By Dr. Aslam Abdullah
12 years of one-party cntrol of the US House came to an end this Tuesday as Americans cast their ballots. Democrats now control the House, the majority of governorâ€™s mansions, and as of this writing are in the lead and will likely take control of the US Senate as well (both unfinished races have Democrats in the lead but by margins slimmer than a half-percentage point). The election sent a Muslim to the House for the first time in US history.
They set into motion the causation of the first female Speaker of the House. Moreover, they also defeated several corrupt and Islamophobic candidates.
This is the biggest defeat of George W. Bushâ€™s presidency. The outcome brought an end to the Republican Revolution that began in 1994 but lost its way as the party that came to Washington to cut government spending and clean up a corrupt institution ran into scandals of its own and found itself spending without control. Meanwhile, the vote increases the onus on Democrats to go beyond merely criticizing the President and show voters they have a constructive agenda of their own.
If the results were not a stinging referendum on the Bush presidency, they certainly represent a vote of no confidence on the war in Iraq, which has claimed more than 2000 American lives and left more than 20,000 soldiers injured almost four years after its beginning. It also suggested that Americans were unhappy with the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and the explosion of the deficit on the Republican watch.
Democrats took away governorsâ€™ mansions in Massachusetts, Ohio and New York and then rolled up a comfortable majority with wins in traditionally G.O.P. districts in Indiana, Kentucky, Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Meanwhile, Democrats had reason to be pleased, if not thrilled, by the outcome. Democrats were poised to make, at the very least, significant gains in the Senate, where they needed six seats to take control of the chamber.
Democratic candidates took seats from Republicans in Rhode Island, Ohio and Pennsylvania by midway through the evening. Missouri State Auditor Claire McCaskill defeated incumbent Sen. Jim Talent early Wednesday morning. But it would be several hours, if not several days, before the outcome of the contests was known in Montana and Virginia.
In both contests, however, the Democrats were ahead. State Senator Jon Tester was ahead, but just barely, of incumbent Republican Conrad Burns in Montana. And Democratic challenger Jim Webb clung to a thin lead over incumbent Sen. George Allen in Virginia
With changes in Washington, Bush has a chance to win by playing defense against a Democratic Congress.
Apart from Iraq, Bushâ€™s most lasting legacy, his impact on the federal judiciary is in jeopardy as a result of Tuesdayâ€™s outcome.
Bushâ€™s great successes â€” getting Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts on the high court â€” may now be impossible to repeat.
While voters in seven states enacted measures Tuesday to outlaw gay marriages, Tuesdayâ€™s outcome reduced the possibility of Bush appointing to the high court a staunch conservative whoâ€™d oppose deeming same-sex marriage a constitutional right. Bush simply may not have the votes anymore.
And it was largely Bushâ€™s choice on Iraq that led to the Republican electoral calamity.
Bushâ€™s effort to remake Iraq in the image and likeness of a Western democracy was always a risky gamble.
In electoral terms, the gamble seemed good in the 2002 elections when the GOP picked up eight seats in the House, but it went bust on Tuesday night.
In electing enough members to give the Democrats control of the House, and giving Democrats a net gain of at least three Senate seats the electorate seemed to be saying â€œre-making Iraq isnâ€™t what we signed on for back in 2002.â€
In Rhode Island, for example, Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee repeatedly reminded voters that he voted against the Iraq war resolution in 2002 â€” which is more than Sens. Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Reid himself could say.
Yet, Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse argued that re-electing Chafee would allow the GOP to keep its Senate majority and would empower Bush.
Nearly three out of four of the Rhode Island voters interviewed in the exit poll disapproved of the Iraq project, and Whitehouse won 65 percent of those voters and won the election.
The Democrats used a clever strategy: becoming the generic â€œanti-Iraq warâ€ party and not offering voters specific alternatives to Bushâ€™s Iraq venture.
Last Friday as Democratic House candidate Joe Sestak campaigned in Manoa, Pa., he was asked how soon the U.S. troops would be brought home from Iraq if there were a Democratic-controlled House.
â€œWell, the ultimate decision is made properly by the commander-in-chief, the president of the United States,â€ Sestak said. â€œThose like me who believe it should be done, it is at least by the end of next year.â€