The More Things Change...

by Benjamin Borbely | 11/8/02 6:00am

So Election Day has come and gone at last. The Republicans managed to buck the trend and gain congressional seats in both the House and the Senate, both of which they now control. On our primarily Democratic campus, I have seen glum faces all day and not just because of the weather. To those of who think your pet causes and ideals have suffered greatly with the outcomes of the election, I would quote the old mafia saying: "Fuggedaboudit."

First, let us survey the damage. Republicans gained four seats in the House and two in the Senate, with a possible third still being decided in Louisiana. So what? I hear choruses of, "But what about committee heads? Supreme Court justice confirmation hearings? The war in Iraq?" Of course there will be some disagreeable legislation passed and people confirmed, but things will not change all that much for two reasons.

In the House, the Democrats still control virtually the same number of seats as they had before Tuesday. In the Senate, they still have the ability to filibuster anything they feel the American people don't support. Also, Senate committees have basically been run jointly since 2000, with ranking members of the minority party being given a lot of responsibility, something that won't change so fast given the still basic equality of the two parties.

Furthermore, Republicans are already looking ahead to the presidential elections of 2004 and so will steer clear of the most controversial legislation. We won't be seeing any avowed evangelists being nominated to the Supreme Court this term or any further attempts at drilling in Alaska. The Republicans know that most Americans don't agree with such views and that the Democrats could exploit right-wing legislation passed by a Republicans Congress for their own political purposes in 2004. Sadly, what has been will probably continue: both parties will most likely continue to resemble each other more and more in the views they hold and the type of legislation they pass. The good news for Democrats is that this time, they can give the Republicans a real chance to screw up. For the first time in more than a decade, they can honestly claim to have no power to stop them.

The above represents the worst-case scenario. But perhaps Democrats will take a different approach, one that presents more political risk but also more reward. For too long they have played the part of the very, very loyal opposition proclaiming that it is time for them to move back to the left and clearly differentiate their agenda from that of the Administration. The American people have been drifting to the right precisely because the left has provided a completely ineffective challenge to conservatives. But this may change sooner than is expected. Dick Gephardt is stepping down as House minority leader, leaving a liberal, Nancy Pelosi, or a middle of the road "New Democrat," Martin Frost, to take his place. If either of these two takes Gephardt's place, given the chance, they could radically shape the milieu of opposition.

Finally, let us look back on history and not cry too hard. This is not 1933; there will be no Reichstag fire. On Nov. 5, we were able to do what the majority of people in the world still cannot do: freely and secretly elect whomever we wanted. And this, in the end, is what differentiates us from those totalitarian regimes that have gotten so much press recently and what unites us as Americans. Above party politics, we all believe in the basic tenants of democracy and republicanism. And so, let us learn what lessons we can from Tuesday, but always remember Thomas Jefferson's sentiment after the election of 1800: "We are all democrats; we are all republicans."

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