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READING BETWEEN THE LINES
End of the liberal myths about 2004

By Lance Selfa | December 1, 2006 | Page 7

THE RESULTS of the 2006 midterm elections dealt a hard blow to the conventional political wisdom. More than anything, they should put a major dent in the notion that the U.S. is "Bush country," an irredeemably conservative place whose voters are more concerned about making sure gay people can't marry than about stopping the disaster in Iraq.

That's an idea that many liberals accepted in the wake of John Kerry's defeat in 2004. Some other liberal assumptions were found wanting, too. Consider the following predictions that became commonplace among activists in the liberal blogosphere:

-- Karl Rove will pull it out for the Republicans.

Karl Rove is a competent political operative. But he is no genius. In fact, his main election plan called for Bush and the GOP to "embrace the war" and taunt their Democratic opponents as being "soft on terror."

In other words, he urged Republican candidates to stake their re-elections on the single most unpopular position in U.S. politics today--not exactly the work of a genius. By October, most Republicans were distancing themselves from Bush's disaster in Iraq.

"Karl Rove is about as much a genius as George Bush is a talented leader," wrote Dave Lindorff on the CounterPunch web site. "The sinking ship of the Bush administration and the Republican Party is proving that. The way I see it, if you can be beaten by the current Democratic Party, you've got to be pretty pathetic!"

The short lesson is that no amount of bamboozlement and bluster will save politicians--or political operatives--when reality contradicts them. The liberals who thought that Rove's dirty tricks would convince enough people to keep the Republicans in power should have discovered that voters aren't as dumb as Rove--and many liberals--assume they are.

-- An "October surprise" would save the White House.

This one gets hauled out every election year, and it isn't a completely wrongheaded idea. The White House can take actions--from releasing millions in pork-barrel spending to diplomatic gestures--that give it and its supporters a last-minute boost.

But among blogger/activist liberals, the idea persisted that a sudden decisive action--like capturing Osama Bin Laden or bombing Iran--would change the course of the election. None of these things happened--nor could they happen, at least in the current state of disaster in the Middle East.

The failure in Iraq and growing crisis in Afghanistan would have made either of these "October surprises" extremely risky, as even the boneheaded Bush administration must have realized.

More importantly, the American establishment knows that a change of course in the Middle East is needed, and it concluded that a change of leadership in Washington was necessary to facilitate that change of course.

In case anyone doubted that significant sections of the ruling class wanted the Republicans to lose the midterm election, they should consider that the "October surprises" that did emerge--from the leaked Pentagon report that contradicted all the administration's propaganda about Iraq, to the scandal involving Rep. Mark Foley (a long-known story that emerged at the worst possible time for the GOP)--served to sink the Republicans, not save them.

This certainly doesn't mean, for instance, that Iran is safe from a U.S. attack. It just means that if such an attack takes place, it will be part of a retooled bipartisan strategy in the Middle East, not some cheap election-year stunt.

-- Voting machines would steal the election for the Republicans.

For many liberals, the Republicans' one ace-in-the-hole would be the fact that up to two-thirds of the midterm's votes would be tallied on electronic voting machines, open to hacking, manipulation and vote-stealing to favor the GOP.

Despite an obvious disaster in which machines failed to tally about 15,000 votes in one Florida congressional district, the vast right-wing vote-stealing conspiracy never emerged. At latest count, Democrats won 52 percent of the national vote for the House of Representatives and a plurality of 4.4 million votes more than the Republicans.

All of the bits of liberal conventional wisdom described above have one thing in common: they let the Democrats off the hook. For thousands of liberals, it was easier to believe that Diebold machines or Rove's manipulations stole the 2004 presidential election from John Kerry than to admit that Kerry was a terrible candidate.

As a result, one bonus of the Democrats' victory in the 2006 midterms is the fact that these excuses won't wash anymore. With Democrats running Congress and being forced to take positions on all of today's vital issues--from the war in Iraq to the crisis of affordable health care--they can't run from the consequences of their actions.

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