only the voters will decide. And we must wait.

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It is claimed that Karl Rove is confident that his last minute $30m drive will help retain Republican control of Congress. The polls definitely seem to be showing a movement towards the Republicans. Maybe his confidence is based on other factors. How much corruption do you think will take place during the voting and counting process?

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It is claimed that Karl Rove is confident that his last minute $30m drive will help retain Republican control of Congress. The polls definitely seem to be showing a movement towards the Republicans. Maybe his confidence is based on other factors. How much corruption do you think will take place during the voting and counting process?

We'll know tomorrow, won't we, John!

I'm deliberately avoiding most of the commentaries on the US elections until the result has been announced, but it'll be interesting to see whether the turkeys keep voting for Christmas!

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In the absence of a decent tv channel I', watching CNN on digital tv keeping track of the coverage. The house will most likely be secure, Byrd has just secured his seat as expected. Virginia will be an interesting nugget. The senate in ohio is close, I'm trying to look for a few good independent blogs, but I'm not having an luck.

CNN's coverage is abysmal, flashy graphics, but no content.


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The Soviet Union was derided for having a one-party state, imprisonment without trial and imperial ambitions. However I must agree that the Democrat victors sounded like Republicans, I will not be holding my breath waiting for them to do something about Guantanamo or the war.

The theme of the night was "We must have a change of tack in Iraq" - not "withdraw the troops" just a change of tack, which Bush has already indicated is likely. And "we need a bipartisan love-in in Washington". If that is the case why vote for these jokers?

Still it is interesting to see there is a lot of commitment in politics over there, a poll worker in Kentucky tried to throttle a voter according to this morning's papers. We seldom get that level of excitement over here.

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