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The Reporters: US mid-terms

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Richard Greene

Good Night, and Good Luck

Well, the mid-terms have come and gone, a wave crashing over the country, Congress, the White House and a bunch of very over-worked BBC journalists.

With the voting over, this blog is wrapping up too - but first, thanks are due to many.

I personally wouldn't have made it through the election season without, which works overtime to keep the politicians honest (more power to you!), and Larry J Sabato's Crystal Ball, whose predictions were uncannily accurate.

Thanks also to everyone who made this blog such a success - the 15 BBC journalists who cheerfully added it to their already huge list of responsibilities, and to you readers who contributed over 3,000 comments on everything from the economics of the oil business to where to get grits in London.

This blog may be closing up shop now, but keep your eyes peeled - Matt Frei resumes his Washington diary next week. Look for him on Wednesday.

Till then, good night, and good luck.

Richard Greene is the BBC News website's Washington reporter

Recent entries

Jamie Coomarasamy

Macaca moment

There was frustration with Iraq and concern about corruption - but you could argue that the real clincher for the Democrats, in the Senate at least, was the presence of mind of a young American of Indian descent.

allen_body_ap.jpgWhen Virginia’s (now outgoing) Republican Senator George Allen turned his gaze towards 20-year-old S R Siddarth - a “tracker”, filming the Allen campaign for his Democratic rival, Jim Webb - and referred to him as “macaca”, a type of monkey, it turned the campaign on its head.

The footage of the incident became a YouTube phenomenon and Senator Allen was accused - not for the first time - of casual racism.

He may have been able to shrug it off, were it not for his status as a potential presidential candidate and the awkward way he handled the later revelations of his Jewish heritage.

In a few short weeks, the senator went from being a shoo-in to getting booted out of office.

For their part, the Allen camp tried to portray their opponent Jim Webb as a sexist; using comments he’d made about women when he was in the Navy and passages from his novels as evidence. But it didn’t work.

A majority of Virginia’s women voters supported Jim Webb. And so - crucially, as it turned out - did a majority of independents. Six years ago, they’d largely swung towards George Allen.

What role the macaca moment played in all of this is hard to judge, but it was a reminder that race is still a politically volatile issue here. And - in the contest which finally deprived the Republicans of their Senate majority - it may have even been a decisive one.

Jamie Coomarasamy is a Washington correspondent for BBC News.

The Reporters

Mid-terms blog of blogs

Top liberal blogger the Daily Kos dissects the tensions within the Democratic camp over campaign strategy, but says anyone who does not think there is plenty of credit to go around is an idiot. Link

But the conservative MacsMind denies there was a Democratic wave on Tuesday, saying the party "perpetuated fraud" by running conservative Democrats in order to get "the uber left into power". Link

PolCenter cannot understand why President Bush waited until after the elections to get rid of Donald Rumsfeld. Link

And The FiveForty says John Bolton is another casualty of election night, with an outgoing senator stabbing at him from hell's heart. Link

Katty Kay

Rummy's firing squad

If Donald Rumsfeld had been "let go" a few months ago, would the Republicans be facing such a desolate political landscape today?

That's the question being asked by some bitter party stalwarts who appear to believe the Senate, at least, would still be theirs if Rummy had gone in time for the Republicans to make political capital from the move.

But others disagree (by the way, I think we're going to see a lot of this over the next two years: disagreement amongst Republicans, amongst Democrats, between the two parties and between Congress and the White House).

Look at the exit polls. Yes, Iraq was a big factor, but so was corruption.

Conservatives were so fed up with the ethics of the party leadership that even putting Mr Rumsfeld up against a firing squad might not have changed their actions.

These elections have revealed chasms in both parties - now the battle begins for who controls the centre ground. It's going to be a fascinating two years - not pretty, but fascinating.

Katty Kay is a presenter on BBC World

Gavin Esler

Food for the soul

My thanks to all those of you who tried to convert me to the American breakfast in your replies to my blogs (here and here).

I'm on my way back to the UK and just wanted to tell you of the two all-American breakfasts that I do love to eat: fresh OJ, bagels and lox - especially, of course, in New York City - and my truly guilty secret: I love grits.

I must be a Southern boy at heart.

Or maybe because it's close to the porridge of my native Scotland.

For those of you around the world who don't know what I mean, grits are a kind of corn porridge, mostly eaten in the South.

Unfortunately I don't know of any source of supply of grits in England, but would be pleased to hear of one. Grits really are food for the soul.

Gavin Esler presents BBC TV's Newsnight programme

The Reporters

Mid-terms blog of blogs

Jim Geraghty, blogging at the National Review, puts a brave face on the Republicans' election defeat: "Sometimes you'll be convinced you have fantastic arguments, and the other guy doesn't know what he's talking about. And yet sometimes they choose the other guy. Sometimes you lose. It stinks, but it happens."

Wonkette greets the nomination of Bob Gates as Donald Rumsfeld's replacement at the Pentagon with some disbelief, recalling his days as CIA chief while new Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega headed the Sandinista rebels during the 1980s. "History doesn’t just repeat itself; it repeats itself with the same exact people."

Brian Ford welcomes the new-look Congress, calling the Democrats' win "a glimmer of light after being lost in the forest for two long years". But he is quick to assert that the vote was really an anti-Republican protest, not a pro-Democrat swing.

Flopping Aces, though, laments the Democratic rise, insisting that just because core Republican voters were upset with President Bush, there was no need to put "the worst of the worst" into leadership positions.

Adam Brookes

Rumsfeld: Open case

There's a term used often in the military - "command climate".

rumsfeld_getty203b.jpgIt signifies the atmosphere that a senior leader generates through his language, his behaviour, his attitude. The command climate seeps down from the top and influences the way the entire chain of command makes its decisions.

The command climate that Donald Rumsfeld generated in the Pentagon was unforgiving. He questioned everything and everybody.

His memos - known as "Rummy's snowflakes" because they came in blizzards - would have officers at their wits' end.

Major General John Batiste, after he retired, called him "arrogant" and "abusive".

Bob Woodward, in his book State of Denial, recounts seeing the then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Richard Myers, with his head in his hands after another meeting with Sec Def.

An army major I once met said bluntly: "Rumsfeld hates us, he hates the army." I think that few in the uniformed military will be sad to see him gone.

But Rumsfeld saw himself as crusading against military inertia and conservatism. He loathed what he saw as the military's addiction to outmoded, expensive weapons platforms and its desire to fight only the wars it already knew how to fight.

In common with many of President Bush's advisers, he believed that America should not respond to the world, it should transform the world. For Rumsfeld that meant transforming the military, Afghanistan, Iraq, the very environment in which America's adversaries operate worldwide.

It will be a long time before history reaches a stable verdict on Donald Rumsfeld's second tenure as Secretary of Defense.

Many of his decisions will be condemned. His inability to ensure control Baghdad immediately after US troops stormed into the city will, I imagine, be reviled.

But his understanding of the threats that America faces today, and his instincts as to how America should answer them, will be the subject of long debate.

Adam Brookes is the BBC's Pentagon correspondent.

Matt Frei

Fathers and sons

Bob Gates, the new Secretary of Defence, is a friend of President Bush's father.

Coming on the heels of the appointment of James Baker to head the Iraq Study Group, think of it as the friends of Bush the father coming in to save the White House of the son.

A sort of Shakespearean family drama but with global repercussions.

Matt Frei is the BBC's senior North America TV correspondent.

Justin Webb

Bush: No room to hide

Only last week, Vice-President Dick Cheney said he and Mr Bush were not up for election - it would be full speed ahead in Iraq, irrespective of the result of the mid-term polls.

That full-speed-ahead policy has hit a wall.

bush203bafp.jpgPresident Bush, faced with the prospect of a bitter fight with the newly powerful Democrats - a fight he would probably lose - has opted for appeasement. He has thrown raw meat to the Democrats, in the shape of his defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

He was asked whether this amounted to a new direction. He couldn't quite bring himself to say yes, but he did say that the man he had asked to replace Mr Rumsfeld, former CIA director Robert Gates, would provide new leadership and a fresh perspective.

Mr Bush knows and has accepted that his Iraq policy has been repudiated. There is no room for pretence and no room to hide.

If the Democrats can come up with a better plan, he is ready - desperate even - to hear about it.

Justin Webb is the BBC's chief North America radio correspondent.

Jamie Coomarasamy

A gloomy morning

It's a pretty wet and gloomy morning here in northern Virginia - rainy, overcast, and pretty depressing for the folks here. And it's depressing because they voted in record numbers (for mid-term elections) here, but they still don't know who their senator will be.

George Allen, pictured with his wifeWhen George Allen, the incumbent here, got up to speak last night, some expected him to concede - he's a few thousand down in the polls - but he vowed to fight on. So if there is less than one percent between Allen and the Democratic challenger Jim Webb when all the votes are counted, we could face recounts, litigation, and possibly a long, drawn-out contest.

George Allen - once considered a presidential hopeful for 2008 - could yet decide it's not worth the challenge, but the matter could drag on for several weeks yet.

Jamie Coomarasamy is a Washington correspondent for BBC News.

Gavin Esler

Gridlock and paralysis

With the future of the government of the most powerful country on earth in the balance I'm delighted that my blog yesterday attracted an enormous response - from those who felt I had dissed American breakfasts.

Now I know that compared to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the so-called War on Terror and the record budget deficit plus wage stagnation and the US house price slump, what I think of American breakfasts may seem a little trivial. But not to some of the bloggers. One accused me of being anti-American for daring to suggest eggs benedict with fried potatoes and bacon is a "heart attack on a plate" when consumed at seven o'clock in the morning.

I'm not anti-American. But I am very strongly anti American bacon - the worst bacon in the world. Is the fat specially put into it in long strips and then the whole thing cremated in order to produce the highest number of potential carcinogens? And eggs benedict? Eggs with yellow slime on a soggy piece of cardboard? That's a breakfast?

Anyway, now to the slightly more important matter of the future of the world. One big loser last night - George Bush. Two big winners - the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton. The 2008 presidential election campaign is now underway. Senator John McCain - another likely runner - said in response to the dismal Republican results that his party had gone to change Washington but Washington had - unfortunately - changed his party.

What happens now? My guess is that we'll have a lot of the usual cliches - "we'll work together, bipartisanship, let's get together to make it work, blah blah blah." And then - as the political consultant Dick Morris put it - gridlock, paralysis and George W Bush spending the next two years dodging subpoenas, as Hillary and John McCain and the others place themselves for the 2008 race.

Gavin Esler presents BBC TV's Newsnight programme

James Westhead

Political soundbites

Do Republicans have all the best soundbites?

It seemed that way as I hunted through tape after tape of final Democrat stump speeches and interviews looking for a good "clip" - the phrase we tend to use in the BBC rather than "soundbite". I had plenty to choose from in President Bush's final campaign speech in Texas - even though, as he himself admitted: "No one's ever accused me of being the best English speaker in America."

The point about a "clip" is that it has to express a single, simple idea in a clear concise way. You don't have to agree with it but you have to understand it and ideally it has to be short and delivered with passion. For some reason the Democrats' election supremo Chuck Schumer didn't deliver that as he peered over his glasses in press briefings. More surprisingly even, their chief cheerleader Bill Clinton - usually a good phrase-crafter - didn't hone one down for his last-minute stump speech.

There were lots of jokes, stories and unwieldy metaphors involving the founding fathers - but nothing that fitted into that all-important fifteen seconds. I know - how superficial of me. But it makes you wonder. Do the Democrats have any clear message? In the end I found a good clip from a very junior Democrat politician campaigning excitedly in Ohio, "Everywhere people stop me, saying they are going to vote Democrat." She added emphatically - "the reason? Because they are just completely fed up!"

The truth is that if the Democrats win - it will be largely because people voted against the Republicans, not for the Democrats. Maybe the Democrats don't need soundbites to win this election - but they will need to do some real work on their message before the next one.

James Westhead is a Washington correspondent for BBC News.

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