The White House clearly realized the jig was up before the media did. The networks had yet to call a winner in the Senate races in Montana and Virginia when the president called Harry Reid, the man who will be leading the Senate, and invited him over to the White House.
No doubt about it; the minute you heard the Bushies start to talk earnestly about bipartisan cooperation, you knew they had lost. Really lost. This was perhaps the most important midterm election ever.
Never again will the swaggering, smirking sawdust cowboy be able to do whatever he wants, enabled by a rubber-stamp Congress. The weakest speaker of the House in history, Dennis Hastert, will soon shuffle offstage for the last time. Tom DeLay will be seen only on CourtTV. Retired Senate majority nonleader Bill Frist will run for president, but nobody will notice.
Had the Republicans kept control of Congress, you could have expected a massive escalation of the war. That's what David Gergen, presidential adviser to everyone since James Madison, said, and he should know.
Now it is a different world. There is going to be shared government again, and oversight, and people asking questions and getting answers. Oddly, it will be one where politicians from Michigan have the most clout they've had in Washington since Gerald Ford was voted out of the White House 30 years ago.
Carl Levin will be chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. U.S. Rep. John Dingell will run the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.
Detroit's John Conyers will be the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. No, he isn't going to push impeachment. That would be futile and a distraction from the real business at hand, which is ending the war.
Speaker of the House in-waiting Nancy Pelosi, soon to be the most powerful woman in American political history, got Conyers to can that talk during the campaign. But let's just say that the Judiciary Committee won't be shy about subpoenas if they have to be issued. A whole lot of shaking will be going on.
The word of the day is oversight. Last week, I talked at some length to both Carl Levin and John Dingell. They want people to know that the sheriff's deputies are coming back, that the cowboy-in-chief will soon be learning about law and order. They both said there will be proper oversight again. "We intend to fulfill our constitutional duty," Dingell said.
Back in the 1960s, Sen. William Fulbright chaired a committee that held hearings on the Vietnam War. During World War II, an unknown senator named Harry Truman chaired a special committee that looked into waste, fraud and corruption among military contracts. The Truman Committee saved us billions of dollars, and probably saved many thousands of soldiers' lives as well.
What would Levin think of similar investigations? He indicated that such things would be in the works. The American people may soon start learning the truth about how we were lied into this war, and it won't be pretty.
Hopefully, we'll also learn something about the system that has helped make Halliburton even richer, at the same time our soldiers haven't had body armor, unless Mom and Dad bought it and sent it to them. We've put up with this for nearly four years, with the lapdog media reprinting lie after lie.
We may learn a lot, but George W. Bush will be learning something too.
That would be that his war is effectively over.
Yes, it will take time too much time to gradually pull our troops out. But it's coming. We need to get out and go away. If we can set up a federation of sorts and get the United Nations or someone to help keep order and prevent a bloodbath, so much the better. But our day is done.
We have no strategy, other than driving up and down and being blown up by roadside bombs, and hoping Iraqi hearts and minds will change. They won't.
Two years ago, in his book Future Tense, Gwynne Dyer wrote these all-too-true words: "The United States needs to lose the war in Iraq as soon as possible. Even more urgently, the whole world needs the United States to lose the war in Iraq. What is at stake now is the way we run the world for the next generation or more, and really bad things will happen if we get it wrong."
We've been getting it wrong since the day we were dragged into invading a country that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
Now, it is time to go. Eighty million Americans just held a referendum on the war. They voted no, overwhelmingly. It won't happen fast enough, but the war will end. Gradually, the screws will be tightened. Bush will whine and lie and hint that the Democrats are unpatriotic, and lie and say he has a new strategy.
That is, unless he is smarter than he seems to be. In that case, he is, or shortly will be, negotiating behind the scenes in what they call "decent interval" mode. That's what happened when we pulled our troops out of Vietnam.
What we said then was that we had achieved a settlement that gave the South Vietnamese "a real chance at self-determination," or bullshit along those lines. What really happened was this: Henry Kissinger, then the super-powerful secretary of state, felt we needed a face-saving "decent interval" before the North Vietnamese swooped down and wiped out the South Vietnamese regime. Two years later, that's exactly what happened. We don't have two years now. Since the election, I have talked off the record with several glum right-wingers who are fans of the war on terror. "We'll be out of Iraq in two years, before the next election," one said. "We have to be."
Others said much the same thing. Well, George W. Bush has shown no signs he is willing to disengage, I pointed out. "He won't have any choice. He'll be forced to do it by the Republicans, if not the Democrats."
Otherwise, the man thought these two things would happen: Hillary Rodham Clinton would be elected president, and Democrats might emerge after that next election with something like 60 senators. What happened this year was hugely important because most of the incumbent senators running were Democrats.
Two years from now, 21 Republican senators are going to be up for reelection, against only a dozen Democrats. The numbers are almost as bad for the GOP in 2010. No matter what happens, the odds are strong that because of this election, Democrats will control the U.S. Senate for the next six years.
If Bush refuses to pull out of Iraq, it will be done for him. If the remaining members of his party in Congress support keeping the war going, they soon may be able to caucus in a coat closet somewhere.
And our lingering, enduring memory of the worst president in our nation's history may turn out to be of the only time he was ever seen reading a book. It was that moment in the classroom in Florida, on Sept. 11. There he sat, blank look on his face, clutching his copy of My Pet Goat.
Five years later, the nation got it. You just can't make this stuff up.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected].