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The Iraq war—Islamic militancy—economic nationalism—illegal immigration—these and other issues will play a decisive role in determining which party wields power in the 2006 midterm elections.
The thought of international issues playing such a prominent role in a U.S. election is startling. In a world increasingly characterized by the globalization of business and finance, not to mention terrorism and disease, it could be argued this is long overdue.
In every other instance—through two world wars, a Cold War and the victories, stalemates and defeats America experienced in lesser conflicts—foreign affairs have usually played only a supporting role in the midterm choices voters made.
But that may be about to end. The combination of unpopular, costly wars raging abroad, a suddenly skeptical economic outlook, a continuing sense of vulnerability to terrorism, plus grassroots movements regarding economic and immigration policy promise to make the 2006 midterm election the most outwardly oriented in U.S. history.
How will the American electorate digest the foreign issues that are now thrust to the forefront of the political stage? Will they seriously consider the implications of their vote?
Americans have a simple mentality when it comes to what they want in politics—the maximum benefits with the lowest cost possible. They want simplicity.
The American public also wants entertainment. People want their politics to fit into a 30-second commercial filled with one- or two-syllable words. They do not want to listen to “long-winded” debates about social reform. Many do not care to be educated on the matters on which they will vote.
Mudslinging attack ads spewing accusations, slander and insults are popular. Elections have become a popularity contest in which one candidate tries to prove his opponent is unqualified. The one who paints his opponent into a “politically incorrect” corner often wins the election, while the candidate who tries to be civil is usually defeated.
Recent public opinion polls have asked, “What is the most important issue facing the United States?” The war in Iraq and terrorism usually finish first, while the economy is close behind. Other issues that could influence a voter’s decision include immigration, health care and gasoline prices.
However, the election results will not have a profound impact on U.S. economic policy. If Republicans hold on to reduced majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, they will continue to have the upper hand on the budget, tax issues and regulatory matters.
If the Democrats manage to recapture even one house of Congress, the dynamics of the legislative process would change. Yet only a handful of Democratic initiatives would actually become law, since the White House will remain Republican-controlled, and the Bush administration will continue to set priorities that limit congressional action.
Only proposals that attract sizable Republican support in Congress will be able to overcome White House opposition.
Perhaps the thorniest topic in this election season is immigration policy. Congress failed miserably to deal with this emotionally-charged issue earlier this year, despite efforts by the Bush administration to craft a compromise. Opposition to illegal immigrants cuts across both main political parties and regional lines. Dedicated free market advocates (whether Republican or Democrat) prefer highly liberal approaches that permit large numbers of foreign workers.
Labor unions, normally left of center on most social issues and a pillar of the Democratic Party, are normally opposed to unrestricted immigration. But in ethnic communities where voters give large majorities to Democratic candidates, immigration is a highly personal matter, as it involves reuniting families.
If the Democrats win back the Congress, President Bush may throw the issue back at them, daring them to come up with a compromise solution that can gain strong bipartisan support while meeting the requirements he laid out in his own proposals. It would be a stern test of whether the Democrats can use Congressional power in a constructive way, rather than as mainly a prelude to the 2008 presidential campaign.
However, there is a larger dilemma facing American politics than just the political issues. The very lifeblood of democracy is under threat. Democracy is above all a process of citizen participation—and it is precisely that participation that has been weakened by the private financing of campaigns.
Here are some of the concerns:
• Voter turnout for elections has declined.
• Cynicism about politics and government has steadily grown, especially among young people.
• The cost of running for office continues to escalate. Fewer citizens can afford to run for office.
• The number of uncontested and non-competitive elections has increased.
• The number of young people who want to dedicate their lives to politics or government service has fallen.
• A 2004 Harris poll reported that 80% of Americans think “big companies and political action committees exercise too much power and influence on politicians.”
• Less than 1% of Americans contribute to the vast majority of private money going to fund campaigns.
A pro-democracy movement has emerged, committed to deepening the democratic process in the United States. Fundamental to this movement is the struggle to change the way election campaigns are financed, especially by ensuring public financing for serious candidates.
Private money in elections undermines the democratic political process. Proposals to change the way elections are financed are considered the first and most important step in resolving this situation. If private money continues to dominate American politics, the desires of the affluent will control legislation and the rest of the citizenry will be ignored.
If the campaign finance laws are changed, it is believed this will help create the true democracy that most want—one in which laws and policy reflect the will of the majority of the American people. Democracy Matters, a student activist organization, works under the motto “CHANGE ELECTIONS. CHANGE AMERICA.”
Control of Congress, the legislative branch of the U.S. Government, is at stake. Republicans have controlled both chambers since 1994, except for a brief time when Democrats held the Senate.
At first glance, the Republicans face a discouraging political landscape: on the defensive over corruption allegations and a former congressman’s sexually explicit emails, with President George W. Bush weaker in opinion polls.
While the general picture may favor the Democrats, much could change before the November elections and the local realities of many races—such as the advantage of incumbents—could give Republicans the upper hand.
In the House, the Republican Party holds 231 seats, while the Democrats hold 201, with one Democrat-leaning independent and two vacancies. In the Senate, Republicans hold 55 seats to the Democrats’ 44, with one Democrat-leaning independent.
With a misinformed electorate swayed by biased news coverage and slick campaign ads, can an objective democracy survive?
The majority of the country is polarized into two camps. Elected officials are often voted for on a partisan basis or for their personality rather than how they stand on issues that have direct bearing on the nation’s future. This does not ensure that the best qualified person is put into office. In some cases voters may not even know where their chosen candidate stands on the issues.
What do these present trends in Western democracies bode for the 21st century? Noted political author and U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork once said, “It is impossible to say what the outcome will be, but for the moment our trajectory continues downward.”
Mankind cannot see where its path leads. The God of the Bible reveals what the 21st century holds for the world. Many Bible prophecies have a dual meaning or fulfillment, and they apply to both the ancient Israelites and their modern descendants, primarily the inhabitants of the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain and New Zealand. God warns a sudden national punishment will befall these nations of the West for their disobedience (Isa. 29:5-6). He will use a foreign power to invade and conquer them (Isa. 10:5-6)—a sobering lesson to the whole world that God does intervene in the affairs of men, and that His laws, given for our good, must be obeyed (Ezek. 5:13-15).
Western democracies, secular educators and politicians have put man, science and human reasoning in place of Almighty God. Misguided scholars and theologians have undermined the authority of the Holy Scriptures. The secular press has saturated society with godless notions of unbridled personal freedom without responsibility—and all are suffering the consequences. But as God foretold long ago, “My people love to have it so” (Jer. 5:31).
Just as God punished ancient Israel, He will punish its modern descendants—unless they change how they live! That same God stands ready to relent His course of punishment on the Bible-promoting, yet not always Bible-believing, peoples of the West—if they repent of their disobedience to Him and turn to obey to Him (Jer. 18:7-8).
Politicians might paint visions of glowing sunrises, but Bible prophecy and astute observers suggest that, barring heartfelt national repentance, the sun is setting on liberty-loving (but no longer God-fearing) democracies.
But despite the specter of even darker days ahead, a new day will come—indeed, a new age! In this new world, the kingdom of God will be established on the earth. It will displace all the governments of men. Jesus Christ will rule all nations with justice, equity and lasting peace. Factions, political parties and bureaucratic gridlock will no longer exist. Under Christ’s lead will be leaders of proven character—tried, tested and true. May that day come soon!