Winning and almost winning

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(Host) Commentator David Moats reflects on what it means to win, and come close to winning.

(Moats) I was playing squash the other day with my son, and since he is a far better athlete than I ever was, I wasn’t surprised he beat me six games of seven. But all the games were close. You could say we were evenly matched – almost.

So it was with the elections last week. The Democrats came close to winning a whole slate of races that would have given them control of the Senate. But they lost them, one after another, by close margins, in places like Missouri and Minnesota and Georgia, and now the balance has shifted to the Republicans.

In Vermont it was another story – as usual. Jim Douglas became the first Republican since Dick Snelling to be elected governor of Vermont. Except for the seven months Snelling served before his death in 1991, Democrats have been in charge since 1985, when Madeleine Kunin took office.

But there was no Republican sweep. Democrats who were afraid of losing the state Senate actually picked up three seats, and now they hold a commanding majority. They also came close to taking the House. If Walt Freed, the Republican speaker, is to hold onto his post, he’ll have to win over disaffected Democrats, Progressives or independents.

This year’s election was a kind of backlash against the backlash. A number of legislators who were swept into office two years ago because of the controversy over civil unions were swept back out again this year. So Vermont is in for two years with a moderate Republican governor and a Legislature tilting Democratic.

That’s in contrast to the federal government, where a Republican sweep has put the legislative and executive branches in the hands of Republicans, few of whom could be considered moderates. The question now is whether President Bush will interpret the results as a mandate to pursue the conservative agenda he has been promoting for two years.

A second question is whether the American people, who gave Republicans power by the narrowest of margins, are ready for the extreme measures Bush appears to favor. Are the American people ready for judges who will make abortion illegal? Are they ready for policies that will open up pristine wilderness for drilling and mining? Are they ready for a return to massive budget deficits imposed so rich people can have a tax cut? Before September 11, there was little enthusiasm for much of this. Now Bush has the majority in both houses that could give him what he wants. He had better be careful what he wishes for.

Then there is the question of war in Iraq. He is our president, and our Congress has given him the power to do what he wants, and so he is on his own. It would be comforting, though, to know there were those who were willing to serve as a check on the arrogance of power. Maybe Saddam will defy the United Nations and us, and maybe we’ll end up fighting a war. But we can hope that Bush remembers he and his fellow Republicans won by the narrowest of margins, that there is almost a majority who remain deeply skeptical of his aims.

Just a few bad shots made the difference in those games of squash. But for now my son is undisputed champ of the family. And for now Bush is champion of the world. That’s a little scary.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.

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