With violence escalating in the Mideast and the Iraq quagmire deepening day-by-day, security may once again be the issue on voters’ minds when they head into the polling place for the midterm elections in November.
But unlike 2002 and 2004, security may not play to the Republicans’ advantage. National sentiment has turned against the Iraq war and early polls indicate Americans are less-than-satisfied with the Bush Administration’s tepid response to the war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Yet Democrats hardly have the high ground. Most joined with Republicans to overwhelmingly back Israel. The leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, voted with many other Dems to authorize war in Iraq and has moderated her stances so much that the left-wing of the party is worried. And her husband went to Connecticut to campaign for pro-Iraq-war Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman.
The key issue in November may well be unease. Political analyst Charlie Cook writes:
Will national security issues again work to the advantage of the GOP this fall, or has that well run dry for the party? Although it would be hard to argue these days that Democrats’ credibility on national security issues has gone up — they can’t seem to agree on much — it is equally hard to say that the Republicans have the edge on this issue that they had as recently as two years ago.
Without 9/11 or the national security issue, who knows what would have happened in the 2002 and 2004 elections, but it’s a decent bet that Republicans would not want to risk replaying either election under different circumstances. National security had become their ace in the hole. But now they aren’t even holding face cards, let alone aces.
Every farmer knows that the crops need to be rotated from time to time, just as every car owner knows that tires need to be rotated periodically. Presidents, political parties, and governorships are much like crops and tires in that way. And now Republicans have to try to avoid being rotated out in this election and the next, despite a slowing economy and their disadvantage on a host of other issues.
For all the talk about Democrats needing to "be for something," a stronger case can be made that the Democrats should just stay out of the way and let events take their course. If Democrats prevail on November 7, their success won’t be due to any great idea they have or great message they are selling. It will be because they are not Republicans and because people voted against Republicans. The Republicans’ only hope of retaining control on both sides of Capitol Hill is to get across the message that "no matter how angry or disappointed you are in us, Democrats are far worse and would screw things up even more."
Pretty pathetic, isn’t it: Either one side wins because of what it isn’t, or the other side wins because it convinces voters that it is the lesser of two evils.
Cook is not alone in his cynicism. Polls show widespread voter dissatisfaction with both parties and the system in general.
Voters, Cook says, "see a little they like — and a lot they don’t — about each of the two major political parties and, for that matter, most of the parties’ leaders as well."
In ideal times, this would be the perfect scenario for a third party to emerge and capture both public attention and trust. But these are not perfect times and third parties have virtually no chance against the established political machines.
"Credible, qualified third-party or independent presidential candidates rarely emerge," Cook says. "And in the absence of great personal wealth or high name recognition at the outset of the campaign, the deck is thoroughly stacked against such contenders."
Still, unless things change dramatically in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, the midterms do not bode well for Republicans.
"Nearly five years after 9/11, the Republicans haven’t managed to make Americans feel safe," Cook says. "And it’s easy to suspect that this fall and again in 2008, the voters will be ready to try something different."