Tuesday, October 31, 2006


As we enter the final week before the US election, I’m struck by the way the media has been picking up on Republican voters who are disenchanted with their own party. The implicit suggestion has been that all of this will benefit the Democrats.

Will it? A number of US states have referenda on the ballots against gay marriage. A reasonable person might ask, are there no more important issues facing the US than that? The people who will most ardently support these referenda are also most likely to vote Republican, no matter what. Primarily for that reason, it’s been suggested that these referenda are on ballots specifically to increase far right Republican voter turnout.

Maybe so, but the Christian right isn’t too happy with the Bush administration for their own reasons, which can be summed up as that it’s not right wing enough for them. Some commentators have suggested that these voters may not even bother to vote.

Read between the lines of these items and the theme for this election year emerges: No one has the slightest idea what’s going to happen. As always, it’ll come down to voter turnout, and the right is usually better at mobilising their base than either the centre or the left.

So, with the all the built-in advantages the Republicans have, if they retain control of Congress it won’t be because they won but because the Democrats lost. It shouldn’t be this way: The Republicans in Congress should be on the ropes, they should be ringing around to get quotes from movers to ship their stuff back home.

That the race is so uncertain so close to Election Day says a lot about the state of the Democratic Party. Apart from the fact that they’re not Republicans, what, exactly, are the Democrats offering US voters? What is their alternative vision for America? Do they even have one?

If I’m asking these questions, and can’t answer them, it’s certain that disaffected Republicans are, too. There are millions of Americans who don’t vote Democratic who are looking for a reason to do so. I just can’t see the Democrats providing sufficient reasons.

Let me be clear: I fervently hope that the Republicans lose in a massive landslide. They deserve it for failing to exercise any oversight whatsoever on the current administration. Whatever high crimes and misdemeanours this administration may have committed, the Republican Congress must accept some blame for failing to stop it.

Still, there is some hope. On the state and local levels, some Democratic candidates are running aggressive campaigns aimed squarely at the Republicans. With some luck, there will be enough of this sort to help the Democrats gain control of Congress. But this is really their last warning, and probably their last chance, if they want to regain the White House in 2008.

What I want is for the Democrats to stand up and present an alternative vision for America, one in which peculiar death-wish far-right Christianity isn’t imposed as public policy. One in which the Constitution, Bill of Rights and rule of law are respected, where our allies are treated as such, and not as servants to be ordered around. I want, in short, the America that existed before Bush & Co took power.

The Democrats have made some good noises about stopping the anti-gay hysteria of the Republicans, but that doesn’t mean they’ll actually make things any better. They talk about respecting the Constitution and Bill of Rights, so they may end torture and restore habeas corpus. They may also find a way out of Iraq. But I have no idea how they plan on doing any of these things. I’m just hoping they get the chance to show us.

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