Killer Politics

The major newsweeklies, like most of the newsrooms in America, had no doubt geared up to cover a disputed election — they just didn’t realize that their reporting on ballot box corruption would be focused halfway around the world. There is still no victor in Ukraine’s battle of the Viktors (Yanukovych and Yushcenko), but the picture has become clearer: Newsweek says “vintage Soviet-era thuggery,” in the form of fraud and voter intimidation, was rampant, and it seems entirely possible that authorities repeatedly tried to kill opposition candidate Yushchenko. A Prague Spring-like scenario is still possible, but so is an outcome more reminiscent of Tiananmen Square, with angry blue staters — um, we mean students and western Ukrainians — possibly on the verge of violent clashes with Yanukovych’s Russia-backed government and supporters. The conflict also threatens to fray U.S.-Russian relations, says Time, thanks to Vladimir Putin’s efforts to throw his weight around in support of Yanukovych.

(Today’s recent history lesson: It’s “Ukraine,” not “The Ukraine,” people. When the U.S.S.R. dissolved at the end of 1991, Ukraine went from Soviet socialist republic to independent sovereign country, dropping the “The” in the process.)

The Weekly Standard’s Duncan Currie this week discusses how Senate Republicans might dispose of the filibuster, which in recent years has become Democrats’ best friend. They may opt for the “nuclear option,” officially changing Senate rules or reinterpreting Senate precedent. There’s debate as to the legality of such a move, however, and that’s just the start of the potential problems. “… I think the Senate would literally melt down,” says Duke law professor Erwin Chemerinsky. “The Democrats would simply grind the Senate to a halt.” Some Republicans hope to be able to take a less extreme approach, figuring that the fall of Tom Daschle — who was painted as an “obstructionist” — might be enough to make those Democrats up for reelection in 2006 stay clear of filibusters.

The Economist says the courts are making a mess of America’s schools: “… [T]he courts have moved from broad principles to micromanagement, telling schools how much money to spend and where — right down to the correct computer or textbook.” American judges, the magazine says, are making “a lazy assumption that more money means better schools,” and they’re “muddling an already muddled system,” making it harder for schools to rid themselves of both bad students and bad teachers.

Finally, The New Yorker gamely tries to put an end to continued claims that “moral values” was a defining issue in the election outcome. The real explanation, says pollster Gary Langer and others, was 9/11, as evidenced by the fact that 49 percent of voters said President Bush was the only person they trusted to handle terrorism. Maddeningly, the story isn’t online, but here’s Louis Menand’s conclusion:

The Democratic candidate did not lose votes in 2004: Kerry got five million more votes than Al Gore got in 2000, when Gore won a plurality. Unfortunately for the Democrats, Bush got nine million more votes than he did four years ago. But it wasn’t because the country moved to the right. The issue that seems to have permitted an incumbent with an unimpressive approval rating to survive re-election was not an ideological one. The country did not change radically in the past four years. Circumstances did.

Menand’s debunking of the moral values meme should, at this point, amount to kicking a dead horse, but don’t be surprised if the beast has a few breaths left.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.