My B.A. degree is in Political Science. This means that I spent my college years discussing politics over cans of cheap beer, which fully qualified as study time. My reasoning for going down the political science route were fuzzy and impractical - I enjoyed it, was good at it and thought I wanted to get into either the foreign service or politics.
I learned quickly that I didn't have the personality for the foreign service. It took until law school for me to realise that politics were better studied than lived. 90% of my law school class had political aspirations and I couldn't imagine myself spending the rest of my life dealing with those people when I could barely manage a 60-minute class. In short, when my youthful idealism met the crushing reality of ordinary life. I realised that I had essentially misspent my youth and there was nothing left to do but make a radical change.
But I managed to salvage one thing from my education: an understanding of political systems in general and the inner workings of the U.S. government in particular. Not the world's best party trick, but every once in a while, it comes in handy. Like now. I am not going to be dancing in the streets anytime soon, even though the AP has declared that the Democrats have taken control of the Sentate.
For one thing, bitter experience has taught me about believing in the results of elections before all the votes have been counted, double-counted, or ignored, as the case may be. You can ask Al Gore, the man who used to be the next President of the United States, all about projected winners. I bet he could tell you where the networks and the press can project their winners.
But no, my concerns revolve around a much more devious theory. Ever wonder what happens when a U.S. Senator is unable to complete his term, whether through death, indictment, or elevation to a Cabinet position? The governor of the Sentator's home state appoints a temporary Senator, who serves in that capacity until the next national election, at which point that person can run for re-election to a full-term.
Assuming that the Democrats really are back as Kings of the Senate, their margin is one lousy seat. (Since Joe Lieberman is like a Republican-Lite, it's more like half-a-seat, but I digress. If he says he will caucus with the Democrats, I am sure he will ably caucus with the Democrats and not just spy for his Very Best Frient George.) If the Democrats were to lose a seat, then the Senate is tied, with Dick Cheney holding the deciding vote.
Nice civics lesson, now for the real-world application. Let's say that the Secretary of Agriculture suddenly decides that he has to spend more time with his family and resigns his post. George W. could cast a cold eye over the Senate and decide that even though Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh are Democrats, it would be mighty bi-partisan of him to nominate one of them to be the new Secretary of Agriculture. Ben Nelson is from Nebraska, producer of beef, soybeans and corn. Evan Bayh is from Indiana, producer of corn, hogs, and rusty cars. Given this, they are both emminently qualified for the Agriculture post. More to the point, the governors of Nebraska and Indiana are both Republicans.
The second term is all about solidifying legacy and Bush hasn't accomplished everything he's wanted. The last two years of the second term are particularly challenging, as party loyalty gives way to the every-man-for-himself ethos of electioneering. It cuts both ways, as some Democratic senators from Red States have to be careful not to appear too Liberal. (In modern day America, Liberal is half-a-step up from a paedophile and half-a-step down from a leper.) Every vote will count but Bush can't always count on all his men holding the line, so he will have to be able to peel off a few Democrats.
With shifting alliances and politicians with one eye on the next election's polls, a 1-seat majority won't mean every Bush initiative would get through the Senate. But, there is still a compelling reason to want that one seat. The party in control sets the legislative agenda. Will the Senate spend its time demonizing undocumented aliens, railing against terrorists by introducing freedom-curbing restrictions, and warning about the scourge of homosexuals? Or will they spend all their time as busy investigative beavers, issuing subpoenas to find out who was on the secret energy task force, what Bush knew about alleged weapons of mass destructions, and whether Bush is actually just a life-sized Charlie McCarthy and Dick Cheney a high skilled ventriloquist?
I'm not saying that this is going to happen. It would be highly unusual for Bush to turn outside his inner circle of associates. He is all about loyalty and it would be a risk to trust an outsider, even with the Agriculture Department. But I am saying I wouldn't be surprised by such a turn of events. No dancing in the streets for me, not until Crawford, Texas is home to a Former President of the United States and a Good Guy is in the Oval Office.