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The Reporters: US mid-terms

All entries by this reporter: 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.

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.

Who's not Bush?

Here in Washington over the usual heart-attack-on-a-plate American breakfast this morning I turned to the Washington Post for a summary of the elections.

"Has there ever been a more negative, dispiriting election?" asks columnist Eugene Robinson, clearly not expecting an answer. So I switched to the New York Times. Columnist Barry Schwartz called these elections "the sorriest, sleaziest, most disheartening and embarrassing in memory." Then I switched on the TV just to cheer myself up. The presenter was asking a pundit from the Los Angeles Times what it would be like if the Democrats failed to win the House of Representatives.

"Jonestown," replied the pundit, referring to a bizarre cult involved in a mass suicide many years ago.

So it all sounds fairly promising, then. The television advertisements I've been watching have almost all been negative. The overwhelming impression is that hundreds of criminals, rapscallions and ne'er do wells are currently on the loose on the streets of the United States all seeking election for the opposing political party.

The Democratic campaign seems to boil down to one phrase: "We're not George Bush." And the Republican campaign is similarly taut: "We're not George Bush either."

Somehow, however, American voters will sort it all out.

Saddam, Hitler and Bush

Two facts, two figures, and one big question stick in my mind this US election.

Fact One: the United States has now been at war in Iraq longer than it was at war against Hitler during World War II.

saddam_ap203.jpgFact Two: Saddam Hussein has been an American enemy for more than 16 years, far longer than Hitler.

Now the two figures: 15 and 6. It will take a switch of 15 House seats for the Democrats to take control of the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s mid-term election vote, and a switch of six seats for the Senate to change hands.

And now the Big Question: What does the Iraq war have to do with the precise number of seats which will be won and lost on Tuesday?

Many American commentators say this election is a referendum on the Bush presidency and on the conduct of the Iraq war - which is true, up to a point.

One of the best attack weapons for Democrats has been to say that the Republican candidate “votes with George Bush 97% of the time”.

Some Republican candidates are running away from George Bush like scalded dogs.

But Mr Bush has been campaigning as though his own political future depends on Tuesday’s result - which it does, up to a point.

And two days before the vote - no doubt entirely coincidentally - we learn Saddam Hussein is to be executed. The verdict may well help Mr Bush.

Almost all the pundits and pollsters agree that the Democrats will gain control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1994. The Senate is thought more likely to stay with the Republicans.

And so those of us trying to predict what might happen are left speculating how far the Democrats will feel empowered - if they win the House of Representatives - to launch a series of inquiries into the conduct of the Iraq war.

Presidents at the end of their second term - Reagan with the Iran-contra affair, Clinton with Monica Lewinsky - often find they are bedevilled by hostile Congressional investigations.

But my gut instinct is that instead of being hobbled by all this, Mr Bush may well be liberated.

A Democratic House of Representatives would give Mr Bush the kind of opposition he has so sorely lacked for the past six years. Mr Bush would be forced to seek bipartisan consensus - no bad thing during wartime.

And of course after Tuesday Mr Bush never needs to worry about leading the Republican Party in any election ever again. The end of the Bush presidency may begin on Tuesday, but my guess is - to quote Ronald Reagan - you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

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