October Suprises

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

The Democrats will probably suffer historic losses in both the House and Senate in less than 60 days. The 11th-hour campaigning of the now-unpopular Barack Obama on behalf of endangered congressional candidates will not change much. In fact, most embattled Democratic candidates don’t want the president to even set foot in their districts.

The public knows that the stimulus packages are played out. Unemployment rose, not fell as promised. All that is left are the higher taxes next year required to pay for the borrowed money that was squandered.

Those in Congress who went along with the Obama borrowing agenda now find themselves on the wrong side of the American people on almost every issue — from federalized health care, higher taxes and bailouts to proposed cap-and-trade and amnesty.

Could things still turn around before November?

The Democrats’ best hope is a major crisis overseas that would rally the American public around their commander in chief. Usually, cynical journalists dub an unexpected autumn bombing run, missile launch, or presidential announcement of a cease-fire or needed escalation an “October surprise.”

These are the “wag the dog” moments that might turn angry Americans’ thoughts elsewhere. And they have a checkered history that began long before critics alleged that in August 1998, before midterm elections, Bill Clinton ordered bombing missions in Afghanistan and the Sudan to distract public attention from his embarrassing dalliance with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. He looked decisive and presidential; his Republican opponents looked nitpicking and petty.

Abraham Lincoln could have lost the 1864 election to peace candidate Gen. George McClellan, given that Gen. Ulysses S. Grant over the summer had almost ruined the Army of the Potomac without taking the Confederate capital of Richmond. Then, suddenly, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman took Atlanta on Sept. 2. Overnight, Lincoln went from an inept bumbler to a winning commander in chief. An exasperated McClellan never recovered.

Less than two weeks before the 1972 election, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger without warning announced that “peace is at hand” in Vietnam (it was not). Democratic rival George McGovern would have lost anyway to Richard Nixon, but his peace candidacy abruptly appeared redundant.

Suspicious liberals were convinced in 2004 that George W. Bush would pull off some sort of surprise to distract voters from the bad news from Iraq. A year before the election, a paranoid former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright even floated the crazy suggestion that Bush had kept arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden on ice somewhere — “Do you suppose that the Bush administration has Osama bin Laden hidden away somewhere and will bring him out before the election?”

In panic over the depressing polls, Obama is now scrambling to find any good news that he can overseas to turn voter attention away from near-10 percent unemployment and record debt.

He just addressed the nation about the long-ago-scheduled troop reductions in Iraq. Suddenly, all Mideast leaders are now equally welcome at the White House in hopes of reaching a dramatic Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough that showcases presidential leadership before the midterm elections.

Neither event is likely to change things in November. Only a headline crisis could rally Americans around their now-unpopular commander in chief and his beleaguered supporters in Congress. What would that entail?

Most probably something like a showdown with soon-to-be-nuclear and widely despised Iran.

Obama ran on criticism of the Bush administration that it had not reached out and talked with Iran’s theocratic leadership. Obama did that. He even muted criticism of the brutal Iranian crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations. But Obama soon found that the Iranians considered his outreach appeasement, and so have only increased their breakneck efforts to get a bomb.

Now, everyone from the Israelis to the Sunni Arab nations is pressuring the United States to do something before a radical and nuclear Iran changes the complexion of the entire Middle East. If the erstwhile peace candidate Barack Obama were to confront Iran, conservatives might well support his resolve. Democratic candidates would find a more united nation suddenly far more worried about Mideast Armageddon than unemployment and record deficits. Unlike past October surprises, this time the pro-Obama media would probably be far less cynical in its coverage of presidential motives.

But Iran won’t go nuclear in the next two months. So let us hope that the current unpopular administration waits for a while before deciding between the rotten choice of using military force against Tehran and the even worse alternative of a nuclear Iran.

©2010 Tribune Media Services

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