What Mason Experts Are Saying about…the Midterm Elections

Posted: November 3, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski and Daniel Walsch

With election day just four days away, campaign ads and signs are as prevalent as the falling leaves. Following are comments our experts at Mason are saying about the issues surrounding the upcoming election.

House and Senate Control: The Bigger Picture

Colleen Shogan
Colleen Shogan

“The upcoming midterm elections are important for several reasons,” says Colleen Shogan, assistant professor of public and international affairs and author of “The Moral Rhetoric of American Presidents.”

“First, the trajectory of Bush’s final two years in office will be largely determined by the outcome on Nov. 7. If the Democrats win at least one House in Congress, Bush’s agenda will be derailed, and he will be forced to play defense rather than offense. He may also be faced with uncomfortable vetoes on a number of issues that have widespread public support, such as increasing the minimum wage.

“Second, history could be in the making. If the Democrats win the House, it is likely that Nancy Pelosi will become the first female Speaker. This is potentially a watershed moment for women involved in politics, and will likely go a long way in breaking down any gender barriers in public service that still persist.

“The November election is also important because it will set the tone for 2008. A strong Democratic showing will embolden the party, and may give them a new lease on life. However, the Democrats need to be careful about what they wish for. Divided government will make the Democrats accountable for any policy failures — both foreign and domestic — that occur in the final two years of the Bush administration. GOP presidential candidates will have legitimate claims to point fingers at the Democrats. Most importantly, if the Democrats win control of Congress but do not end the war in Iraq, they will lose credibility on their most powerful campaign issue.

“Even though it’s a tough pill for Democrats to swallow, perhaps the best outcome in November might be gaining seats in both houses of Congress, but remaining just short of taking control. If that occurs, close numbers will enable the Democrats to keep Republican lawmakers at bay, while also preserving opportunities to criticize the entire record of the Bush administration. Such a combination could create ripe political conditions for a dual Democratic takeover of Congress and the White House in 2008.”

The Virginia Marriage Amendment

Roger Lancaster
Roger Lancaster

“Since the Supreme Court decision striking the nation’s remaining sodomy laws, Republican conservatives and the religious right have cultivated what sociologists call a ‘moral panic’ around same-sex marriage,” says Roger Lancaster, director of the Cultural Studies Program and author of “The Trouble with Nature: Sex in Science and Popular Culture.”

“A moral panic is any social movement organized around a false or exaggerated moral threat to society. Social conservatives maintain that if gays and lesbians are allowed to wed, this will somehow cheapen the value of marriage for heterosexuals, hastening the decline of a venerable institution, with all sorts of negative effects on child socialization and child welfare. None of these claims can be empirically demonstrated; the argument essentially relies on prejudice and fear.

“This is not to say that marriage isn’t changing. Today’s family forms are more diverse than those of the 1950s. Some of these forms are granted legal legitimacy (wives who are employed, husbands who keep house, deliberately childless heterosexual couples); others are not (same-sex couples). Social conservatives essentially view all changes in the shape of domestic life as evidence of moral decay. I take the optimistic view that people are improvising domestic arrangements that work for them, pursuant to that oldest of American values: the pursuit of happiness.

“The Virginia marriage amendment will pass – so far, these always pass. But the more interesting angle, if recent polls are correct, is that the issue may be running out of steam. It’s hard to keep people worked up over the moral threat posed by that monogamous lesbian couple next door while an ill-conceived war goes so badly, posing, in the process, real as opposed to imaginary moral threats to American society.”

Virginia Senate Election: An Identity Crisis?

Toni Michele Travis
Toni-Michelle Travis

“The 2006 midterm election sends clear signals to voters on the Democratic and Republican party position on key issues as the war in Iraq, immigration policy, stem cell research and gay marriage,” says Toni-Michelle C. Travis, associate professor of government and politics. “With the House of Representatives poised to become a Democratic majority, we will have a divided government. If the Senate becomes a Democratic majority, we are likely to have a deadlock between Congress and the president.

“In this contentious atmosphere, Virginia Sen. George Allen, the incumbent Republican, is facing James Webb, a Democratic convert.

“Virginia becomes a key state in the battle for Democratic control of the Senate. But who are these candidates? Both have identity problems. Allen wants to be seen as a cowboy. Webb casts himself as a writer who changes his political affiliation based on his opinion of U.S. foreign policy.

“The Virginia race, along with Missouri and Tennessee, are the pivotal Senate races to watch. Virginia is running a costly election with vivid negative ads. The unanswered question is whether Northern Virginia, the most racially and culturally diverse region, will decide the election; or will the more traditional, southern areas of the state determine the outcome? Voting blocks to watch are African Americans, Northern Virginia women and new voters who are not of European descent. Regional turnout will provide the answer.”

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