Two hundred years of American democracy could definitively end November 5, starting in Missouri.

No matter what happens in the overall election, the race for the US Senate seat from Missouri will determine who controls the Congress on November 6. Should incumbent Democrat Jean Carnahan lose, the Republicans will immediately take control of the US Senate. They could then use a lame duck session to destroy the last vestiges of the American system of checks and balances. They are confident this will happen, and are spending millions to make sure it does.

The upper chamber is now divided between 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one brave independent. Elected as a Republican, Vermont's Jim Jeffords chose independence in the face of the Bush blitzkreig. His profile in courage is stamped on the last check and balance in American government.

With a ruthless hard-right cabal in charge of the Executive Branch, the Republicans have moved to complete their definitive conquest of the judiciary and the media.

The US court system is now thoroughly dominated by conservative Republicans. Their Supreme Court installed Bush in the White House after the disputed 2000 election, which Bush lost by more than 500,000 votes nationwide. Another horde of prospective right wing judges is now poised to finish transforming the judiciary from the civil liberties safety net it was just a few decades ago to a hollow rubber stamp for executive privilege.

The national media is a mirror image. Dominated by six major corporations, the major print, television and radio outlets convey a ceaseless barrage of right-wing bloviators. What minor balance remains comes through the internet and a few isolated talk radio shows.

There have been times in US history, particularly during the Civil War and World Wars I & II, when executive power has been close to absolute. In each case the public understood the problem to be temporary. And so it was.

But today's GOP has declared as permanent its "anti-terrorist" assault on individual freedoms. The USA PATRIOT Act has extinguished the Bill of Rights that gave American democracy its birth. The Administration holds sacred only the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right of the sniper now terrorizing the nation's capital to bear arms.

Bush's commitment to other traditional American liberties is expressed by mass "anti-terror" imprisonments in Cuba and elsewhere without identifying the victims, charging them or allowing them legal counsel.

The Administration's relentless attack on traditional American freedoms has been somewhat slowed by the Democrats' razor-thin Senate majority. They've controlled the committees, the majority leadership and thus the Senate's basic agenda.

But that could end on election day. If Carnahan loses to Republican former Rep. James M. Talent, Talent will immediately take her seat. On November 6, the Senate would be comprised of 50 Republicans and 49 Democrats, plus Jeffords. The tie-breaking vote would be owned Vice President Dick Cheney. Republican activists can barely contain themselves.

Ironically, the seat was contested in 2000 by John Ashcroft, the current hard-right Attorney-General. Ashcroft lost to Mel Carhanan, the Democratic ex-governor who died in a plane crash shortly before the election. Jean Carnahan was then appointed to fill the seat on an interim basis.

Should she lose November 5, the Republicans will immediately call a lame duck session. The push for right-wing judiciary appointments would proceed. So would new tax cuts for the very rich and severe restrictions on liability lawsuits by victims of corporate negligence. Also on the docket might be an energy bill including major subsidies for nuclear power and fossil fuels, drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and other anti-planetary assaults.

The lame duck agenda would technically be subject to filibuster. In today's Senate, it takes 60 votes to get cloture and pass any legislation. But the Republicans could use their regained committee control to force stalled right-wing appointments onto the floor of the Senate. Filibustering could block their final approval in the lame duck session. But holding them back in the future would not be easy. And with control of the both houses of Congress, even for a relatively brief lame duck session, the Republicans will hold absolute power over the American government.

Already, the Republican rout of the feeble Daschle-Gephardt leadership is virtually complete. The Democrats' unwillingness to support Sen. Robert Byrd's filibuster against Bush's Iraqi war powers sealed that victory, as did the Dems' failure to investigate Bush-Cheney stock abuses at Harken and Halliburton.

Bush's ruthless mastery of the Iraqi war card shut the collapse of the American economy out of the 2002 election debate, protecting the GOP from the usual mid-term gains of the opposition party. This year, the anemic Democrats will be lucky to hold their own.

Whether Bush actually attacks Iraq remains to be seen. At very least, he's helped re-ignite a global anti-war movement.

But the Democrats have already handed him a blank check to make war on whoever he wants to abroad, and against the Constitution at home.

If Jean Carnahan loses in Missouri November 5, the last vestige of American democracy will be gone.

Harvey Wasserman is author of THE LAST ENERGY WAR: THE BATTLE OVER UTILITY DEREGULATION (Seven Stories Press).