- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Can a political system invented by the best minds of the 18th century withstand the rigors of the 21st century? Next week’s congressional elections will provide a partial answer as well as produce a few nightmarish scenarios.

Most Americans hope that elections will cleanse the poisonous atmosphere infecting politics and placing the nation at grave risk. Unfortunately, another reality persists. No matter which party wins on Tuesday, until American politics makes a radical shift, one certain loser is assured — we the people.

This pessimism stems from a political system crippled by the worst excesses of partisanship, ideology and animosity and overwhelmed by an array of problems as numerous, complex and unyielding to solution as at any time in our history. Government is badly broken. And, worse, too many issues from immigration to Iraq and runaway health-care and retirement costs to restraining Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions have no obvious or viable solutions, irrespective of which party is in command. Ironically, while we worry about failed and failing states abroad, even with all of its power and wealth, Americans should have equal concern about what is happening at home with its government.

Republicans are in full retreat. Policies for Iraq, Iran, North Korea and the war on terror, no matter how favorably spun, lurch closer to disaster. Fiscal discipline has gone the way of legislative oversight of the White House and disappeared. Compounded by scandals over lobbying payoffs and pages, approval ratings of Congress have descended to the point of competing with society’s worst elements. Unsurprisingly, many Republicans have become endangered species.

Beyond national security, if Republicans retain control of Congress, they have been absolutely silent about what will be done to bring debts and deficits under control and to restore America’s evaporating reputation and influence abroad. Nor have Republicans stepped up to conducting meaningful legislative oversight of the executive. And, if Republicans win because of their base, will that not put the party in greater political debt to special interests and ideology, further trumping sound governance?

Despite GOP vulnerability, a Democratic sweep is light years from being a panacea. All but a few Democrats are united in running on an anti-Bush, anti-Iraq war platform. But strategies about what to do next in Iraq range from bad to worse. The Democrats can promise better. However, that plea is as empty as Republicans whose response is to stay the course.

Should Democrats capture one or both chambers, after 12 years of what Democrats believe was, at best, unfair and often outrageous treatment by House Republicans and an exceptionally arrogant White House, exercising the tyranny of the majority would seem irresistible. Fiery hearings and torrid investigations of the administration are inevitable especially given likely new committee chairmen. No matter how often House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calls for restraint, angry House Democrats will finally have the chance to confront the administration on issues such as the legality of “domestic spying” and the treatment of enemy combatants or ones demonstrating supreme incompetence and negligence, such as the responses to Iraqi reconstruction and Hurricane Katrina.

It is possible that some Democrats might like to even the score for what they consider the Republican’s trumped up impeachment of President Bill Clinton in 1999. Grounds for impeachment fall under the category of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Whether a president could be impeached, convicted and dismissed because of incompetence or unsatisfactory performance is surely debatable. Unfortunately for the nation, the administration and Republican Congress have provided an abundance of ammunition for the Democrats to use. And the conduct of Democrats meanwhile has been not without grievous errors too.

Should grounds for punitive action be found, even with a Republican Senate, presidential succession could become a real issue. For Democrats, Dick Cheney as president is even less acceptable than George Bush, raising the specter of a “double hanging.” And were Mr. Cheney sacrificed to save the president for whatever reason, choosing a successor is not a trip to the briar patch.

Should no vice president be in office, the speaker of the house is next in line. Minority Leader Pelosi could become Speaker Pelosi. But, to Republicans, President Pelosi is as unsatisfactory as President Cheney is to Democrats.

And as it took several weeks in 2000 to determine who won the presidency, there is also the remote possibility of legal challenges to contested local elections, calling into question which party controls the House.

Thomas Jefferson had the solution. In the Declaration of Independence, he wrote: “When government becomes destructive it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and institute new government.” But unless and until the American public finally loses patience with its elected officials, this November will likely show that the best minds of the 18th century may have met their match.

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