A month before elections

This October promises to be a wild ride. It’s a month before elections and you can hear the volume being turned up on a whole array of issues.

Nationally, the focus is on congressional elections. Republicans have controlled the House and Senate, making life sweet for President Bush. When he’s wanted something, like the authority to go to war or to ignore treaties or laws, this Congress has generally given it to him. More than that, this Congress has turned a blind eye whenever it’s become apparent that this president has either mislead people or plain bungled things.

Everybody knows the litany of transgressions by now, starting with the administration’s ignoring of intelligence reports warning that terrorists were threatening to target the United States, to trumping up a war based on false pretenses, to the spending of billions and billions of dollars on Iraqi reconstruction efforts that no one seems able to account for.

And then, of course, there’s the fact we lost a major American city, New Orleans, and the better part of the Gulf Coast. Although they just played a football game in the Super Dome where, a year ago, thousands of people were barely hanging on, even the sportscasters felt compelled to say that the majority of New Orleans still looks like the storm just hit.

Once upon a time, when a Democrat named Bill Clinton was president, the Republican Congress was constantly rising up to investigate, probe and pry into Clinton’s moral turpitude. They spent years and millions of our dollars fruitlessly investigating a failed land deal called Whitewater that the Clintons supposedly were involved with during their time in Arkansas. Three separate inquiries found that the Clintons had not engaged in any wrongdoing.  

But Clinton was a Democrat. Not only that, he was popular and effective. The U.S. economy was booming under his leadership. So the Republicans in Congress dogged him. It’s been a different story under Bush. Not only have the Republicans failed to investigate the president, they have, not surprisingly, failed to investigate themselves. In a recent New Yorker article by David Remnick, Illinois Democrat and former Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel is asked why his former boss now seems to have such a short fuse. Emanuel points to a report in the Chicago Tribune revealing that Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert began his career in Congress with a net worth of less than $300,000, but now has assets of more than $6 million. It seems he owns land near a highway project he helped push through Congress. “The speaker came in with $300,000 and now has $6 million in real estate and no one asks a question,” Emmanuel tells Remnick. “Your question is ‘Why is Clinton so angry?’ My question is ‘Why are you so stupid?’”  

The point here is that if the Democrats should manage to recapture either the House of Representatives or the Senate, the lid will be torn off a particularly odiferous can of worms. Questions that have been piling up for the past six years — like how it came to be that our Environmental Protection Agency was put in the hands of people from industries that were known polluters, or why our supposed reform of prescription drug pricing for seniors has wound up benefiting drug companies more than the people who need medicine, or how the disaster management agency, FEMA, went from being one of the government’s most efficient branches to one of its most inept — will start to be asked in public.

This has people, Republicans, especially, more than a little nervous. They don’t want to be on the receiving end of the kind of hazing they gave to Clinton. President Bush has more reasons than most to be tossing and turning. If last week is any indicator, the coming month promises to be particularly intense for him.

The week opened with a report in the New York Times based on a leaked intelligence assessment that said the war in Iraq was encouraging terrorists, not discouraging them, as Bush has insisted. Then came the news that the general responsible for submitting the Army’s budget for 2008, a Rumsfeld appointee, was, for the first time in history, refusing to deliver his request unless he was promised a $25 billion increase. The Army, his protest seemed to suggest, has been stretched too thin.

Meanwhile, in the blogosphere, former Sen. Gary Hart, long considered an expert in matters concerning National Security and the military, predicted that we will be at war with Iran before the polls open in November, that this will be Bush’s “October Surprise.”

And, for good measure, throughout all of this has been the dull drip, drip, drip of news telling us that the computerized voting machines that, by the way, were mandated after Bush took office (those hanging chads were so unsightly), are worse than unreliable — they’re easily hacked and prone to glitches that no one will ever be able to detect.  

Fortunately for us, time seems to be passing more quickly than ever. This means that while October’s volume may be deafening, the push and pull of countervailing forces may keep actual mischief to a minimum. We’ll see. In the meantime, know this: November will be here before we know it.