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For the morning after, a somber celebration 

A friend of mine put it best: the morning after the election, you could almost feel a great sigh of relief rising up from the country.

The polls had shown widespread dissatisfaction with Republicans in Washington, particularly with the Bush administration, but it was hard to hope. Polls can be wrong. TV ads work. All politics is local.

In the end, independents and many Republicans (conservatives as well as moderates) had had enough, and they joined Democrats to take the House and the Senate away from the Bush administration and its supporters.

In our house, there were no cheers. Only relief.

And I haven't heard cheers from the people I've talked to and heard from since election night. Only relief.

Maybe the pols in the Democratic Party are cheering. Maybe they've been slapping hands and plotting retribution. But the people I've talked to and heard from have simply been relieved: relieved that there's a repudiation of the Bush policies, and that there'll be a check on the Bush madness.

Lord knows there's plenty to check, and plenty to do. There's the nomination of Iran-Contra veteran Robert Gates to become Secretary of State. (War critic Joe Biden, saying he'll vote for Gates, explained to the New York Times: "To put it very, very bluntly, as long as he's not there, Rumsfeld is there.") There's energy, and health care, and fiscal responsibility, and the protection of Americans' individual rights.

But looming over them all is Iraq. Within the next few weeks, the Iraq Study Group will make its recommendations. The Bush administration may be looking for cover from it, but it's unlikely that the committee will come up with something that other people haven't already proposed. The response will be up to the Bush administration. And then we'll see just how much change we're getting from the change at Defense.

Meantime, the horror in Iraq goes on. Day after day, more killings, more kidnappings, more torture.

The tragedy is that we created all this. We put Iraqis in the midst of this horror, so we should deliver them from it. But we cannot. There is no good way out.

And the people who will bear almost all of the pain are the Iraqis.

We have lost precious young men and women of our own in this war, and the Bush administration --- not Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush administration --- bears the burden of responsibility for that. But as searingly painful as each of those losses is, the pain in Iraq is worse. The pain for Iraqi families is unimaginable.

It is our fault, and none of us can turn away from that. The people who approved the Iraq war --- and much of what has come since --- were elected by the public, presumably, fairly (the first Bush victory excepted).

And so the blame is ours.

On another note: what do you suppose is the matter with Upstate New York? Voters in many parts of the country knew this was a referendum on the Bush administration. Not us. We're blithely sending back to Congress three Republicans who have marched right alongside the president. One of them was in charge of getting Republicans elected to the House.

And I'm still befuddled about the Democrat and Chronicle's endorsements. The daily's editorial-page editors did manage to go for Eric Massa over Randy Kuhl. Maybe that's because Kuhl's a relative newcomer. But they embraced Jim Walsh and Tom Reynolds --- in large part, apparently, because of the goodies they send this way from Washington. Obviously pork is a more serious concern than the war, torture, and attacks on the Bill of Rights.

At least the ads will stop. Campaign reform is one of the most important issues facing the country, but concern about it will fade until the next onslaught. It's not just the tone of this particular election, bad as that was. It's the amount of money spent: $2.6 billion on Congressional campaigns, according to the latest report I saw. Think what the country could do with that.

On election night, CNN's Lou Dobbs launched into a tirade. "Obscene," he growled. Yes, indeed. Take the influence-buying that is the purpose of campaign donations and add the simplistic, distorted, emotional appeal of the campaign ads, and you have an attack on democracy of major proportions.

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