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Republican Referendum?

Why the GOP should get “clobbered” in the midterm elections.

Economist, Nov. 4 An editorial opines that “Republicans deserve to get clobbered next week.” The midterm elections will serve as a referendum on a “simultaneously incompetent and cavalier” administration. But Bush is only partly to blame; the 109th Congress has “failed in its duty of oversight” on issues from Iraq to corruption to pork-barrel spending. “The party of small government has become the party of the absurd $223m ‘bridge to nowhere’ in Alaska,” the editors lament. The prospect of a “permanent Republican majority” seems to be waning as the elections approach, according to a special report. Republican incompetence, rather than a lack of party principles, will be their undoing: “Iraq is the prime example of a principled policy, poorly executed.” A piece calls John Kerry “the gift that keeps giving—to the Republicans.” His recent comments on Iraq may hurt him more than other Dems, as the number of supporters for a Kerry presidential run in 2008 “just got a lot smaller.”— C.B.

New Republic, Nov. 13 A piece examines former Secretary of State James Baker’s new role as head of the Iraq Study Group, a secretive commission charged with devising a sustainable strategy for Iraq. Baker spent much of his career shuttling between diplomacy (he negotiated the 1985 Plaza Accord as treasury secretary) and grunt work (he helped manage the 2000 Florida recount). If the commission succeeds, it may represent a triumph of realist foreign policy over neoconservatism. But more importantly, it will secure the legacy of Baker the statesman over Baker the political hack. Meanwhile, his willingness to negotiate with Iran and Syria has raised eyebrows. A piece discusses the delicate dance of anti-abortion Democrats during election season. Bill Ritter, a candidate for governor of Colorado, is part of a new breed of Catholic Democrats “standing up to both their church and their party by supporting birth control and insisting on a lower abortion rate.”— C.B.

New York, Nov. 6 This week’s issue is devoted to money. An article contends that the American Dream will remain just that—a dream—for many Americans: “[T]here is less than a 2 percent chance that an American born to parents whose income is in the bottom 60 percent of all incomes will end up in the top 5 percent. Americans born to parents in the bottom 20 percent, meanwhile, have a 40 percent chance of staying at the bottom.” The dichotomy is illustrated by profiles of billionaires teetering atop gobs of cash and one in which a young father naps on a park bench between low-wage gigs. But here’s how you can make it in New York on just $20,000 a year and still have money left over to treat yourself to the occasional $80 rock-concert ticket: Have your parents kick in for your gym membership and the rent on your West Village apartment.—Z.K.

New York Times Magazine, Nov. 5
The cover piece examines former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi’s role in the lead-up to the Iraq war and its aftermath. Chalabi contends that America could have avoided disaster by handing over control to Iraqis immediately after the invasion. He dismisses allegations that he misled the Bush administration about WMD as an “urban myth.” The Iraqi National Congress, he claims, merely provided the defectors who described Saddam’s alleged nuclear program: “We did not vouch for any of their information.” But a recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report asserts that Chalabi’s group “directly influenced” key judgments that led the United States to invade. A piece traces the Oxford English Dictionary’s expansion alongside an even faster-expanding English language. The original 1928 edition charted a large but seemingly limited linguistic territory. The third edition, still decades away from completion, faces a “larger, wilder and more amorphous” language that “no longer seems finite.”—C.B.

The New Yorker, Nov. 6 A piece examines how a Machiavellian self-help book, Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, became the bible of the hip-hop community. The book’s lessons—“Crush your enemy totally.” “Always say less than necessary.” “Keep others in suspended terror.”—have inspired rappers, producers, and moguls. Busta Rhymes wants to make a spinoff film “about a family who lives by the forty-eight laws” and 50 Cent wants to create a similar guide for street hustlers. Rhymes thinks the book gave him a competitive advantage: “I felt like I had some Deep Sea scroll or some shit.” A piece examines the bitter politics surrounding the original Webster’s dictionary. In the post-revolutionary years, Noah Webster sought to catalog an “American English” distinct from its parent language. He irked Federalist critics by incorporating “common” words like rateability and lengthy, which they considered linguistic impurities. Webster stressed that the lexicographer “has no right to proscribe words; he is to present them as they are.”— C.B.

Weekly Standard, Nov. 6
An article on Virginia Senate candidate James Webb questions whether Democrats know what they’re in store for with the former Naval secretary and reformed Republican. Declaring him “a blood-and-soil conservative” and “the most sophisticated right-wing reactionary to run on a Democratic ticket since Grover Cleveland,” the piece describes a proud redneck and military man who opposed the war in Iraq because it is “another disastrous symptom of a country gone soft, the feckless gesture of a superpower brought low by wusses.” The cover story by Fred Barnes profiles Ohio, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut—“the most treacherous strip of the country for Republicans in the November 7 election.” The states are looking tenuous for Republicans not only because of the nationwide problems facing the GOP—the war in Iraq, immigration, the economy—but also because of local issues, like corruption in Ohio, poor candidate choices in Pennsylvania, and bad policy decisions in Indiana.— T.B.

Time and Newsweek, Nov. 6
The Newsweek cover piece compares the Iraq war now to the final days of the Korean War—“not a defeat … but certainly not a victory.” The best we can hope for now is a “gray ending” that avoids worst case scenarios, Fareed Zakaria argues. That doesn’t mean pulling out now: “The United States must redefine its mission, reduce and redeploy its forces and fashion a less intrusive involvement with Iraq, one that both Iraqis and Americans believe is productive and sustainable for the long term.” The first step is to scrap the illusion of a “united, secular, harmonious, freedom-loving” Iraq and recognize the sectarian reality. A piece in Time gives a harrowing account of an Iraqi man’s kidnapping. While he was out driving his cousin’s Chevy Lumina, kidnappers mistook him for a wealthier man. He became dismayed when the captors unmasked themselves. “If they were willing to show me their faces … they meant to kill me eventually.”

Midterms: A Time election preview calls the upcoming elections “a referendum on an isolated President.” In 2002, congressional candidates couldn’t get enough face time with President Bush. Not so in 2006. Iraq has become a liability, as Bush argues that “staying the course means ‘constantly changing tactics’ and that benchmarks (good) aren’t the same as timetables (bad).” His approval ratings remain low. But a Democratic majority might not make Bush a complete lame duck, especially on cross-aisle issues like immigration. Bush describes himself at campaign events as “Mr. Optimism.”   Newsweek identifies a set of “wedge issues” likely to affect certain midterm races. Twenty-nine percent of voters care most about Iraq, but Rush Limbaugh’s recent remarks against Michael J. Fox have pushed stem-cell research to the fore in Missouri. The New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling on equal rights for gay couples may galvanize voters within and beyond the Garden State. And in South Dakota, a ballot question gives voters the option of overturning a state-wide abortion ban.—C.B.

The Atlantic, November 2006 A sweeping profile of Hillary Rodham Clinton suggests her successful Senate career may inhibit her presidential prospects. The author describes Hillary’s rise as “a pattern of ambition, failure, study, and advancement.” Since her health-care bill died in 1993, Clinton has played a cautious game, taking “small steps” without much political risk. Despite her name recognition and ability to reach across the aisle, critics see her latest incarnation—no longer the “brashly confident leader of health-care reform”—as unlikely to defeat a popular Republican like John McCain. … A piece examines the emerging genre of dramatic video games. Two programmers spent five years designing Façade, an emotionally charged “interactive drama” that breaks from the dominant action-thriller mold. The game, which features two characters in a marital crisis, may remedy the “real lack of meaning” in video games. But there’s just one problem: “Façade is ingenious, but it is not fun.”— C.B.