For those familiar with American political history, the Democrats' achievements in the elections for Congress in George W. Bush's sixth year in office came as no surprise. As a rule, all presidents who served a second term in the 20th century led their parties to defeat in their sixth year, with the extent of the shift in favor of the president's opposing party being on average 30 seats in Congress and six in the Senate.
The election results show that the political tradition was kept. The only anomaly was President Clinton in 1998, because he already suffered a heavy political blow at the end of his second year in office, when the Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, took over Congress. Now, the Republicans lost the Congress majority they enjoyed since 1994. The situation in the Senate is still unclear, and a recount is possible before the final tally is cleared up.
Many observers view the election results as a vote against the president's Iraq policy, and this claim indeed has a basis. What's more, the Administration itself has to acknowledge that the situation there is increasingly deteriorating and a change of direction is needed. Some will also interpret the achievement of former Navy Secretary Webb, who served in the Reagan Administration and turned into a Democrat and harsh critic of the president's policy, as ultimate proof that the public fury on the Iraq question weakens Republicans even at clear strongholds such as Virginia and Mid-Western states.
Still, a measure of caution is required. The two women who as of today lead the Democratic party ahead of the 2008 elections, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, made it clear in their victory speeches that a new policy is required in Iraq, but it should be a unifying policy; that is, a policy that the Republicans can also support, and mostly one that offers encouragement to US troops instead of undermining them, as the Democrats did in Vietnam.
Democratic party political home of most US Jews
Many of the new party leaders, ranging from Tammy Duckworth, the amputee officer who ran in Illinois (and eventually lost her bid for office), to three-star admiral Sestak, who beat veteran congressman Walden in Pennsylvania, are former military figures. The Democratic Party is currently adopting a strategy of a warmly embracing US troops, while hinting that the blame lies with the politicians who sent them to Iraq.
Therefore, an incisive debate is expected regarding the road ahead, but not a one-side move that will end in what can be characterized as an American defeat. There's also reason to believe, even though this has not yet faced a genuine political test, that on the question of the Iranian threat, the Democrats understand what's at stake no less so than their colleagues on the other side of the spectrum.
As to Israel, those who watched the Democratic victory broadcast from Washington, could not mistake the significance of those leading the celebrations; they included the man who led the party campaign in Congress, Rahm Emanuel (formerly Clinton's close aide,) who boasts a plainly Hebrew name and spent some time in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, as well as New York Senator Chuck Schumer, also a Jew whose commitment to Israel is beyond any doubt.
In the next Senate, Jews will again comprise one fifth of the Democratic faction, including Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, whose attachment to Zionism is known to all. The Democratic party was always the political home of most American Jews, and it is no wonder its leaders and candidates were quick to disassociate themselves from former President Jimmy Carter's new book, while demonstrating as much as possible that their commitment to Israel was and will remain a solid bipartisan position in both houses of Congress.
Dr. Eran Lerman is the executive director of the AJC's Israel/Middle East Office