The Guardian 15 November, 2006
USA 2006 election:
Iraq War condemned
The Bush administration was dealt a crippling blow in last week’s US Congressional elections as the Republican Party lost its Majority in both the House and the Senate. While this defeat does not directly affect President Bush it leaves him and his appointees exposed to searing scrutiny over the war in Iraq.
Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-California), has become the first woman speaker of the House. She told a cheering victory celebration, "From sea to shining sea, the American people voted for change ... to take America in a new direction ... and nowhere did the American people make it clearer that we need a new direction than the war in Iraq. We cannot continue down this catastrophic path."
The Democrat Party has picked up a provisional count of 29 seats in the House — 28 from the Republicans — to give them a 34-seat majority. Six Republicans lost their seats in the Senate giving the 49 Democrats and two Democrat-aligned independents control.
However, despite continuing claims by US administrations that the United States is the "greatest democracy in the world" only 40% of Americans turned out to vote.
The Democrats have already announced a plan for their "first 100 hours of power", including approaching the war in Iraq differently, raising the minimum wage, implementing all of the 9/11 Commission recommendations, eliminating subsidies for oil companies, restricting lobbyists, repealing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, lowering interest rates on college loans, expanding stem-cell research, and negotiating Medicare prescription drug prices.
With a majority in both Houses of Congress the Democrats will now be in a position to set up investigative committees — with the power to subpoena witnesses and documents — into the Iraq War and the numerous corruption scandals surrounding it.
Nancy Pelosi’s elevation to the most powerful position in the US Congress (putting her second-in-line to the position of President) underlines the role of women in this election.
The women’s equality movement poured into South Dakota and, by a 10-point margin, defeated a ballot question that would have imposed a draconian abortion ban. Women outvoted men in many races across the country, expressing higher levels of revulsion against Bush and the Republican right and stronger opposition to the war.
The labour movement unleashed a powerful get-out-the-vote drive with volunteers canvassing and phone-banking in 32 battleground states. The AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations ) reported that volunteers reached 13.4 million union households across the nation.
The African American vote was the key to victory in many races. In Missouri, the increased Black vote was the margin of victory for the Democrats in the pivotal Senate seat.
Victories and defeats
Defeated were some of the most virulent ultra-rightists, including Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Amongst any number of issues which turned voters away was his recent book It Takes a Family in which he condemned public education and said that women who work were selfish.
In Arizona JD Hayworth, a member of the House and sponsor of virulently racist anti-immigrant legislation, was defeated.
Ballot questions played a major role in turning out voters. However, unlike the 2004 Presidential election where "anti gay marriage" ballots were used by conservatives to bring out voters for Bush, this year’s ballots brought out progressive voters to the polls.
There were six state-wide initiatives to raise the minimum wage and a ballot on stem cell research initiative in Missouri — all of them approved.
Also on the ballot in 164 cities and towns across the nation were ballot measures calling for an immediate end to the Iraq war. Nearly all were overwhelmingly approved.
However, a number of reactionary ballot questions were also approved, including several more state bans on gay marriage, an "English-only" measure in Arizona, and one crippling affirmative action in Michigan.
Vermont: Bernie Sanders as the independent Senator-elect for Vermont. In a country where the term "liberal" is used as a slur by Republicans to discredit Democrats who favour public education and health, Sanders stands as a veritable beacon of hope for progressive Americans as a self-described "Socialist".
Sanders began his life as a political activist as an anti-Vietnam War campaigner, and ran for the Senate on the issue in the 1972 election scoring just 2% of the vote. His popularity has grown exponentially since that time, winning first the post of mayor of Burlington, then taking a seat in the House of Congress — once even defeating a candidate endorsed by both major parties.
Sanders is renowned for drawing attention to big issues. While a member of the House he transported his constituents over the Canadian border to buy cheaper medication as an indictment of US drug companies.
He continues to lead campaigns in support of peace, universal healthcare and pension, and against "unfettered free trade".
Leading up to the elections candidates are often issued with "report cards" from a number of organisations gauging that candidate’s stance on a particular issue. Sanders’ report card from the AFL-CIO gave him a "100% life-time rating" on supporting workers’ rights. In contrast the National Rifle Association awarded him a C-minus.
In this year’s election the Democrats endorsed Sanders, who went on to win 65.5% of the vote against his Republican challenger’s 32.4%.
Rhode Island: The Senate seat for Rhode Island has switched hands from Republican to Democrat control. However, this may not be as clear-cut as it first seems: defeated incumbent Lincoln Chafee is one of the most progressive members in the Senate, earning the ire of his fellow Party members as a RINO — Republican In Name Only.
Chafee’s voting record suggests as much: he was the only Republican to vote against the Iraq War; he voted against Bush’s tax cuts for millionaires and instead increasing the highest tax rate; he opposed Bush’s nomination of the reactionary Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court; and is pro-choice on abortion, in favour of legislation for gay marriage and opposed to the death penalty.
After the defeat, Chafee indicated he would most likely leave the Republican Party.
Florida: In the race for Senate, Katherine Harris was thumped by her Democratic opponent scoring only 38% of the vote. Ms Harris gained infamy as being the Florida Secretary of State who stopped the vote count in the 2000 Presidential election, handing the Whitehouse to George W Bush.
However, the credentials of Democratic challenger, incumbent Bill Nelson, are little better. As Senator, Nelson voted with the Republicans in September 2006 to suspend habeas corpus provisions for anyone deemed by the Executive Branch an "unlawful combatant", barring them from challenging their detentions in court. Nelson’s vote also gave a retroactive, nine-year immunity to US officials who authorised, ordered, or committed acts of torture and abuse, permitting the use of statements obtained through torture to be used in military tribunals.
*Acknowledgement to Tim Webb and the People’s Weekly World,