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How Democrats Might Blow It

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As Democrats go through their biennial rite of premature victory celebrations, they are inviting defeat again by obsessing on polls about how many congressional seats are "in play" rather than on explaining to the American people what a Republican victory on Nov. 7 would mean to the nation.

In the last three elections, George W. Bush has claimed mandates for his policies even when there were questions about the legitimacy of Republican victories. In Election 2000, Bush brushed aside the fact that he lost the popular vote to Al Gore and pressed ahead with a right-wing agenda.

The Republican congressional victories in Election 2002 convinced Bush that the voters were behind his plans for "preemptive" wars. He called Election 2004 his "accountability moment," ratifying both his invasion of Iraq and his expansion of executive powers.

So, there should be little illusion how Bush would interpret a Republican upset victory on Nov. 7. It would be taken as a public embrace of his authoritarian vision for America's future and as an endorsement of the neoconservative commitment to wage "World War III" against Islamic militants around the world.

If the GOP keeps control of Congress, Bush would be strongly tempted to double up on his bloody wager in Iraq with military attacks on Iran and Syria. That expanded war would guarantee reprisals by radicalized Muslims around the world and thus draw the United States into a virtually endless conflict.

At home, the consequences of indefinite war would be fatal, too, to the already wounded American democratic Republic. Bush would translate a GOP victory into public acceptance of his de facto elimination of key constitutional rights and his creation of an imperial presidency.

Though the major U.S. news outlets have paid scant attention - and the Democrats have mostly ducked the issue - Bush already has put in place the framework for a modern-day totalitarian state.

Operating under Bush's assertion of "plenary" - or unlimited - presidential authority, his administration has devised a system of electronic eavesdropping that can pry into the private lives of Americans; has set up arrangements for detention camps; and has secured from Congress the power to detain American citizens for allegedly aiding U.S. enemies.

Indeed, the new Military Commissions Act of 2006, enacted on Oct. 17, establishes what amounts to a parallel legal system under Bush's control that permits the indefinite jailing of both citizens and non-citizens who are deemed enemies of the state.

The law specifically strips non-U.S. citizens of habeas corpus - the right to a fair trial - but American citizens caught up in Bush's legal system also would be denied the right to challenge their incarceration, effectively eliminating their habeas corpus rights, too.

Under the new law, Bush could put "any person" into the military tribunal process for allegedly aiding America's enemies and the detainee would be barred from filing any motions "whatsoever" to the civilian courts.

So, while the New York Times has assured Americans that they would still possess their habeas corpus rights, that amounts to semantics since the law's court-stripping provision means that American citizens might technically possess their rights but couldn't exercise them.

Bush's parallel legal system also sharply curtails the rights of detainees when they are put on trial before a military tribunal, permitting secret evidence and even coerced testimony to be used against them. [For details, see's "Who Is 'Any Person' in Tribunal Law."]

Though few Americans understand the full scope of the law's provisions - or what "World War III" against many of the world's one billion Muslims would entail - Bush would surely interpret a Republican congressional victory as a personal mandate to proceed in those directions.

Court Prospects

If Republicans keep control of the House and Senate, the chances of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the Military Commissions Act also would be reduced. The court, which rebuffed Bush's earlier administrative version on a 5-4 vote, would weigh both the congressional approval and the voters' acquiescence in judging the law's legality.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at It's also available at

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