What a difference a year makes. In 1972, the “silent majority” reelected Richard Nixon in a landslide, trumping George McGovern with 520 electoral votes to McGovern’s measly 17. (McGovern only won his home state of Massachusetts and the District of Columbia). Nixon captured nearly 62 percent of the vote.
A year later, at about the same point in his second term that Bush is at now, President Nixon’s approval rating was at 34 percent. According to Gallup, Bush currently has a 40% approval rating. In the summer of 1973, Nixon was embroiled in the worst of Watergate. In the 1974-midterm elections the Democrats, likely a direct result of Watergate fiasco picked up 49 seats in the House of Representatives and 4 Senate seats. In the House, this was only six seats shy of the number of seats that Republicans picked up during the 1994 “Gingrich Revolution” midterm elections. Americans did not need much convincing in 1974 that Nixon in particular and Republicans in general were on the wrong track.
A few months back I detected faint signs that there might be a political shift coming in this country. I no longer am looking for signs. I see lots of them and the consequences are now clear. The timing was premature in the 2004 election but the doubts about Bush and the Republicans were obvious even then. The most liberal senator in the U.S. Senate does not lose to an incumbent wartime president by only three percent unless the public having many second thoughts. The question now becomes, are the Democrats shrewd enough to fully capitalize on the shift that is likely to happen in 2006? If they are then they should be able to easily take back at least one house of Congress.
Sadly, the current signs are that most of our national Democratic politicians remain spineless and cowered. However, to me Cindy Sheehan is a harbinger. The winds of change are blowing and she is riding the first gust of that wind. The polls are clear: the American people have figured out that our war in Iraq is unwinnable. To win, Democrats have to embrace its inevitability too.
Bush’s poll numbers are likely to keep dropping. They will likely hit Nixon’s levels and could go even lower. As bad as Watergate was, the War in Iraq was much worse. Nixon and his cronies committed crimes, but no one died. Thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died as a direct consequence of Bush’s gross incompetence. Bush’s cascading poll numbers should give many Democrats the courage they finally need to come out for unilaterally withdrawing our troops from Iraq. Nevertheless, apparently most Democrats are still feeling very pussy-whipped. In 2002, they were pummeled for openly supporting President Bush on terrorism and Iraq. Despite their subservience, Bush still castigated Democrats as being soft on terrorism. Well, it is payback time.
Democrats need to put the blame for the fiasco directly on Bush where it clearly belongs. If Bush gave no credit to Democrats for supporting him in 2002 then they should cut him no slack today. Democrats need to say it often and say it loud: the Bush Administration and the Republicans who marched in goosestep with him bungled both the War on Terror and the War in Iraq. They simply need to stay on message. Americans are actively listening and these are the words they want to hear.
Yet it is not sufficient to just complain. The Democrats must have an alternative. It is foolish at this point to even pretend that the War in Iraq can be won. The Democrats should demand a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. They should let the voters know that if Bush and the Republicans will not withdraw our troops, they will if put back in power. What Congress gives Congress can take away. It can rescind its resolution authorization of force against Iraq with another resolution, noting that their previous authorization was conditioned on Iraq being a direct threat to America’s national security, which it was not. Moreover, Democrats can say that if put back in power that they will use the power of the purse to make sure the withdrawal happens. The power to make war rests with Congress, not the president. Consequently, the power to stop a war also rests ultimately with Congress.
Then the Democrats will have to say what they would do differently to win the War on Terror. I have a number of pragmatic suggestions, but of course, not all will be politically viable. However, some of them will certainly ring with voters. Securing nuclear stockpiles. Seriously hunting down and tracking those directly responsible for 9/11. Finding then capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. Focusing relentlessly on a real peace between Israel and Palestine. Improving the lives of Palestinians through generous grants that are conditioned on meaningful progress toward non-violence and democratic reform.
If the Iraq debacle were not enough, there will be plenty of other winning issues on which to run. The price of gasoline will not be going down. In fact, gasoline price increases are likely to fuel the first painful inflation we have witnessed in more than a decade. Of course, it will hit the middle class and the poor disproportionately. It will shrink the standard of living for most Americans. Democrats should be advocating for long term solutions. This will show that they have a grasp of what is actually necessary to solve the problem. These include clean alternative fuels and increased CAFE standards for automobiles. In 2006, these will be winning issues.
Democrats simply need to move to where the voters already are. The voters are no longer with Bush or the Republicans. Even in his home state of Texas, Bush can barely eke out a fifty percent approval rating. The voters are looking for mainstream and moderate politicians. They are looking for pragmatic candidates who have viable ideas on how to run our government during these challenging times. Voters know that the Republicans have failed miserably at the task. Unfortunately, it will not work for the Democrats to be Republican-lite in order to win. Given a choice between Republican and Republican-lite, there is little incentive to change the course. Democrats must return to their Democratic roots. Clearly, the Republican Party is not nor has ever been the party that cared about ordinary Americans.
What is old will be new. Just as people in Great Britain tired of Conservative government, the time is now ripe for the Democrats. A living wage will be embraced. Environmental protection will seem sensible. Cooperation rather than confrontation with the international community will be welcomed. To start, this requires the courage to demand the phased and orderly withdrawal of our troops from Iraq.