John McCain trails Barack Obama and shows no signs, at the moment anyway, of propelling himself into the lead. Democrats lead in eight Senate seats currently held by Republicans and are close in three others. In the House, Republicans once thought they'd lose only 5 to 10 seats. Now things look worse.
Thanks particularly to the month-long financial crisis, Republicans are in extremely poor shape with the election three weeks away. This means the worst case scenario is now a distinct possibility: a Democrat in the White House, a Democratic Senate with a filibuster-proof majority, and a Democratic House with a bolstered majority.
If this scenario unfolds, Washington would become a solidly liberal town again for the first time in decades. And the prospects of passing the liberal agenda--nearly all of it--would be bright. Enacting major parts of it would be even brighter. You can forget about bipartisanship.
Start with "card check." It would permit organized labor to unionize the private sector without winning a certification election by secret ballot. It's easy to get workers to sign cards saying they want a union, but it's hard to get them to vote that way when labor organizers aren't hounding them. Card check is labor's last hope for more dues-paying union members.
Unions simply aren't popular and neither is card check. But it passed the House last year, only to be blocked in the Senate by a Republican filibuster. In 2009, with Washington controlled by Democrats, it would sail through Congress and President Obama would sign it. After all, neither Obama nor congressional Democrats have bucked organized labor even once.
Then Democrats might go after a longstanding target of big labor, section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act. It allows states to enact right-to-work laws, which bar workers from being forced to join a union. Twenty-two states have right-to-work laws.
The liberal scheme for killing conservative talk radio--the so-called fairness doctrine--would stand an excellent chance of becoming law. It would require radio stations to offer equal time, for free, to anyone seeking to reply to broadcasts featuring political opinion. To remain profitable, many stations would have to drop conservative talk shows, a major medium for communicating conservative ideas, rather than give up hours of free time. Obama has said he opposes the fairness doctrine. But would he veto it? Not likely.
Obama would nominate liberals to fill Supreme Court vacancies--no doubt about that--with the strong likelihood they'd be confirmed. As a senator, he voted against John Roberts and Sam Alito. And free trade agreements would become a thing of the past, given liberal and labor opposition.
What about Obama's health care plan? He's described it as step or two away from a single payer, government-run health system like Canada's. While expensive, its chances of passage would be quite good.
A bad economy, however, might keep Obama and his allies in Congress from passing his entire package of tax increases and his "cap and trade" proposal for curbing the emission of greenhouse gases. Obama has called for increasing the tax rate on capital gains, dividends, and the income of top earners, and raising the cap on payroll taxes. But tax hikes would worsen, not stimulate, a weak economy. So that might make Democrats balk--except they might not. For liberals, requiring the well-to-do to pay higher taxes is a matter of ideology.
So is cap and trade. It would drive up the cost of energy, another downer for the economy, but Democrats believe it's necessary to save the planet. Besides, the environmental lobby would demand cap and trade's enactment. And environmentalists have as tight a grip on Democrats as labor does. Obama has never crossed environmentalists.
As for foreign and national security policy, there'd be nothing stopping President Obama from doing what he wanted in a liberal-dominated Washington, including a quick troop exit from Iraq and presidential-level talks with anti-American dictators. Congress would go along. The media would cheer.
But who knows? Maybe McCain and Republicans will rally their forces and keep the worst from happening--the worst, that is, from a conservative standpoint. The campaign has changed direction twice in less than two months, first when McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, then when the financial panic hit. There could be a third game changer.
If not, we face the liberal deluge.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.