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ISSUE 120 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/17/2006

Midterms mandate change

By Andrea Horbinski
Opinion Editor

Friday, November 17, 2006

Last Wednesday, with brilliant sunny weather and temperatures of 73 degrees Fahrenheit, was unusual in Northfield to say the least, and in the rest of the country as well. After 14 years in the proverbial wilderness, after much ballyhooed brouhaha about a Republican “permanent majority,” the Democratic party managed to retake the House and (officially on Friday, when former Senator George Allen of Virginia conceded to Senator-elect James Webb) the Senate as well, breaking the one-party grip on all three branches of government for the first time since 2000.

Whatever your political stripes, these results are even more interesting than usual; after all, as several friends and I agreed, every election is interesting. Perhaps most cheeringly, the Democrats’ victory proves that America has not become a one-party state, which most historians and political scientists would agree is a political order dangerous to long-term democracy.

This election also engendered several notable firsts in U.S. politics. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California is in line to become the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House, placing her third in line to the presidency, the highest a woman has yet risen in the presidential succession. While Pelosi is notable for her leadership and party politicking more than for her gender, her elevation to the office of Speaker is nonetheless an important symbolic step forward for America and for American women.

The House will also see its first Muslim representative when the new Congress begins in January: Keith Ellison was elected from one of the Minneapolis districts – he is also Minnesota’s first black representative. While reducing anyone, including Ellison, to a statistic or a factoid is undesirable, his election provides a symbolic confirmation of the fact that the conflict between the “free world” and “Islamofascists” (whatever that means) is really a conflict over politics, not religion.

The election results lay at the root of several notable happenings on the other side of the aisle as well. Senator Mel Martinez of Florida will soon become the new head of the Republican National Committee, the first Latino to hold the position.

And it was a tossup on Wednesday, as I walked around campus (I have on occasion been accused of doing nothing but perambulating between buildings), whether the Democratic victory or the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was bigger news. The true, or truest, reason for Rumsfeld’s resignation may never be known, but the only thing to say is good riddance, and hopefully he will take his “new military” with him. Rumsfeld may have done more to harm America and its military than any other Secretary of Defense: after criminally weakening the armed services, his refusal to consider post-campaign plans for running Iraq ensured that not only could the military not adequately administer the country, but no one had any clear idea of what they were doing or how to do it anyway.

It would be a mistake to lay the blame for the Iraq quagmire entirely at Rumsfeld’s feet, of course; President Harry Truman had a sign reading “The buck stops here” on his desk in the Oval Office, and 50 years later that hasn’t changed. Still, the Democratic resurgency has seen a new conciliatory tone from President Bush and his various mouthpieces both in the administration and among allied governments regarding Iraq policy. Just this past Monday British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in his annual foreign policy speech, said that the “nature of the battle” in the Middle East had changed and recommended considering new discussions with Iran. Given that the U.S. intervention in Iraq has made Iran the region’s new powerbroker, this is a long overdue note of common sense.

Of course it was obvious long before the election to all but the most committed neo-cons and ideologues that the American strategy in Iraq was broken beyond repair, and hopefully the new Democratic majority will be able to work together with the executive branch to find a middle road between “staying the course” and an immediate or even expedited pullout, which Senate majority leader-elect Harry Reid of Nevada was advocating in remarks earlier this week, saying that the Iraqis must solve their own problems.

In the long term, yes, Iraq will have to be governed by Iraqis, but as much as going into Iraq in the first place was a mistake, leaving the Iraqis to butcher themselves would be an indelible stain on American credibility and even – this may sound quaint – honor. The winds of change have blown through Washington, and hopefully they will not stop here.

Opinions Editor Andrea Horbinski is a senior from Marlton, N.J. She majors in classics and in Asian studies with a concentration in Japan studies.

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