Voters Set Republicans Loose on the World

The war against Iraq is now a done deal. Casting ballots last night, the voters showed virtually no opposition to attacking Saddam Hussein, instead reinforcing the congressional approval for President Bush's military aims and sending yet another signal to the United Nations to move or get lost.

For politicians in both parties, the steady Republican gains clearly signaled the Democrats would not get revenge for Al Gore's loss in Florida two years ago. In his home state of Texas, the president was unassailable. Bush may have squeaked into office in 2000, but this election shows that people like him. It also showed that war can submerge domestic scandal, whether political or economic. The Clinton Dems liked to say, "It's the economy, stupid." Not when there's talk of war, it's not.

For their part, the Democrats, led by the Clinton-era centrists, turned their party into Bush lookalikes, heavy on jingoism and light on fiscal responsibility. Without the fluke return of New Jersey senator Frank Lautenberg, the Republican control of the Senate would be even more conclusive. This election may seem to indicate listless drift, but it reaffirms the conservative majority. In tone, it takes us back to the Eisenhower '50s.

On the home front, Republican control of the Senate goes a long way toward removing the Democratic rear-guard action against Bush's right-wing judicial appointees. Up to now, the Democrats have blocked these nominations. The one barrier to the administration's steady encroachment on civil rights has been a handful of federal district and appellate judges. Those jurists are about to get some mighty conservative company.

Reform of the federal courts has been the single most important goal of the right-wing Republicans since Ronald Reagan. During his presidency, Reagan and the New Right suffered a crushing defeat when conservative Robert Bork failed to win Senate approval for a Supreme Court position. But that defeat led only to a redoubling of the Republican resolve. Today the Supreme Court is safely in conservative hands. Some say that dominance allowed them to pick the current president. Now they'll extend that reach, making decisions large and small to steer democracy down the course of their choosing.

With a conservative congress, the right-wing administration has the green light to reorganize and rewrite constitutional safeguards of civil rights under the regimen of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Certain federal judges have blocked outright or dragged their feet on letting the administration go ahead with unfettered search and seizure, not to mention imprisonment without a hearing or even charges let alone trial. They've tried to force the administration to follow the rule of law in dealing with hundreds of 9-11 detainees. A Republican majority means that kind of safeguard will soon be history.

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