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The November Elections and Their Aftermath
by Elizabeth Weaver Engel

Surprising that it's taken me this long to write something about the recent elections. Chalk it up to insanity at work and training for the Philadelphia marathon (but that's a story for another column...). By now everyone knows the story. (Former) Speaker Gingrich promises big gains in the House and the Senate and, despite frequently expressed public disgust with the whole Lewinsky/impeachment matter, OKs millions of dollars' worth of Republican attack ads in the final days of the campaign which are designed to motivate the party faithful.

And then, on Tuesday, November 3, it all backfires. No filibuster-proof, veto-proof Senate majority. Losses in the House which, while retaining the Republicans' control, leave them in a tenuous position at best. The House Republican party is now at the mercy of renegade Representatives, which they are not - indeed have never been - lacking. The Democrats, after being removed from power in 1994, have finally begun to understand the concept of party discipline and are now acting in an organized and concerted way, which enables them to maximize what power and influence they maintain. Meanwhile, the Republican party, increasingly captive to the far right in grassroots, local, state, and national leadership, can no longer count on all factions of the party to vote together; the social conservatives, the economic conservatives, the defense hawks, and the libertarians are often at odds, to the overall detriment of the party and of accomplishing anything at all (witness this last Congressional session).

What happened? First of all, as has often been the case over the past 4 years, Speaker Gingrich was a bit out of touch. This has happened before, most notably in the case of the infamous government shutdown of 1995. His last major blunder guaranteed re-election for a president who, less than a year before the 1996 elections, was heard pitifully claiming that he had not become irrelevant. This time, Gingrich cost his party their dreams of strengthening their legislative control and nearly cost them their House majority. Not surprisingly, several days after the election, he announced plans to step down as Speaker and to resign from the House. I suspect that, despite face-saving appearances, this was not his decision. You blow it this big, you have to go.

Additionally, one cannot discount the impeachment mess. Certainly a substantial portion of the American public - and increasingly, of the House Republicans - want the whole thing to go away. Allowing the Republicans to remain in power while shaving their majority down to the thinnest margin possible is probably the best way to bring this about.

Wouldn't it have been better to get the Democrats in there, and get the Republicans out? Actually, I think not. If the Democrats were left in control of impeachment hearings, I suspect they would actually be less likely to go away, for two reasons. First of all, much as has been the case with Janet Reno over the past several years, in an effort to appear fair to a member of their own party, the Democrats would, I suspect, have been more likely to drag this out. They wouldn't have been more likely to vote to impeach, but I think the trial itself would have been a much more involved process than it appears it is now likely to be. Secondly, many high ranking Democrats have expressed feelings of betrayal and a great deal of personal anger against the President that members of the other party would not experience. And I suspect they'd be looking for some payback. On the other hand, of course, with a large enough majority, I suspect the Republicans would have voted to impeach - and ultimately impeached - President Clinton whether or not the evidence warranted such a move. Too many Republicans have been gunning too hard to get him out of office for the past 6 years for them to be willing to let an "opportunity" like this slide.

Meanwhile, Clinton is sailing along. NPR reported this morning that his approval ratings are at 67%, and everybody loves Hillary these days (it's about time!). Starr's ratings are practically in the single digits. Despite more than a few large scale problems, Clinton has brokered peace in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. He's probably going to be in line for a Nobel Peace Prize next year. The economy is still cooking along, and the stock market seems to be in recovery from its recent steep, albeit brief, decline. We avoided war with Iraq. Crime is down, employment is up. Most Americans have a lot to be thankful for during this holiday season that they, rightly or wrongly, at least partially attribute to the guidance of the President. And I can't help but speculate that the recent revelations about Thomas Jefferson haven't hurt Clinton's case. (Side note: why the great shock that TJ fathered a child - or children - on one of his slaves? THE MAN OWNED SLAVES, FOR GOD'S SAKE! This is not the behavior of a paragon of virtue, no matter what the current climate of the day or what other good things he did during his lifetime.)

So I suspect that the impeachment proceedings will likely die quietly with a vote to censure. Yeah, OK, there may not be constitutional precedent for presidential censure. Then again, there's no precedent for the independent counsel law in the first place, and it occurs to me that the right to privacy has been violated - if not utterly trampled - by Starr in building his case. Hopefully, some good will come out of this in that when the independent counsel law comes up for review again in this next legislative session, it will be allowed to die the quiet death it has long deserved.

b i o
Elizabeth Weaver Engel, besides being a budding writer, is a stealth geek, a manager (but NOT the Pointy-Haired Boss) at a non-profit association, a distance runner, a "rabid" Lindy Hopper, and a connoisseur of fine B-grade movies. 

Currently a resident of Washington, DC, Elizabeth grew up outside of Philadelphia and holds a Master's degree in political theory from the University of Virginia.  She fell into working with computers by accident and has since been struggling to pull herself out.  Writing for Mindjack is one of the steps she's taking to do so.

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