The president's party traditionally loses seats at midterm elections. This time around, tradition should be reinforced by the mounting woes that have befallen us under the Republicans' watch. A trillion-dollar surplus has turned into a trillion-dollar deficit within 18 months. The stock market has collapsed, and the economy is in recession.
An administration that prides itself on having a CEO and pro-corporate mentality has witnessed the largest corporate crime wave in memory. A year after 9/11, investigations have shown that our intelligence apparatus is woefully incapable of protecting us from terrorist attacks. The Bush administration's only response is to create an entirely new and even more bloated intelligence agency that, remarkably, will not have the most significant existing intelligence agencies in its portfolio.
Yet just weeks before the elections, we confront the real possibility that the Republican Party will recapture the Senate and extend its majority in the House. How is this possible?
We all know the answer: Iraq. The Bush administration, aided and abetted by the Democratic Party, has turned the election campaign into a nonstop discussion of Iraq. From left, right, and center, from Fox to CNN, Iraq has preempted all other issues. Increasingly, we are voting not on George Bush's policies but on Saddam Hussein's.
As Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican who once led his party's campaign arm in the Senate, recently told The New York Times, "I do believe the issue of terrorism and Iraq will be very much on the mind of voters going in to Election Day."
One Republican consultant put it this way: "The secret to the election now is to beat the clock. Every week, you can hear the ripping noise of another page of the calendar coming off the wall."
The Democratic Party gave President Bush a helping hand. Instead of telling him right away that it would not permit him to hijack the election campaign, it challenged the president to ask for congressional approval, which has given the issue even more extended attention.
Many on the left and the right are mesmerized by the possibility that we will actually do what Bush has threatened to do and unilaterally invade Iraq. The good news is that this fear has sparked a resurgence of a peace movement that can become an important force in the future.
Some, like Ron Dellums, think that the Iraq issue may have begun as an election ploy but has gotten out of hand, making war likely. Columnist Don Hazen uses the metaphor of a runaway train. I doubt it. This train has a definite schedule. It will be making stops a few days after November 5th.
I say this because I don't think the Bush administration is insane. They realize that unilateral action without U.N. approval would turn much of the world against the United States. It would unify Islamic factions that otherwise have nothing to unify them. If we succeed in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, Iraq could become dominated by its Islamic fundamentalist majority. We would legitimize as a matter of international law the right of one country to bomb and invade another so long as the other country possesses or might soon possess nuclear or biological weapons -- a prescription for mayhem on a worldwide scale.
No, after the election, we will stand down. The administration will argue, and most parties will agree, that without our saber-rattling, the United Nations would never have acted so decisively, and inspectors would not have been given free rein in Iraq. We will argue that we have actually strengthened the United Nations. Peace with honor.
And George W. Bush, besides laughing all the way to the polls, will have in hand a blank check from the Democratic Senate as well as the Republican House for using force against Saddam Hussein in the future. Which means if the president ever needs to again distract the country from debating the real problems that bedevil us, he can start rattling those sabers all over again.
David Morris is vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. This column first appeared on AlterNet.org.