Political analysts, consultants, and “scientists,” envious of the success of economists in turning the study of wealth creation into a scientific discipline and a lucrative profession, are always searching for rules and laws to explain and discover certain regular and logical structures in human efforts involved in winning, preserving, and expanding power.  Elections provide a wonderful opportunity for the members of this “profession” or “industry” to win fame, fortune, and, yes, power.  Consultants dispense advice to candidates; pollsters “measure” public opinion; academics think-tank about the recent debate between the candidates; journalists cover the horse race; and pundits produce sound bites for 24/7 cable-television news.

In addition to the hundreds of seminars, studies, articles, and books that result from each election campaign, there is the occasional theoretical model to be “discovered” by the clever political scientist or witty pundit.  Couched in statistics and scientific mumbo-jumbo, the model then gives birth to the inevitable “rule” that tends to be recycled to death and transformed eventually into conventional wisdom or even a political axiom.  For example: If it rains in southeast California on Election Day, you can expect that a majority of short white men between the ages of 27 and 38 who live in Upstate New York will vote for Republican candidates.

Those who “do politics” for a living tend to be concerned that they might be perceived by the general public as “elitists,” out of touch with the legendary Common Man.  Hence academics, journalists, and pundits prefer to attach a certain folksy flavor to their pretentious chatter and, if possible, to recover some witticism attributed to a famous statesman, an entertaining author, or an infamous party boss and treat it as a political “rule of the thumb.”  For example: “This election is about who’s going to be the next president of the United States” (Dan Quayle).  Or, “Win or lose, we go shopping after the election” (Imelda Marcos).  And then there is “All politics is local.”

So it was not surprising that, on the eve of the recent midterm election, Republican pundits taking part in the infamous shouting matches on MSNBC’s Hardball were highlighting their political IQs as well as advancing their agenda, as they kept reminding Chris Matthews that his former boss, the late speaker of the house Tip O’Neill, once said that all politics is local.  Insisting repeatedly that congressional elections tend to be decided on local issues and local personalities, the Republican party-liners predicted that the results of the vote on November 7 were going to prove that old rule of thumb made up by the consummate politician from Massachusetts.

As we know by now, that was not the way it turned out.  Instead, the American people made their decision based on what they felt about Washington, their country, and “the world”—which, in the Age of the American Empire, was coming to be known as “their world,” which they were supposed to “engage” and try to tame and remake.  And contrary to the Republican pundits’ chatter on Hardball, nationalizing and globalizing the election campaign was very much part of the strategy of the political professionals in the White House and the Republican Party.

As Richard Viguerie—a leading political “professional,” longtime conservative, and the godfather of political direct mail—pointed out in an interview published on rawstory.com a few days before the election, “All politics is local” was a Democratic saying.  Viguerie explained: “Democrats like elections to be local.  Democrats are a deliverer of services.  They pave the roads, they make sure that your social security checks arrive on time.  Not so Republicans.”  Republicans never win national elections unless the country is focused on a national agenda, argued Viguerie.  Ronald Reagan’s victory at the polls in 1980 happened because “those elections were nationalized, people were focused on a national election.”  In “1994, the country was focused on . . . Hillary care, the competence of Bill Clinton, a social agenda, gay rights, a tax increase where no Republican voted for it and that was a nationalized election.”  And the Republicans also nationalized the 2002 election quite successfully.  “Originally they were opposed to homeland security legislation, and then they flipped and came out for it,” Viguerie said.  His advice to the Republicans was to continue advancing their original game plan—that is, to nationalize the elections in 2006 by focusing on national security and America’s place in the world.

Thanks to these efforts by Republicans, 2006 may be recalled as America’s third globalized election.  After all, if the neoconservative ideologues have succeeded in persuading President George W. Bush and his aides that striving for U.S. global hegemony—and, in particular, for dominance in the broader Middle East—is a core U.S. national interest, the strategy of Bush’s top political aide, Karl “Boy Genius” Rove, was to exploit the neoconservative policies as a way of winning electoral victories, by creating in the minds of the American voters a nexus between Iraq (and Iran, Syria, and any other regime on the neocon “hit list”) and national defense.  Hence, since September 11, 2001, Bush has campaigned in one presidential contest (2004) and two congressional races (2002 and 2004) as a victorious “war President.”  Bush and his Republican allies in Congress chalked up one electoral victory after another by comparing the occupant of the White House to Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Bush was cast as a president supposedly leading America—and the Free World—in a global struggle against the terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden and (allegedly) Saddam Hussein.  Thrown in for good measure were the Axis of Evil countries (Iraq, Iran, North Korea) attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction to attack America and the West.

The rising nationalism that swept America after September 11 helped Mr. Bush and the Republican Party rally voters round the President, the flag, and Judeo-Christian civilization.  Bush was proclaimed to be standing up against Islamofascism; wimpy Europeans; and the weak, spineless, and godless Democrats.  The initial military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq helped to mobilize electoral support for Bush and the Republicans, especially in the Red States in the Midwest and the South, and even helped the party to advance into Democratic territories in the Blue States on the East and West Coasts.

When you nationalize and even try to globalize elections by making the case that the security of the American people is linked directly to the ability of the U.S. military to take over, occupy, and remake Iraq, the Middle East, and the world, a failure to achieve these ambitious goals ends up affecting your standing with voters.  Indeed, Bush has been unable to meet expectations that have been raised to the stratosphere—about finding WMDs in Iraq, uncovering ties between Osama and Saddam, establishing a stable democracy in Iraq, spreading freedom and democracy in the Middle East.  And if you try to stoke up militant nationalism as a way of winning an election, you should not be surprised when a perception of defeat on the battlefield in Iraq is translated into an electoral defeat at home.

To put it differently, when one sets himself up as the Global Emperor, as the Master of the Universe, he is then required to demonstrate that he can control those many distant provinces that his troops occupy.  If not, his subjects—well, at least those who have the right to vote—tend to express their anger at him during elections.  In this case, O’Neill’s maxim remains valid in the sense that what is happening now in Gaza City and Tel Aviv, Kabul and Karachi, Beirut and Damascus, Fallujah and Baghdad has ceased to be “foreign.”  These and many other exotic locales have all become as “local” as Damascus (Maryland), Alexandria (Virginia), Palestine (West Virginia), and Babylon (Ohio), as far as the American voter is concerned.

Indeed, the many exit and postelection polls have indicated that the main concern for the American voter was Iraq—or, more specifically, the mess the U.S. government had made there.  Only 10 percent of voters thought that the Iraq war was not an important factor in the election, while 35 percent considered it extremely important.  Polls also showed that people disapproved of the Iraq war, but the key change was that at least 55 percent of those who voted believed that Americans should start withdrawing some or all of our troops from Iraq.

That was the message the American voters were sending on Election Day.  Democrats, independents, and many, many Republicans wanted to know how and when the United States is going to get out of the mess in Mesopotamia.  “In contact mainly with fawning campaign contributors, Bush may not appreciate the steady decline in support of his war policy that I have seen deepening among Republicans in the past year,” wrote Robert Novak in early December.  “At the Republican grass roots, there is no question that Iraq lost the election.  State officials and party leaders who are no specialists on foreign policy tell me that the Republican Party simply cannot go into the 2008 campaign with troops still fighting in Iraq.”

From that perspective, the unqualified mandate that the Democrats should be taking from the election is that they need to press for an end of the war.  There is no other way to explain the victory of Democrat (and former Republican) James Webb against the popular Republican senator George Allen in Virginia than to conclude that Webb, the former Marine and secretary of the Navy under President Reagan whose son is serving in Iraq, had won by accentuating a consistent and very aggressive antiwar agenda against the pro-war Allen.  Any attempt by the Democratic leadership to water down the effect of Webb’s antiwar message—or, for that matter, that of Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania—will ensure their defeat in 2008.

At the same time, in order to regain control of Capitol Hill and maintain their hold over the White House, the Republicans need to adjust to the new political realities produced by the midterm election, as did Presidents Clinton and Reagan following the electoral defeats their respective parties suffered in midterm congressional races.  I doubt that Bush would be willing to follow suit by using the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Commission as political cover to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, negotiating with Iran, and launching a new initiative to revive the stalled Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.  This is, after all, the same President who told Bob Woodward (as quoted in Woodward’s State of Denial) that he would not withdraw from Iraq even if it got to the point where Laura and Barney (his wife and his dog) were the only ones left supporting him.  Since neither Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney is running for office in 2008, they will actually be more inclined to go “full-speed ahead” with their Iraq policy.  The war in Iraq “may not be popular with the public.  It doesn’t matter in the sense that we have to continue the mission and do what we think is right,” Cheney told ABC News.  “[A]nd that’s exactly what we’re doing.  We’re not running for office.  We’re doing what we think is right.”

For the Republicans who will be running for office in 2008, and for right-wing members of the political and intellectual classes who want to maintain their credibility outside of the Washington Times/FOXNews/AEI nexus, “doing right” would mean distancing themselves from Bush-Cheney and their remaining neocon groupies.  That could lead to a civil war, if not a political bloodbath in the Republican and conservative ranks, as Hamiltonian “realists” and Jacksonian nationalists join forces to lessen the influence of the Wilsonian crusaders on the foreign-policy debate to pursue an agenda that reflects core U.S. national interests.  The selection of Robert Gates, a veteran of the administrations of Reagan and George H.W. Bush, to replace Donald Rumsfeld in the Pentagon may be a sign of things to come.  Members of the Hamiltonian-Jacksonian coalition in the bureaucracy and on Capitol Hill, where Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John Warner of Virginia would probably play a leading role on foreign policy, may begin taking steps to disengage the United States from Iraq following recommendations from the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.  Even more critical will be an effort to prevent the Last Neocons Standing from fulfilling their dream of a U.S. war with Iran.

We can expect a similar foreign-policy debate to take place among the Democrats and liberal think tankers and pundits, pitting the pro-war Lieberman Democrats on Capitol Hill and their intellectual allies at the New Republic and the Brookings Institution against antiwar liberals such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and populists such as James Webb, with those in the middle, including presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton—who voted in favor of the resolution allowing Bush to attack Iraq—being forced to choose sides.  The Constitution does not grant Congress much power in governing foreign affairs, but the Democrats could still have a major impact on the direction our foreign policy takes.  In particular, they could form legislative alliances with like-minded lawmakers on the Republican side—say, the two senators from Virginia, Democrat Webb and Republican Warner, working with Gates in the Pentagon to fashion a realistic exit strategy for Iraq.  Would Democrat Lieberman and Republican John McCain try to collaborate in setting legislative and political obstacles in the way of those attempting to demolish the failed neoconservative strategy?

It is quite possible that these scenarios are nothing more than wishful thinking.  More likely, the war in Iraq will continue to escalate, the United States will come closer to a military confrontation with Iran, and Washington will not make serious efforts to end the bloodbath in the Holy Land.  As the number of American casualties in Iraq rise, and as defense spending skyrockets and U.S. budget and trade deficits reach historic highs, increasing the dependency of our economy on financial assistance from Asian central banks and driving the U.S. dollar to new lows, the last-ditch effort of Democratic and Republican leaders to cut the costs of maintaining the American Empire will probably fail.

The 2008 election could take place against the backdrop of the costly and painful overextension of American power in the Middle East and around the globe, as the distinction between “local” and “foreign” becomes meaningless.  Under these conditions, the message from the American voter could acquire a more angry nationalist and populist tone with regard to foreign policy, trade, and immigration.  And the winner in that election would be the party that promises to make politics local again.