I watched the results of the US midterm elections unfold on CNN from a hotel in
Saigon Ho Chi Minh City1. As anyone familiar with my political leanings would be able to guess, I was quite pleased with the result.
One of the interesting graphics that flashed up on the screen occasionally was a chart from their exit-polls, listing the four issues that people felt influenced their vote. They were, from most to least important: corruption, the economy, terrorism and finally Iraq. Admittedly there was only three percentage points between first and fourth place, but it's still significant.
The Democrats could have made a strong play out of this. They could have come out of the election on the offensive, promising to re-open inquiries into the various scandals that have been effectively buried by the Bush administration over the last six years, starting with the allegations of massive, systemic corruption in the rebuilding of Iraq. They could easily have claimed a mandate to do so, and the exit-poll numbers suggest that they would ride through the predictable criticism of witch-hunts because it's what the public genuinely wanted.
As such, it still baffles me that a week later, the news is blanketed with Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, Iraq and Iraq, while the number one issue for voters has dropped out of some hole in the bottom of the news desk. To me, this says that either the Republicans are still incredibly good at controlling the media agenda, or that Democrat strategists are really dumb. Reality is probably somewhere between the two.
Why? Because now the big question is: "What are the Democrats going to do about Iraq?" And there's no good answer. Iraq is that sign up on the store shelf that says "You break it, you bought it", and any politician that is still remotely grounded in reality knows it. But now, deftly, it seems it's the Democrat's job to prove, in time for the next election, that they have just as little idea of how to get out cleanly as the Republicans.
1 The locals seemed quite undecided as to what it was called, which makes sense. If tomorrow they decided to rename Sydney the John Howard City of Glorious Revolution, it might take a few generations for the name to sink in.