Whatever happens next Tuesday--and the polls collected by electoral-vote.com, linked below, suggest that there may well be a Democratic landslide in the House of truly extraordinary proportions--this campaign will have illustrated the increasing political illiteracy of the American people. The office of Speaker of the House is second in line to succeed the President and men like Thomas Brackett Reed, Uncle Joe Cannon, Sam Rayburn and Tip O'Neill were certainly national figures, but the Republican campaign against the bogeywoman Nancy Pelosi is failing because most of the American people can't identify either her or incumbent Dennis Hastert. Most Americans, the New York Times reports today, expect a Democratic Congress to reduce our involvement in Iraq, but they could only do that by refusing to fund it, and even though the war in Indochina came to an end that way in 1973 it seems most unlikely that a Democratic Congress would take such a step. They also expect a Democratic Congress to raise taxes, even though that would require a veto-proof majority that is not in the cards. Meanwhile, President Bush seems to be under the misapprehension that he could remove Dick Cheney at his pleasure--after all, he promised to keep him, along with Donald Rumsfeld, for the rest of his term yesterday--not realizing that the American people put Cheney in office (in 2004 at least), and that only they can remove him. (Cheney's election in 2000 was actually probably illegal, since by any rational measure he resided in Texas, not Wyoming, in that year, and the Constitution thereby debarred Texas's Presidential electors from voting for both him and Bush. In the midst of a larger controversy, however, no one noticed.)
Two elections from past history are similar to this one. In 1918, Woodrow Wilson, after appealing to the country for a Democratic victory to help him in the peace negotiations, lost both the House and the Senate, which the Democrats did not regain until 1932. In the other, in1930, the Republicans initially retained a bare majority in the House (although they lost it through deaths and special elections before 1932) and the Senate was tied. The Democrats gained 51 House seats in 1930 to come within one seat of controlling the chamber, and the Republican Party has never had that big a majority since. That in turn drives home a point that the media has largely ignored for the last six years: the Republicans' ideological rule and the transformations they have wrought at home and abroad have rested on a very narrow political margin. The results of this election will apparently be closer to those of 1918, and for the same reason--the repudiation of a President's foreign policy. But the Democrats will have to proclaim a truly new foreign policy to have any hope of riding the wave into the White House, as the Republicans did in 1920.
Essentially the electorate seems poised to send a simple message: they have given up on President Bush and most of his works. That is democracy in action. But the much harder task of actually getting the country back on the right track will challenge us all.