07 November 2006

Election day

Today is the day when normal people have a chance to get a word in edgeways and tell those who are in authority what we think of their job performance. Remember, we are the boss here, and it's time to do some hiring and firing.

Let's look at the Republicans' track record:

First, it's astonishing to see how far the current administration has abandoned a good chunk of the values traditionally considered "conservative". (Andrew Sullivan has been an invaluable source on this -- go to his site and keep scrolling.) Skyrocketing spending and deficits, a lax policy toward illegal aliens, a homosexual scandal in Congress which Republicans tried to minimize and perhaps even cover up -- with conservatives like these, who needs liberals?

(It is true that the House Republicans have stood firm on illegal immigration, and I would still prefer to see the Republicans keep the House and lose the Senate. But even if they lose both, public opinion on this issue is so overwhelmingly in favor of a tough line that I think the odds are good that mass pressure will be able to stop the amnesty and open-borders agenda.)

Second, the Republicans' increasing identification with the Christian Right's agenda makes them a threat to individual freedom. Their efforts to undermine Roe vs. Wade, their opposition to the physician-assisted-suicide law repeatedly approved by voters here in Oregon, their attacks on legal rights for homosexuals (even civil unions in many states, not just marriage), their foot-dragging on making new forms of contraception easily available, and the continued prosecution of the insane war on drug (user)s, all make it clear that what we are dealing with here is authoritarian nanny-statism in its ugliest form.

Third, their scientific illiteracy embarrasses the United States in front of the rest of the world and has led us to neglect matters which need urgent attention. Insistence that anthropogenic global warming either is not happening or is not an urgent problem, support for teaching fake "scientific theories" based on religious mythology in schools alongside evolution, and refusal to fund research which violates religious taboos (the stem-cell imbroglio) -- all these are positions completely unworthy of any modern nation, never mind the leading nation of the modern world.

Against all this, the Republicans basically have one argument -- the war. This administration is a success by one criterion, and it's a very weighty one: since September 11, our territory has not been attacked again.

But has the administration's overall performance in dealing with the Islamist threat really been impressive enough to merit being rewarded at the polls? Our success at preventing further attacks stems from a robust military response which showed the enemy that violence against the United States carries consequences which will come back and hit them in their own homelands, and from counterintelligence activity designed to abort further attacks before they could be launched. But I think almost any administration, Republican or Democrat, would have carried out such measures after September 11. Personally I would have favored a far tougher military response. And the country ultimately most responsible for the spread of the murderous militant-Islamist ideology, Saudi Arabia, remains untouched.

Furthermore, while the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were justified, it seems obvious that there was inadequate planning for the subsequent occupations and very little effort to understand the cultures we would be trying to democratize, with disastrous results. Yes, the majority of Iraqis have stepped up to the plate and supported democracy, and the violence there is not as widespread as the MSM would have us believe. But if, back at the beginning of 2003, you had asked any supporter of the Iraq invasion (including me) to describe what success there would look like, he certainly would not have described anything like the current situation there. Furthermore, the mishandling of the operation actually risks undermining the deterrent effect we have achieved so far. If we eventually conclude that the democratization of Iraq cannot succeed, and that we have no choice but to withdraw and abandon the country because the situation is hopeless, then the jihadists will certainly claim victory -- a much worse result, from our viewpoint, than if we had not invaded Iraq in the first place.

And precisely because the Presidency is not in play in this election, we have a chance to send a message without any risk that the running of the war itself will be given over to those whom we are not sure will be up to the job. The Speaker of the House is not the Commander in Chief of the military.

A Democratic Senate would be able to block the appointment of any further Supreme Court judges who might undermine Roe vs. Wade -- a critical issue at this point. A strong Democratic showing is the best way to rebuke an increasingly arrogant administration which is threatening individual freedom in the name of a fundamentalist agenda. It might even force a re-think of our Iraq strategy, improving the odds of success there.

The risk that the Democrats will use control over one or both houses of Congress to launch some nutty Ken-Starr-like attack on President Bush, or to force the country into a French-style posture of appeasement toward the Islamists, simply doesn't seem very high. And we already know what the Republicans will do if they remain dominant in all the branches of the government. To me, it's an easy choice.

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