Voters turned out in record numbers for the midterm elections and, from all available data at press time, it looks like it was a great day for the Democrats and a very black day for President George W. Bush and his (formerly) Republican Congress. Here in Montana, estimates are that upward of 70 percent of registered voters made their way to the polls. Sad to say, many of them were met by a variety of problems as election officials wrestled with the high turnout, new same-day registration laws, and what can only be deemed incompetence by those charged with overseeing the most basic function of democracy—our votes. But in the end, delayed or not, when the votes came in the news for the Democrats and our nation was overwhelmingly good.
As we go to press, Jon Tester has just been declared the victor in his ugly battle with Conrad Burns for the U.S. Senate. The win in this hard-fought campaign, which consumed most of the political energy in the state, means a great deal more than just putting Conrad Burns out to a pasture, which is long overdue. And whatever the final outcome of the few Senate races likely to end in recounts, it’s at least clear that Bush’s rubber-stamp Congress is a thing of the past. And maybe, just maybe, the sickening culture of corruption that has so permeated Congress and the White House will be diminished as the far too cozy relationships between the K-Street lobby and their corporate lapdogs in Congress gets turned upside down.
If anything, election day turned out to be a referendum on the Bush presidency—and a damning referendum at that. Only last week, the puffed-up balloon of Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist, argued vociferously with media interviewers about how much more he knew about the upcoming elections than they did. In spite of nationwide polls showing a looming upset of the Republicans, both Bush and Rove blustered on about how wrong the polls were and how they would be seeing Republican majorities returned to both houses of Congress when all the chips were counted.
But they were wrong on a massive scale. Instead, the Democrats took full control of the House, picking up 28 seats for a commanding 228-196 majority. For the first time in U.S. history, a woman is set to become Speaker of the House as Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco prepares to take over the gavel from Dennis Hastert. With that position, of course, comes the ability to rearrange committees starting from the Chair on down. Here in Montana, Democrat Monica Lindeen put up a brave fight against incumbent Dennis Rehberg, but even in his win, Rehberg will be going back to D.C. not as a conquering hero, but as a member of the minority facing some well-deserved retribution for the years of insulting, in-your-face treatment Republican majorities dished out to their Democratic counterparts.
In some ways, this outcome for Bush and the Republicans was entirely foreseeable as the Iraq War dragged on, the terrible drain on the nation’s treasury continued, and the rhetoric of the self-titled “War President” wore thin. The scare tactics that carried Republicans to victory in the last election simply failed to deliver this time around. Perhaps, as the old tale goes, one can only cry “wolf” so many times before that cry falls on deaf ears. With nearly two-thirds of Americans saying they opposed the Iraq War, Bush put his fingers in his ears, his head in the sand, and continued to spew propaganda about how well the war is going. But in the end, the truth simply overwhelmed the White House spin.
What it means, of course, is that Americans have the opportunity to restore some much-needed checks and balances to our federal government. Perhaps now, given that Democratic leaders will have the power to subpoena Bush administration documents and officials, we can finally find out who colluded with Cheney to put together the disastrous energy bill of 2005 that was so laden with billions in oil company subsidies. Perhaps we’ll smoke out the truth about the massive fraud and corruption by White House-friendly war profiteers. Certainly we should see the veil of secrecy which has characterized this administration pulled back and the workings of our government once again exposed to the light of day. And perhaps, finally, we’ll begin to turn around the decline in personal freedoms and liberty that the Bush administration has forced down our throats under the guise of national security.
In the meantime, given the election-day screw-ups, Montanans might want to ask a few questions of their own. Instead of plastering his face on billboards all across Montana, perhaps Secretary of State Brad Johnson should have dumped that money into better training and preparation for the actual voting process. After all, he is the state’s chief election official, and this was the first statewide vote for which he has been directly responsible. But considering that Gallatin County voters were still casting ballots at midnight while Yellowstone County officials were counting votes by hand because they didn’t know they had to reset the machines after tallying absentee ballots, one would have to give our Secretary of State a less-than-favorable review for his efficacy.
Tallies aren’t final, but it looks like Gov. Schweitzer will have to deal with an evenly divided Legislature, at best, and not his hoped-for Democrat majorities. More on this next week, when the dust has finally settled.
For now, though, Montana progressives should be dancing in the streets. All the blood, sweat and tears they poured into defeating Conrad Burns has paid off. The Bush presidency will finally be brought to accountability for its disastrous decisions, and our future looks a lot brighter than it did last week.
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.