Friday, November 17, 2006

Who really won this month's election? And what happens now?

The votes have been counted, the celebrations have been held and the Democrats have majorities in both the House and the Senate, but the question remains: who really won this month's election?

The right-wing pundits are doing their level best to spin the results so that it appears to be a conservative leaning vote. Although, on the face of it, that appears to be ridiculous, it leads me to ask again, who won last week's election? Whose Democratic party is it?

Maybe this question will be clearer if we look at right-wing godfather Richard Viguerie's answer to John Stewart (some months ago on The Daily Show) when asked what the right still wanted given that they controlled both Congress and the White House. Viguerie (who has since written a book Conservatives Betrayed: How George W. Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause.) said that they didn't control Congress and the White House, the Republicans did. And until they were actually in control they had to depend on the Republicans.

And that's what we have to understand. We don't control Congress, the Democrats do. So, whose Democratic party is it?

This enlightening colloquy occurred several days ago between Juan Gonzales and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and activist Alice Walker on Democracy Now.

"JUAN GONZALES: I'd like to ask you, as you well know, our nation has just gone through a national election, and there's been some kind of a change. And I'm wondering whether you have any hope that this will be a significant change in the direction of the country. Or is it going to be more of the changing of the guard, but no real substantive change?

"ALICE WALKER: I think it's a good beginning, because you can see that people are awake, and they're really awakening. But it is just a beginning, and the great fear is that people will fall back now and feel that they have actually accomplished something substantive, and that is not true. We have to really just understand that we're beginning, and I think if we know that, we can continue. And one of the things I wanted to mention was how important it is now, instead of rushing forward immediately, that we take some time to reflect on where we're actually going and what kind of society we want."

So there are really three forces at work with the potential to make history at this moment: the Democrats, the Republicans and, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, "we the people" -- the last having voted to put the Democrats in charge. But the Democrats are in charge, not us.

The Democrats and the Republicans are not really "political" parties. They are really collections of legislators who are primarily interested, like all of us, in keeping their jobs. And no matter what "we the people" voted for last week the Democrats will, if history teaches us anything, go back to business as usual as soon as possible. That's why we have to keep applying pressure to remind them why they won control of Congress and what we expect of them.

I suppose how we apply pressure depends on who "we" are. It can mean anything from writing letters, making phone calls and signing petitions on specific issues to massive street demonstrations, particularly to end the war - which may be the first order of business for the upcoming congressional session. But not sitting back and waiting for the results of our votes. Remember the old religious saw - "god helps those who help themselves" - applies in politics as well.

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