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Now the Democrats are in. So what?

It's a serious question with less than obvious answers. While journalists and pundits across the spectrum are trumpeting the election as a damning referendum against Bush and the war in Iraq, visions of what the future holds are confused, nowhere more than on the Left.

Will the Iraq War come to a grinding halt under the Democrats' watch? Tom Hayden, founder of the influential 1960's anti-war group Students for a Democratic Society and former representative in the California state legislature, insists that "the Iraq War will not end. The administration will continue the conflict into the 2008 election year." Sociologist Immanuael Wallerstein predicts "that the United States will be forced to withdraw from Iraq before the presidential election in 2008." As if to summarize, In These Times senior editor, David Sirota, warns, "For the better part of 20 years, Democratic divisions have seethed under America’s political surface...The situation is ready to explode."

In contrast to the tempest of speculation about developments in the war, there seems to be widespread agreement that, as Slate's Jacob Weisberg puts it, "free trade has definitely left the building." Protectionism is the watchword here and once again we find a divided Left. In contrast to Weisberg's dire tone, the glee is palpable in the words of Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair at Counterpunch who have their own spin on the election results:

The voters want the US out of the Iraq and they want decent jobs. Who are the Democrats who will speak to these concerns? Not Hillary Clinton. Not Joe Biden. Not Barack Obama. Maybe John Edwards, if he listens to his wife. What triumphed on Tuesday was not the Rahm Emanuel platform but something far closer to what Ralph Nader spoke for in 2000 and 2004.

We may indeed see some tangible changes in domestic policy that are being overlooked in all the anti-war noise. Ron Pollack of Families USA, a liberal heathcare advocacy group, is excited that "some issues—such as expansion of children’s health care coverage and improvements to the Medicare Part D program—will receive a tremendous boost when the new Congress convenes in January." William Greider, writing in The Nation, foresees myriad positive changes coming from the new Congress, including raising the federal minimum wage, cutting subsidies to oil companies, lowering prescription drug prices, expanding funding for higher education, and reigning in predatory lending practices.

I, myself, am more ambivalent about things to come. Will the war come to an end soon? I doubt it. Will the new Congress follow through on allegations that President Bush illegally fabricated evidence and misled in the run-up to the Iraq War? Fat chance. Should they? Of course. As others are quick to point out, many of the new Dems in Congress espouse or lean toward social conservativism, providing a whiff of that intra-party explosion that Sirota warns about. I expect Bush's lofty goals to go nowhere and the Democrats lofty hopes to give way to cautious centrism as they eye the big election in 2008. In the end, I am sorry to say that I share this dismal, pessimistic feelings of Joshua Frank at Counterpunch:

Whether or not you're feeling good about last night's results, you can rest assured that the Empire is still in tact. Impeachment of this outlaw administration isn't going to fall down within the next two years...Deaths in Iraq will continue to mount and no exit strategy will play out in the coming months. Global warming will still not be addressed. Nor will our position on Israel, the war on drugs, free trade, or privatized health care. Basically things are still damn bleak despite the liberal take over of Washington.

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“Now the Democrats are in. So what?”