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November 08, 2006

The Most Important Question

By far the most important question about yesterday's election results is this: will it stop Bush from attacking Iran before he leaves office?

Obviously I have no idea. But if I had to guess, I'd say the answer is yes.

I accept that in a world where politicians acted rationally, the elections shouldn't constrain Bush at all. Bush and Republicans would recognize yesterday wasn't necessarily a stunning repudiation of everything the administration stands for; all that happened since two years ago was a small percentage of people switched their vote. They'd also understand Democrats would do little to stop Bush from bombing Iran. In fact, a significant faction of the Democrats may soon start baying for war themselves, as part of their cunning plan to get to the right of Bush on national security.

But politics has almost nothing to do with the rational perception of reality. I suspect Republicans in Congress who still have jobs are genuinely stunned, and believe they've got to change things significantly to avoid suffering the fate of their defeated colleagues. As William Greider says in Who Will Tell the People:

In Congress, the power exerted by a relative handful of intruders radiates rather quickly through the entire membership as other politicians calculate the implications for themselves. In my observation, nothing captures the attention of senators and representatives more firmly than the shock of seeing four or five of their colleagues blindsided in an election—defeated by a popular issue no one had anticipated or by an assembly of citizens no one had taken seriously. Typically, regardless of party or political persuasion, the members try to adjust quickly to this new threat, if they can, so that they will not be the next target.

Thus, there will be a significant movement among Republicans to rein Bush in. Moreover, no matter how much Bush denies it, the same sense of uncertain footing will creep into his consciousness. The type of lunatics who become president tend to believe their election has demonstrated they have a mystical connection with The Will of The People. Anything that shakes this sense will have more of an effect on them than you'd expect.

So, if anything stops Bush, it probably won't be real resistance from the Democrats, but rather a loss of verve on his own side.

What do you think? I'm prepared to be argued out of this. But if I'm right and the election prevents an attack on Iran—or has merely lowered the chances of one—or even just lowered the chances of our NUKING Iran—it had a big significance we shouldn't sneer at. (Take that, Dennis and J. Alva!)

As one old Democratic party hack once put it: general the political spectrum is pretty narrow in the United States, and elections are mostly bought, as the population knows.

But despite the limited differences both domestically and internationally, there are differences. And in this system of immense power, small differences can translate into large outcomes.

Posted at November 8, 2006 12:41 PM | TrackBack

But he is not 'The Will of The People' kinda guy, he's a 'God's Will' kinda guy. He might take this as a Temptation; you know: worship the devil in return for the kingdom.

No, he won't give in to Temptation, he is not that kinda guy.

Posted by: abb1 at November 8, 2006 01:51 PM

I dunno, remember, he's the "decider". He decided to
wreck Texas, and he did. He decided to wreck the U.S., and the crazed dems brought him up a bit short, but he damned nearly got away with it. He long ago decided he didn't give didlysquat about world opinion, and with a miffed and glowering and wounded Rove sulking in a corner, I wouldn't bet the farm. Think I'll re-read "The Road."

Posted by: Jesus B. Ochoa at November 8, 2006 01:54 PM

Oh dear -- speared by Chomsky's sword!

Well, we'll see how the Dems stack up for the rest of Bush's term. But tell me, Tiny Dancer, what difference do the Dems bring to the Gazans, presently being slaughtered in a cage? And as for Iraq . . .

Posted by: Dennis Perrin at November 8, 2006 02:01 PM

It won't do much for the Palestinians. Most Democrats vie with Republicans for the position of being top Israel-booster and Palestinian-basher.

It may not do much for the Iraqis either.

But Jon was talking about Iran. If he's right, there's one country at least we won't get the chance to bomb or destroy or turn into Lebanon on steroids, or whatever.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at November 8, 2006 03:07 PM

The choice of Robert Gates as Rumsfeld's replacement is a good sign.

Posted by: Guest at November 8, 2006 03:51 PM

Lordy, lordy, don't no one remember Gates at the Central American gates on the other side of the canal?

Posted by: Jesus B. Ochoa at November 8, 2006 04:18 PM

At least his role in the Iran contra scandal means that he is probably ready to talk to (rather than bomb) Iran!

The clearest memory of my high school years was watching the iran contra hearings on TV - it was incredible. I especially remember Inouye castigating North for attacking people's patriotism. It's amazing how quickly the media forgets stuff, because to me the 80s are as clear as day. (Unfortunately.)

And though I am about as extreme as Dennis and J. Alva (yes I voted for Nader in 2000, but I was voting from a safe state - and I also voted for him in 1996) I can't help being happy today. Getting rid of the R majority in both houses is not a silver bullet by itself, but it is a very fine start in the right direction. And i do think these results will have a definite dampening effect on the pro-bombing-iran crazies.

Posted by: Anna in Portland (was Cairo) at November 8, 2006 05:31 PM


This is really more depressing than it looks.

Your entire argument is built on the idea that the American People aren't that pack of baying wolves that the world has been led to believe they are: a people too feisty and too fearsome to take shit from anybody. Just a flock of sheep of varying intelligence.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at November 8, 2006 07:53 PM

If the Republicans who managed to hold on to their seats start pressuring Bush to back off the crazy war stuff it might have the opposite effect. If one accepts the official version of Bush's bio, he sees himself as a man of destiny. He sacrificed a generation of Iraqis and wrote it off as a mere 'comma'. Which is more important to him -- the Republican party's recovering by 2008, or his messianic vision for the Middle East? Stay tuned.

Posted by: Lloyd at November 8, 2006 10:14 PM

will it stop Bush from attacking Iran before he leaves office?

I can see Bush attacking Iran after he leaves office. Frontal assault with a rifle and a loincloth, maybe.

Posted by: fluxisrad at November 8, 2006 10:38 PM

Anna, I'm happy too, albeit for reasons that are reprehensible, and where not reprehensible, petty.

The Bushist wingnuts will shift from paranoid triumphalist victimology to paranoid anguished victimology. While not an improvement, the suffering they inflict on themselves as they flail about in paroxysms of stupidity and self-importance is good for them. Maybe a few will do the right thing and kill themselves. I doubt it, but hope springs eternal!

Democrats now have a reason to ignore me. Those constipated accusations of being "objectively pro-wingnut" will be shelved for at least a year and a half.

Sadly, as the occupation drags on and the urge to evince a more muscular liberalism takes hold, they'll wind up to the right of the Bushists on domestic police laws, to fulfill their destiny as the Mommy Dearest party.

Posted by: J. Alva Scruggs at November 8, 2006 11:02 PM
What do you think? I'm prepared to be argued out of this. But if I'm right and the election prevents an attack on Iran—or has merely lowered the chances of one—or even just lowered the chances of our NUKING Iran—it had a big significance we shouldn't sneer at.

How would we know if one was prevented? The likelihood of one, however, is addressable. I don't think the US elite as an entity has worked up the nerve to go expediently nucular (again). I'm sure many would like to, fantasize about it and so forth, but it would give their factional enemies and domestic rivals too much political ammunition. People like to think Happy Thoughts in between bouts of their apocalyptic brown person panics. Nukes make people sad, with the possible exception of the warbloggers. Consumer relations people need a big media spectacular to make hellfire palatable, or a serious threat to the barcalounger lifestyle. The Big Fear gambit for popular consumption is getting played out. Only the Fox News cretins still get that old timey, comforting panic now.

That being said, I think there's a really good chance of the Beltway getting behind the Bomb in a big way if the neoliberal fantasy becomes obviously and imminently untenable. The American way of life is not negotiable. Nukes would articulate that very well, but people will want to feel good about it. Barack Obama could pull it off. It would be audacious and hopeful.

Posted by: J. Alva Scruggs at November 8, 2006 11:48 PM

My first reaction (and the one I immediately posted) was "cripes, not another Iran-Contra guy," but then I read that Gates is on James Baker's "how do we get out of Iraq" commission, so perhaps it's good news on that front. But if we get out of Iraq in one piece we'll have all those people with guns and bombs just sitting around doing nothing, and a committed Christian like Bush knows that idle hands are the devil's whatever.

So I'm thinking this is a good news/bad news scenario, with the bad news being that he'll attack Iran and the good news being that we won't lose most of our army in Iraq because they won't be there anymore.

Posted by: weldon berger at November 8, 2006 11:48 PM

Hey, it wasn't such a tiny percentage of people - there is the number of people voting, and then the prison of the oligarchic system we retain, sentimentally, from the eighteenth century to make sure that the frothing demos doesn't start knocking down the doors of the country club. Or at least Brad DeLong's numbers are pretty startling.

"One way to look at last night's election is that the implicit gerrymandering of the Senate and the in-the-tank-ness of the press corps are keeping people from realizing how big the blowout was. Consider this: it looks like 32,100 thousand Americans voted for Democratic Senatorial candidates, and only 24,524 thousand Americans voted for Republican Senatorial candidates. That's a 13.4% margin of Democratic victory."

These are his numbers:

Dem/ Rep:
21,428,784 18,665,605 02
37,645,909 38,164,089 04
32,100,000 24,524,000 06

I think that is pretty big.

Posted by: roger at November 9, 2006 01:06 AM

Certainly, there was never any realistic chance he would attack before the election, as I predicted. Fleet readiness is still in the toilet. No move before the spring, and one suspects the political dynamic will make it moot long before that.

Posted by: Alex at November 9, 2006 06:45 AM

J.Alva, Obama never was one to put his theories into practice. All he wants to do is to be civil, as in nice. That ain't a theory, and it's easy to be a wimp. In England, he would be a perfect Butler, an fully committed Jeeves type.

Posted by: Jesus B. Ochoa at November 9, 2006 12:44 PM

I'm torn between Democratic optimism and Dennisian realism. In Pennsylvania, where I live, I almost voted for Bob Casey over Rick Santorum, but I couldn't bring myself to push the button for a pro-lifer. Instead I wrote in Betty Friedan and threw my vote away.

Thanks a fuckin' lot, Dennis.

Posted by: Sully at November 9, 2006 02:19 PM