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2009

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The Legacy of George W. Bush: Democratic Dominance
Pham Binh

The Democratic Party's resounding victory in November put an end to Karl Rove's pipe dream of a permanent Republican majority. Rove not only failed to create a permanent majority, he may have inadvertently created a permanent Democratic majority, at least for the foreseeable future.

One thing that stands out about the last eight years is the premium the Bush administration put on ideology and loyalty, even at the expense of pragmatism and in defiance of common sense. The most egregious case of this was in Iraq. Those who were hired to work in the occupation authority were asked questions such as: Did you vote for Bush in 2000? Do you support the Bush's conduct in the war on terror? Do you support Roe v. Wade, the decision legalizing abortion in the U.S.? No wonder a 24 year old with no experience in finance was put in charge of reopening Iraq's stock exchange, and the daughter of a prominent neocon with little experience in accounting was tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget.

That same method led to the appoint of Michael Brown, head of FEMA during Katrina. Comedians made fun of Brown's tenure at the International Arabian Horse Association, but even that was removed from his bio after it was disputed.

The record of the Bush administration reads like an indictment: failure to capture or kill bin Laden, torture, domestic wiretapping, a unitary executive, Enron/Worldcom, huge tax cuts for the rich, Iraq WMD, Plamegate, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Katrina, firing U.S. attorneys, Harriet Miers, Walter Reed Medical Center, Iraq's civil war, the surge, an out-of-control budget deficit, the Wall Street meltdown, and the Great Recession. With a accomplishments like this, it's a wonder there's a Republican party left in this country.

Another dimension of Bush's hyper-partisan, hyper-ideological presidency was the way he waged campaigns and governed. He as though he had a mandate after he cheated his way to power in 2000; in 2004, he claimed he had a mandate after winning by a razor-thin margin (had 60,000 votes in Ohio gone the other way, Kerry would've been president.) This 50 percent plus 1 model of politics has an inherent flaw: only a small shift in the electorate is required to turn victory into defeat. That became apparent in Jim Webb's narrow victory in Virginia against Republican incumbent George Allen in 2006, which marked the first of a series of dramatic defeats for the GOP.

Obama's victory, by contrast, was substantial but not overwhelming. Obama received 10 million more votes than McCain, giving him 53 percent of the total vote, hardly a landslide. By contrast, FDR beat Hoover 57 to 40 percent in 1932. However, it was a landslide in terms of the electoral college.

Whether the Democratic Party can maintain its grip on power is the big question of the next few election cycles. Obama and his party were propelled to power to fix the economy, find a way out of Iraq, enact some kind of universal health care, and break with the hyper-partisanship which Bush in many ways perfected. A tall order to say the least.

The enthusiasm that energized the base of the Democratic party won't be there four years from now. That enthusiasm will disappear after the first black president sends tens of thousands of troops to die in Afghanistan/Pakistan, fails to deliver meaningful health care coverage for the 47 million uninsured, and gives big bucks to (non-union) corporations for "green" public works projects that won't deliver the number of jobs promised, fail to stimulate an inherently flawed capitalist system that will always put profits before people, and do nothing to put a dent in global warming.

That's what happened in 1994 after Clinton didn't deliver on his promise about universal health care. Democratic turnout slumped due to demoralization and Clinton put millions of kids into poverty by gutting welfare before the election to steal the GOP's thunder, and as a bonus, we got Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House.

That's what happens when you have a two party political monopoly, or a duopoly, if you prefer. The public gets mad at one party for mismanagement, incompetence, and screwing working people over, and they throw the bums out - by voting for other bums with different letters next to their names. The alternative to this seesaw of corruption and lies is in the apparent willingness to struggle that's beginning to emerge, whether it's workers in Chicago who occupied their plant, or among gay rights activists fighting Proposition 8 and speaking out against Rev. Warren.

The spirit of Rosa Parks isn't in the White House, it's on the streets, in the factories, campuses, and barracks of those who aren't willing to wait for a false messiah to betray their hopes and aspirations for change.