“This was a close election. If you look at it race by race, it was close. The cumulative effect, however, was not too close. It was a thumping” — George W. Bush. November 7 2006
If you believed what the media, let alone anyone in the White House had to say, in the run up to the midterm elections, the Democrats weren’t in such great shape for reclaiming the Senate. The Republicans stood proud. Rove and Bush both told us that they were confident in maintaining control of the House. They were “staying the course” in Iraq, protecting our national security and defending our economy. Statistics seemed unreliable, and voting procedures more so. On November 6th, Greg Palast’s column in The Guardian (UK) was headlined, “How they stole the mid-term election,” detailing what he believes to be the 4.5 million votes that will have gone astray in the mid-terms. Palast ended his column, “So, what are you going to do about it? May I suggest you… steal back your vote. It’s true you can’t win with 51% of the vote anymore. So just get over it… If you can’t get 55% then you’re just a bunch of crybaby pussycats who don’t deserve to win back America.” So, did liberals “steal back the vote,” or did conservatives lose their base? How did the Democrats win the midterm elections?
Bush RabbitThere were major strides made in voter mobilization for the Democrats, in keeping with Palast’s pleas to “steal back the vote.” Organizations such as MoveOn.org struck just enough fear into the Republican party to have a television commercial produced and a “stop MoveOn” website created, dismissing MoveOn as having “a radical agenda of tax increases, expanding the welfare state, global governance and socialized government run healthcare.” Not to mention the $4 million or so the spent on their “call for change” campaign, urging voters to actually vote, and to vote against the Republicans.
Meanwhile, The New York Times claims that “the Republican campaign largely failed this time… to a certain extent because of forces beyond either party’s control: public dissatisfaction with the war and the unpopularity of Mr. Bush… The Republican failure, however, was also the result of a series of political miscalculations… many Republican incumbents failed to appreciate how vulnerable they were.”
So let’s not get carried away with ourselves just yet. Bush may have taken the Democrats control of the house as a “thumping,” but the left isn’t at that stage yet. These elections were relatively close. Voter fluctuation against the ruling party is fairly common six years into a presidency. In 1998, the GOP gained control of the House, holding 55 seats in Senate over the Democrats 45. The GOP managed to begin impeachment proceedings against Clinton. The Democrats have the majority in Senate by 2 seats–with Lieberman and Sanders, both Independent Senators, counted as Democrat. In the House of Representatives, Democrats have 33 seats over the GOP, and there are now 28 Democratic Governors, as opposed to 22 Republican. While the Democrats may have the majority, how effective are they going to be at inciting change?
What will the new House look like?
“In my first act of bipartisan outreach since the election, I shared with her the names of some Republican interior decorators who can help her pick out the new drapes in her new offices.” — President Bush on Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the House. Whitehouse Press conference November 7th, 2006
Nancy Pelosi has become the first female speaker of the house. Pelosi has been San Francisco’s Democratic Representative in Congress for the past 19 years. An attempted smear campaign by the Republicans against Pelosi in the run up to the elections failed, due in large part to her relative obscurity. According to a Newsweek poll, Pelosi’s approval ratings sit at 34%, a full 3 points ahead of Bush. Critics have described her as an extreme liberal, as has the media. Newsweek described her as “unabashedly liberal. Pelosi leads opposition to the Iraq war on the House floor. She’s pushed hard to roll back Bush’s tax cuts. She is an ardent defender of abortion rights.” She also has a handy reference guide: Iraq by Numbers.
Pelosi stated on weblog The Huffington Post that “the new Democratic Congress will live up to the highest ethical standard” and will prioritize bringing an end to the war in Iraq. She has also pledged to raise the minimum wage, create more affordable healthcare, and to cut interest rates on student loans in half. However, these ambitions rely on the backing of her own party, which currently appear to be far from united, particularly on the issue of war. Joe Lieberman (Ind.-Conn) now estranged from the Democrats but reelected, has long been a supporter of the War in Iraq, and Barak Obama (D-Ill) has, like others in his party, not ruled out the possibility of military action in Iran.
Pelosi is not only ‘first’ for the House in ’06. As she becomes the first female speaker of the House, a Democrat from Minneapolis, Keith Ellison, has become the first Muslim member of Congress. Having converted to Islam at the age of 19, Ellison believes that his political concerns are more focused on Iraq and universal health coverage than on Muslim rights. However, as The Economist reported in November, “more immigrants arrived in Minnesota in 2005 than in any of the past 25 years… Estimates of the number of Muslims in Minnesota rage from 40,000 to more than 100,000.” Given the community he represents, there is little doubt that he will become a spokesperson for his Muslim community, and Islamic voters in general.
Local activist self-immolates in protest
Malachi Ritscher, a 52-year-old Chicago jazz musician and activist, killed himself during the morning rush hour of Friday November 3rd. He stood next to the “Flame of the Millennium” sculpture by the Ohio exit of the Kennedy Expressway, covered himself with gasoline and set himself alight.
Police reportedly found his body next to a sign stating, “Thou shalt not kill,” and a video camera with which Ritscher had recorded the whole event.
A suicide note posted on his website gave some indication of the motives for his action. “My actions should be self-explanatory, and since in our self-obsessed culture words seldom match the deed, writing a mission statement would seem questionable. So judge me by my actions. Maybe some will be scared enough to wake from their walking dreamstate–am I therefore a martyr or terrorist? I would prefer to be thought of as a “spiritual warrior.” Our so-called leaders are the real terrorists in the world today, responsible for more deaths than Osama Bin Laden.”
Many tributes have been paid to Ritscher on blogs and message boards across the web. There have been messages of support, confirming Ritscher’s act as one of martyrdom– an act which has for the most part, gone unnoticed.
An editorial in the Sun-Times by Richard Roeper was, however, more critical of Ritscher’s actions “…with all great respect, if he thought setting himself on fire and ending his life in Chicago would change anyone’s mind about the war in Iraq, his last gesture on this planet was his saddest and most futile.”
The act of self-immolation is exceptionally rare and horrific; Ritscher’s death evokes the images of Buddhist monks who killed themselves in this manner during Vietnam. There is no question of the poignancy of his act. While some have raised questions regarding Ritscher’s mental state, and others, such as Roeper, have suggested that Ritscher’s death was futile, it is perhaps now in the hands of those who identify themselves with Ritscher’s beliefs to make his death known, to continue on with the activism he so effectively practiced, and to make his action worthwhile.
Malachi Ritscher’s complete suicide note can be found at http://www.savagesound.com/gallery99.htm