"Elections are my best friends." —William Jefferson Clinton
CALL him Slick Willie or the Comeback Kid or even a Political Houdini. For Bill Clinton, the November 3 elections was the best thing that could have happened as he was engaged in desperate trench warfare with the Republicans seeking his political scalp over the Monica S. Lewinsky affair. The American electorate, as much as they mistrust Clinton and despise his moral lapses, yet again stood by the president, much to the shock of pollsters and pundits. Clinton had done it again—found the political Teflon he needed to survive in office for the next two years.
"In the end, we didn't change the landscape, but we redefined the agenda," says Peter Hart, the influential Washington DC-based Democratic pollster. "We're not going to spend the next two years on impeachment. We'll move back to the public's business." And John Pitney, professor at Claremont McKenna College near Los Angeles, echoes the sentiments: "The top priority for Republicans is not Bill Clinton's impeachment but their own survival."
Independent pollster John Zogby found out that for most, the president's scandal didn't influence their vote. According to Democratic representative William D. Delahunt of Massachusetts, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which is now looking into the impeachment of Clinton for lying and perjury, "the dynamics is going to change. Everyone has sensed that there is collective exhaustion with the scandal, with the issue. This just gives impetus to resolve it expeditiously."
While not hiding his glee at the outcome, Clinton told reporters: "I think that the lesson all people should draw is that the people who were rewarded were rewarded because they wanted to do something for the American people. They wanted to do something to pull this country together and to move this country forward."
The election will see eight new faces in the Senate and 30 new members in the House. The poll left the Republicans with a net loss of five seats in the House, for a 223-211 split, while the Senate stays the same at 55-45.
The outcome is a good-news, bad-news scenario for India and Indian Americans. India experts and other political analysts have told Outlook that the main concern for New Delhi would be the elevation of Rep. Jim Bunning, a baseball Hall-of-Famer from Kentucky, to the Senate. Seeking anonymity, one Washington DC-based analyst says: "Jim Bunning—that's bad news. He's been a consistent supporter of the Khalistani forces. He has voted for the [Republican Dan] Burton's amendment. He's on the other side."
Some analysts are also concerned about which way the newly-elected Democratic senator from New York, Charles E. Schumer, would lean. "Chuck was connected to the Pakistani lobby for fund-raising efforts by [New Jersey Senator Robert] Torricelli and, I think, he raised some money from them," says another India-watcher. The good news is the election of George V. Voinovich, a Republican from Ohio (he replaces astronaut/senator John Glenn), who supports issues that are of concern to New Delhi. "He's a valuable addition," says a Hill-watcher, "especially since Sen. Faircloth got beaten". Lauch Faircloth, hardline Republican from North Carolina, had pressured Clinton to clamp sanctions on India.
But key lawmakers, who are members of the 'Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans'—with one exception, Jon Fox, a Republican of Pennsylvania—retained their seats. Leading the 'India Brigade' were ebullient Caucus chairman Gary L. Ackerman, a Democrat of New York; former Peace Corps volunteer in India, Sherrod Brown (known in the Indian American community as "Sharad") of Ohio; Frank Pallone, Democrat of New Jersey; Doug Bereuter, a Republican of Nebraska, who chairs a key sub-committee that overseas South Asia; and the avuncular Benjamin Gilman, Republican of New York, who presides over the influential House International Relations Committee.
The lone effort by an Indian American, Democrat Peter Mathews, to gain entry to the House from Southern California—his third—failed as Republican Steve Horn, a member of the India Caucus, held ground. But Indian American Democrats, Kumar Barve of Maryland and Sat-veer Chaudhary of Minnesota, retained their seats in their states' legislatures.
The turnout was low (38 per cent) and the pro-Clinton verdict proves that America is tired of Monica. In fact, the man who has really captured the imagination is Jesse 'The Body' Ventura, a maverick former professional wrestler who stunned the establishment by winning Minnesota. "In 1998, the American Dream lives on in Minnesota," he said at a rally. Indeed, a professional politician and a professional wrestler shocked professional pundits on November 3.