Whenever the pundits decry the nastiness of modern attack ads, I can comfort myself by recalling that political campaigns throughout history have always been foul. Read the Philadelphia newspapers from the late 1700s or scan the cartoons of Thomas Nast or Honore Daumier and tell me that the scurrilousness of the attacks, one side upon the other, is any more repellent now than it has been in 250 years.
Notwithstanding that historical perspective, I approach this election cycle more disheartened than I recall ever being. There is a recklessness to the political rhetoric that is in keeping with the growing disregard for truth that has been a hallmark of the current administration. The recent Kerry gaffe is a good example -- no one who took the time to read the transcript and the context of Kerry's remark could have misunderstood his intent -- but that didn't stop the White House from trumpeting the claim that Kerry was insulting the troops. He foolishly handed them a club, and they had no compunctions about using it.
I don't mean to imply that Democrats are blameless in this mess -- a quick scan of campaigns across the country should quickly disabuse anyone of that. What the Republican strategy of the last six years has made clear is how completely one can get away with a reckless disregard for the truth in political advertising -- and as that has become clear, politicians of all stripes have been eager to embrace the strategy and avoid what they see as the primary mistake of the Kerry presidential run, in failing to quickly, and head-on, confront the swift boat veterans.
It turns out that when you lie about your opponent, the only people who are outraged at you are the partisans who weren't going to vote for you anyway. The lies will help to energize your own base (whether or not they perceive them to be lies) and they may help to sway some of the undecided voters who are trying to weave their way unsteadily through the rhetorical muck. There really isn't any down side.
My president's administration has been singularly inept (he hasn't even been any good at managing the things that I agree with him on -- immigration policy being one), and nothing that happens today is going to change that since he has made it clear that, while he is no longer "staying the course," (indeed, he has never taken that approach!) he is still surrounded by people who are doing a damned fine job and he'll stick with them as they make some minor tactical adjustments.
If the Democrats do take control of one or both houses of congress, this won't change. The incoming politicians will not be much different from the politicians they are replacing, or from their Democratic colleagues who are already there -- quite willing to pander to the fears and emotions of the electorate, all too willing to support legislation that further unbalances the separation of powers for fear of being called soft on terrorism, and generally quite lacking in the sort of visionary leadership that we are so desperately in need of.
The reputation of the United States is in tatters and its standing in the world may never have been lower. Our ability to influence world events in a positive direction is practically nonexistent, and the notion that we provide a shining example of democracy to the rest of the world is widely considered to be a tasteless joke. We have ceded to the presidency a degree of independent power that the constitution was explicitly intended to prevent, and no future president, of any party, is ever going to be willing to give that back. The current makeup of the Supreme Court insures that the theory of the unitary executive, and all that the Bush administration has drawn from that, will be firmly upheld when those challenges finally get that far.
This fundamental restructuring of the presidency, which has been a goal of its architects for nearly twenty years, will be the primary legacy of this administration. Changing the party that controls Congress is going to do nothing to roll it back.