The anti-Iraq war mandate, Religious Right, and Dems' chance to tackle both

Elizabeth Drew in the a recent issue of The New York Review of Books gives as convincing of a narrative concerning the nature of the Democrats' victory in November 2006 as I've read anywhere. There are some important observations in the Drew's article.

First, the situation for the GOP going into the elections of November, 2006:

In an interview, the astute Republican lobbyist and activist Vin Weber said of the Christian conservatives, "They really are to the Republican party what labor or African-Americans are to the Democrats--similar in numbers and impact." Weber told me, "The evangelical vote is simply larger than that of other Republican constituencies."

The Rove "genius," his daunting get-out-the-vote machinery mobilizing Republican activists on the ground, as well as his ability to frame issues from gay marriage to fighting terrorism in a way that puts Democrats on the defensive, added to the mystique of Republican invincibility. But Rove's real innovation was to develop a far more sophisticated "targeting" operation-- figuring out, for example, where the Christian right and evangelical voters are to be found, and making sure they get to the polls.

However, "Mechanics alone can't win elections," Drew rightly points out, and the American "electorate is closely divided." The result of the November 2006 election--that is, the Democratic Party's capture of the House and Senate--was because "59 percent of independents voted for Democrats--up from 49 percent in 2004." Why? In part because the "embrace of Christian conservatives has helped push the Republican Party far to the right, leaving more centrist and independent voters up for grabs."

But the even greater motivator of anti-Republican votes (which tended to be pro-Democratic only incidentally, except in the case of voters in their 20's) was the issue of Iraq.

Drew gets this.

By late September [2006], most of the public had come to realize that the war in Iraq was an entirely separate matter from the "war on terror." In the past, Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other administration figures had, with considerable success, tried to conjoin the two issues. Iraq, Bush said repeatedly, was the "central front in the war on terror."

Drew cites a poll indicating that

during September a large part of the public figured out that it had been sold a bill of goods: that the increasingly costly and unsuccessful war in Iraq wasn't part of the war on terrorism, as Bush and Cheney had been asserting that it was.

Well, impressive. For four years Cheney and Rove successfully used "the same sales pitch" with the public. That it took until September 2006 for enough Americans to figure this out is simply appalling.

But, figure it out--belatedly--enough American voters did. As David Price (D-NC) summarizes for Drew:

"The election was much more a referendum on Bush and Iraq and the Republican stewardship of the House than a response to what [Democrats] said. It wasn't that we had such an inspiring program."

Or as Bill Clinton put it: Democrats have been given "not a mandate but an opportunity."

An aggressive Democratic posture vis-a-vis the Bush administration's Iraq idiocy is what is now needed. Needed badly. And it's yet to materialize. Such a successful aggressive Democratic stance will create a beach head from which Democrats can begin to more thoroughly counter:

1. the Religious Right's anti-republic and crypto-theocratic agenda, with all its dehumanizing homophobia, racism, and misogyny, and

2. the Old Guard Corporatists' gold-worshiping agenda, with all its Social Darwinism--a grotesque socio-economic caricature of the Darwinism of the biological sciences, a callous and anti-humanistic worldview that deems the poor worthy of their poverty always and in every case, and the wealthy worthy of their wealth that effortless makes more wealth--first and foremost for themselves--always and in every case.

But such a resistance to the President on Iraq creates something else yet again, something even more important in the longterm (which, by American political standards is all of 8-15 years) . . . vision and inspiration upon which a viable Democratic forcefulness (as opposed to typical defensiveness) can endure. Here is the rub Democrats can at this point only hope to encounter.

What will it be and who will articulate it? A vision of an America leading an international and rationalistic global community? Unlikely. Perhaps an America in which a Democratic presidential candidate at least calls for a sweeping New Deal-style national program towards energy independence and scientific innovation.

As Michael Tomasky describes in the current The New York Review of Books, some Democrats, like Rep. Rahm Emanuel, think the Great Idea needed is the creation of mandatory national service among the young. Some, like Chuck Schumer think (seriously) that it's limiting children's access to the Internet by 50%.

Emanuel's in particular is not a bad idea at all (Gen. Wes Clark proposed something similar as part of is 2004 campaign for president), and Schumer's isn't entirely off-base, but I feel worried if these ideas represent the best that the Democrats can muster.

Regardless, it is way past time for Democrats to seize November's opportunity.

(Cross-posted here.)

Tags: 2006 elections, 2006 Midterms, elizabeth drew, Iraq, religious right (all tags)

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