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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Cinglante claque pour George W. Bush

by Bruno Odent

A Major Slap in the Face for George W. Bush.

Translated Monday 13 November 2006, by Patrick Bolland

United States. The policies of the US President, especially his war in Iraq, have been strongly rejected by the electorate in the US midterm elections. The Democrats almost won a grand slam.

Washington, special correspondent

The verdict of the voters on George W. Bush’s policy is clear. There is a need to change direction, particularly in Iraq. This is the main lesson of these mid-term elections. Everywhere, Republican candidates registered spectacular setbacks, especially those candidates who were the most involved in supporting the war in Iraq and in the “neo-conservative revolution” led by the president’s entourage.

The Democrats have achieved an almost complete victory. They won in Congress (they gained 25 seats). They now control a majority of governors’ posts, while the Republicans previously held the majority. The only disappointment, if they have won the majority in the Senate, is that they only have a majority of one vote (gaining 6 for a one-seat majority). Since the scores are very tight in Montana and Virginia where the two Democrats, John Tester and James Webb are only very slightly ahead, the Republicans have asked for a recount. This could carry the suspense about the Senate for some days, possibly some weeks, according to some specialists. [Translator’s note: this article was published by l’Huma on the night of the elections: the one-seat majority in the Senate was soon confirmed.]

A strong rejection of the war

The dissatisfaction of the voters towards the policy of the President were evident from the exit polls. It became all the more clear once a large majority of voters declared their choice, not based on local issues but national policies.

The war in Iraq is the main subject of this enormous crisis of confidence in the administration, knowing that no day passes without the announcement of more dead soldiers. Taking into account the magnitude of the deployment in Iraq and of the necessary rotations implied by the occupation, nearly all families have a relative confronted with the immediate or potential danger of Iraq. The pretexts invoked by the executive branch to justify the war are more and more seen by public opinion for what they are: lies.

The exorbitant cost of the war, which gave rise to many debates during the campaign, has doubtless weighed heavily on the choice of the voters. More than 500 billion dollars have been swallowed up by armaments, according to official counts – the reality goes beyond a thousand billion dollars, contends the economist Joseph Stiglitz.

The feeling of having been conned by the President bears also on various other aspects of his policies. The “conservative revolution” traumatized a whole society. Didn’t this play excessively on the “security” issue, to the point of challenging fundamental freedoms? Didn’t it increase inequalities by reducing taxes for the wealthiest people, for corporations and for Wall Street, while at the same time increasing the insecurity of millions of wage-earning citizens, in the process provoking the anxiety of the middle class, who have started paying for the ultra-liberal measures, losing notably all or part of their social safety net, particularly medical insurance, which remains out of reach for more than 50 million citizens?

As evidence of the new sensitivity for social issues, there were ballots organized in six states at the same time as the election to vote on whether or not to increase the minimum wage (the constitutions of some States allow this to be decided by referendum). All six resulted in clear victory of the supporters of increased minimum salaries.

Enormous expectations from the electorate

All these attacks against “middle America” have contributed to the profound distrust that is reflected in the rejection expressed by the voters, which is also a call for change. Nancy Pelosi, ex-leader of the Democrat minority and future speaker of the House of Representatives was not wrong when she appeared late on Tuesday night announcing that the Congress would now have a new majority: “The electors have voted for change”, she exclaimed to massive applause, pointing out that the Democrats would move in a “new direction … We are ready to govern … and act in partnership with the administration”.

Popular expectations are enormous and concern first and foremost the most severe wound in the US armor: the one created by the war. The Democrats have promised a new approach, while remaining extremely vague on its content. A small group of them, associated with Jim McGovern, is calling for a rapid withdrawal of troop withdrawal, “a return to international legality”, with the UN taking over the whole Iraq question, the holding of an international conference, the payment of war damages by the United States. But the Democrat Party as a whole is soft-peddling the question.

The “center Democrats” are now in control.

Dominated by the « centrists » who fell behind the so-called “third option” that Bill Clinton had advocated in the past, the Democratic Party appears persuaded that the best way to counter the Republicans is not to challenge them on the issue of security or even on social questions such as gay marriage, abortion or the individual citizens’ right to carry arms. And it didn’t hesitate to promote the interests of young “conservative Democrats” who share a lot with the Republicans on social issues. Referring recently to the war in Iraq in a press conference on foreign policy, Hillary Clinton, who is very much part of this “center group” and is the current favorite to become the Democrat candidate in the 2008 presidential election, criticized “the Bush method” but, at the same time, accused the Iraqi authorities of being at the origin of the “loss of American credibility” on the ground. This is not so far from what the President is currently saying.

This indicates how much the administration and the President will be able, quite likely, despite the major slap in the face they have just received, to maintain the direction they have chosen. All the more so since the presidential system provides them with enormous prerogatives – even if they have lost Republican control of the Senate.


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