Victor Davis Hanson

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.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.