In case you've been hiding under a rock for the past year or so, the US is going to the polls in midterm elections today. The entire House and one third of the Senate are up for election, in a race the entire world is watching. So, what's at stake? The grand answer is "the heart and soul of America". The more down to earth answer is "what's left of George Bush's presidency".
Currently, the US is in an unusual state of one-party rule, with Republicans controlling the Presidency and both houses of Congress. Combined with a particularly vicious and effective party machine, this has meant that the expected system of checks and balances between the different branches of government has broken down, allowing government to grow incompetent, lazy, and corrupt and reducing the legislature to a mere rubberstamp for the Administration's excesses (such as legalising torture). But if the Democrats recapture even one chamber of the legislature, this will end. A Democratic majority in the House or Senate will be able to act as a proper check and balance on the executive. It will be able to hold the executive to account for its mistakes, and demand answers on its misdeeds. And it will be able to act as a roadblock to legislation which compromises human rights and erodes civil liberties, rather than acting as a rubberstamp. As someone opposed to the Republican Party agenda, and particularly to the policies of President Bush, I view this as a Good Thing.
Currently, polls show the Republicans leading 49 - 48 in the Senate, with 3 seats (Montana, Missouri, and Virginia) too close to call. Because of the Vice President serves as President of the Senate and has a casting vote, the Democrats will have to win all three of those seats to capture a majority. While I'm hopeful, I regard this as unlikely.
The Democrats are in a far stronger position in the House, leading 214 - 204, with 17 toss-ups. 218 seats are needed for a majority, and it looks like they'll get it.
(These numbers are taken from the New York Times' 2006 election guide, which I've been paying close attention to for the last few weeks).
The Republicans can see the writing on the wall, and so they've pulled out all the stops and resorted to pure slime tactics. Voter suppression and intimidation and black propaganda, all in an effort to reduce turnout and encourage democratic voters to stay home. It's a sick democracy where such tactics are considered a part of the political repertoire, but then US democracy has been sick for quite some time. But I'm hoping that despite all that, the voters will win out and teach them some well-needed humility. Assuming the electronic voting machines let them, of course.