In the last three elections, George W. Bush has
claimed mandates for his policies even when there were questions about
the legitimacy of Republican victories. In Election 2000, Bush brushed
aside the fact that he lost the popular vote to Al Gore and pressed
ahead with a right-wing agenda.
The Republican congressional victories in Election
2002 convinced Bush that the voters were behind his plans for
“preemptive” wars. He called Election 2004 his “accountability moment,”
ratifying both his invasion of Iraq and his expansion of executive
So, there should be little illusion how Bush would
interpret a Republican upset victory on Nov. 7. It would be taken as a
public embrace of his authoritarian vision for America’s future and as
an endorsement of the neoconservative commitment to wage “World War III”
against Islamic militants around the world.
If the GOP keeps control of Congress, Bush would be
strongly tempted to double up on his bloody wager in Iraq with military
attacks on Iran and Syria. That expanded war would guarantee reprisals
by radicalized Muslims around the world and thus draw the United States
into a virtually endless conflict.
At home, the consequences of indefinite war would
be fatal, too, to the already wounded American democratic Republic. Bush
would translate a GOP victory into public acceptance of his de facto
elimination of key constitutional rights and his creation of an imperial
Though the major U.S. news outlets have paid scant
attention – and the Democrats have mostly ducked the issue – Bush
already has put in place the framework for a modern-day totalitarian
Operating under Bush’s assertion of “plenary” – or
unlimited – presidential authority, his administration has devised
a system of electronic eavesdropping that can pry into the private
lives of Americans; has set up
arrangements for detention camps; and has secured from Congress
the power to detain American citizens for allegedly aiding U.S.
Indeed, the new Military Commissions Act of 2006,
enacted on Oct. 17, establishes what amounts to a parallel legal system
under Bush’s control that permits the indefinite jailing of both
citizens and non-citizens who are deemed enemies of the state.
The law specifically strips non-U.S. citizens of
habeas corpus – the right to a fair trial – but American citizens
caught up in Bush’s legal system also would be denied the right to
challenge their incarceration, effectively eliminating their habeas
corpus rights, too.
Under the new law, Bush could put “any person” into
the military tribunal process for allegedly aiding America’s enemies and
the detainee would be barred from filing any motions “whatsoever” to the
So, while the New York Times has assured Americans
that they would still possess their habeas corpus rights, that
amounts to semantics since the law’s court-stripping provision means
that American citizens might technically possess their rights but
couldn’t exercise them.
Bush’s parallel legal system also sharply curtails
the rights of detainees when they are put on trial before a military
tribunal, permitting secret evidence and even coerced testimony to be
used against them. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Who
Is ‘Any Person’ in Tribunal Law.”]
Though few Americans understand the full scope of
the law’s provisions – or what “World War III” against many of the
world’s one billion Muslims would entail – Bush would surely interpret a
Republican congressional victory as a personal mandate to proceed in
If Republicans keep control of the House and
Senate, the chances of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the Military
Commissions Act also would be reduced. The court, which rebuffed Bush’s
earlier administrative version on a 5-4 vote, would weigh both the
congressional approval and the voters’ acquiescence in judging the law’s
While the 5-4 majority critical of the tribunals
might hold through a second round of judicial review, Election 2006
might influence the decision of some justices who are always more
political than they acknowledge.
Bush’s assertion of unfettered presidential powers
would stand even a better chance if one of the majority justices leaves
the bench due to age or illness. Continued Republican control of the
Senate probably would enable Bush to appoint a justice who would bend to
Bush’s theory of his authority.
Already Bush holds the upper hand if a vacancy
occurs among the five justices who struck down the earlier version of
the tribunals. Given the right-wing makeup of the U.S. Court of Appeals
in the District of Columbia, the new military commissions are likely to
pass muster there (as they did in their earlier form).
Thus, an absolute majority of the U.S. Supreme
Court would be needed for reversal, and the four pro-Bush justices –
John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas – would
be enough to save the law on a tie vote.
Considering everything that’s at stake, many
Democrats appear to be devoting way too much energy to their
anticipation of victory – and to an obsession with polls about which
seats are “in play” – rather than in sealing the deal with the voters.
“I’ve moved from optimistic to giddy,” Gordon R.
Fischer, a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, told the New
“I know a lot of people are in somersault land,”
said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., and chairman of the Democratic
Congressional Campaign Committee, although he didn’t count himself among
Democrats also seem to be hoping for victory by
default as Republicans sink under the weight of chaos in Iraq and
corruption scandals on Capitol Hill.
“I think we have the best chance to take over
simply because of the pileup of disasters,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter,
D-N.Y. [NYT, Oct. 22, 2006]
Granted, some Democrats have issued cautionary
warnings against over-confidence and many remember their premature
celebrations in 2004 when the early exit polls showed Sen. John Kerry
winning the White House. Opinion polls two weeks before an election mean
even less, especially given the GOP’s reputation for hardball election
But there is an ominous sense of déjà vu as
Democrats let Republicans raise alarms on the Right about the dangers of
a Democratic victory, while Democrats let up on their warnings to
liberals, independents and even constitutional conservatives about what
a Republican victory would foreshadow.
If the last two weeks of Campaign 2006 are
dominated by news of Democrats buying confetti and icing champagne –
rather than on Bush’s grim vision of endless war and elimination of
constitutional rights – chances for a Republican comeback could grow
Not only would Democrats and independents be less
inspired to go to the polls but the Republican base could be galvanized
by a desperate battle to protect President Bush. Already, right-wing
radio stations, Web sites and TV commentators are hammering home the
image of cocky Democrats high-fiving each other and making
behind-the-scenes plans for a triumphant transition of power.
Nothing motivates the American Right more than the
chance of forcing Democrats to choke on their confetti and to gag on
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at
secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine,
the Press & 'Project Truth.'