American Culture

Democrats should run on the economy instead of Iraq

By Martin Bosworth

Like my colleague Bonesparkle, I am often possessed of thoughts that diverge significantly from the accepted paradigm, and could be considered heretical in some circles. Okay, that’s a little self-important, but I still find myself questioning a lot of commonly held assumptions, because they may actually not bear up under scrutiny.

In this case, something I’ve been wondering about for a long time is the idea that in order to win the 2008 Presidential election, the Democratic candidates should forgo making Iraq the central issue to campaign on, and adopt the lesson of the current front-runner’s husband–“it’s the economy, stupid.”

Chris Bowers at Open Left opposes the idea that Congressional Dems are going to run campaigns focusing on the economy rather than Iraq in 2008, believing that both issues should be part of a larger “progressive platform.” I certainly agree with that, but I actually think the triangulation from Rahm Emanuel is solid. (Never thought I’d say THAT.) Let’s look at the facts.

Home prices are set for a massive collapse, fueled by irresponsible lending, uneducated buying, predatory selling tactics, overdevelopment and excess inventory, and market-assisted encouragement of consumers to leverage themselves to the max in debt in order to maintain the appearance of a middle-class lifestyle. These policies were directly promoted by George Bush (“Go shopping”) and Alan Greenspan, and the end result has been record numbers of foreclosures, bank failures and bailouts in the billions, and a global tightening of credit that some called a “bigger threat than terrorism.” Ian Welsh at the Agonist has a pretty concise roundup of how this will all probably play out that I recommend.

Then there’s the fact that there are not nearly the number of jobs and employed Americans there should be in a supposedly “growing economy.” When you have thousands of people being turned away from jobs with Wal-Mart in an urban center like Cleveland, something’s really fucking wrong. We are entrapped in a “debt-industrial complex” that is silently ensnaring Americans in a web they will never escape. Like the Matrix, you feel it every time you hand over half your paycheck to your student lender. You feel it every time your wallet gets lighter from increased gas prices. You feel it every time you have to scrimp and save for things you thought you’d be able to afford, but couldn’t because of a financial crisis, or just the increased costs of everyday living.

The fact that every single Democratic candidate has made issues of fighting poverty and middle class stagnation a key campaign tenet is impossible to ignore. John Edwards was out front on these issues, of course, and Chris Dodd has backed up his leadership on Constitutional issues with strong advocacy for the middle class, the impoverished, and the indebted. These are issues that resonate with every American, everywhere. Unless you’re one of the rich fat cats benefiting from our new Gilded Age, you’re feeling the pain of our dire economic circumstances. People can argue (however wrongly) that we may need to be in Iraq, or that gay marriage is wrong, or that global heating isn’t our fault, but who can really argue in favor of credit card companies, shady predatory lenders, crappy bank fees, and high oil prices, and expect to be taken seriously? EVERYONE hates these guys, and that’s an issue that Democrats have always come out strong on.

The usage of Iraq as a plank is problematic in another sense–the record is muddied by those Dems who supported the Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) and continue to either gloss over their action or run from it. Biden, Clinton, Dodd, and Edwards all voted for the AUMF and put us on the path to the endless quagmire we’re in now. If jamokes like me could see what a crock that was in 2002, why couldn’t they? It’s a reasonable question, and one that could and should dog any attempt to paint the colossal abomination that is Iraq solely as the Republicans’ responsibility. This may be Bush’s war, but those four helped make it happen.

But it’s also Bush’s economy, with all the failure that entails, and although Biden (aka D-MBNA) voted for the horror that was the 2005 bankruptcy bill, the rest of the current candidates for President did not. Read Obama’s speech from that vote as a textbook example of how Democrats can lead on this issue. Democrats in general, and progressive Democrats in particular, can make this the wedge issue and distinguish themselves far more clearly and strongly to average Americans than on any issue of foreign policy. Because, ultimately, that’s what resonates with Americans and all people most–what’s affecting them directly.

This is not to say that we should forget about Iraq or downplay it. But in order for us to get out of Iraq, we need to have a coalition strong enough to withstand all challenges and embrace the popular support to end the war. To build that coalition, we need to get more real Democrats in Congress and the Oval Office–and the economy is the issue that can get them there. Democrats, for all that they are perceived as weak and compromising, are still largely seen as the party of the little guy and the working man. They should use that to their advantage and dance with the people what brung ’em, as they say.

14 replies »

  1. One of the things I wonder about today’s housing bubble is how it will affect the economy once it’s deflated.

    When the telecomm bubble popped, it left a massive amount of dark fiber trenched into the ground that enabled the bandwidth-intensive Web 2.0 applications we’re now seeing and generally profiting from (and that also led to easy offshoring, which is why I said “generally”). With the massive overconstruction of homes in the U.S., I wonder if we’ll see many communities that were once foreclosure hell (I used to live in one) turn vibrant, or if they’ll remain vacant because the banks are unwilling to cut their losses and turn the homes over to affordable and subsidized housing foundations.

    Possible up-sides to the other side of the housing bubble pop doesn’t make living through the pop any easier, but may give us an economic boost after the fact. Time will tell.

  2. Brian,

    A very good observation! Once we come through the housing crash, there will be so much inventory on the market–both from foreclosures and unsold homes–that prices will be rock-bottom. This, ironically, will be a much better path to home ownership than the “easy credit” model which helped trigger the bubble in the first place.

    Not every community will survive or make it through unscathed, but those that do will have a golden opportunity for revitalization–but that’s IF we have a strong enough middle-class bedrock to greet them with.That means jobs, health care, environmental safety, and good education for the kids. Workforce housing is the way of the future, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

  3. Well said, Martin. Perhaps you’ve detected a similar theme running through the past few Quotabulls?

    Thanks for the good read.

  4. Martin said “…that’s IF we have a strong enough middle-class bedrock to greet them with.That means jobs, health care, environmental safety, and good education for the kids. Workforce housing is the way of the future, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.”

    Let’s all think about that list – this administration has left us in such a mess on each of these fronts that had we no “foreign commitments” at all, we’d be facing a huge test for our country. With the money vacuum that is Iraq robbing us of lives and money at an alarming rate, my fear is that we’ve passed a tipping point.

    And then one adds issues like overcoming peak oil’s decline (the true rate of which no one seems to have a handle on), the need to rebuild infrastructure, and other huge problems we must solve and it seems the Busheviks have not just bombed Iraq into the Stone Age – they’ve spen us there…with our willing complicity….

  5. Jim,

    It is terrifying, but I think we can make it. It’s going to require a HUGE shift in national priorities and how we live in our country, but it can be done.

    Complete withdrawal from Iraq could free up money to spend on our crumbling bridges, decaying roads, and aging mass transit systems, which could help enhance better urban planning and reliance on gas guzzlers. As I mentioned upthread, there will be a LOT of homes on the market after the crash comes to an end, many selling at rock-bottom prices. Create a program to subsidize home loans for public servants (firemen, police, nurses, state and federal employees) to live where they work, and you’ll have a resurgent middle class in no time.

    We can do it. We just need the political will and a leader strong enough to sell it to the public. That’s why I think the Dems should run on the economy. Even Joe Biden couldn’t fuck up a plan as airtight as this.

  6. Martin, I agree with you that the Dems should run on the economy.

    I could see a home loan guarantee program, but an actual subsidy…? WOW, that would sure be an expensive program, and I’m not sure how we would pay for it.

    Jeff

  7. Jeff,

    We’re spending upwards of a trillion dollars in Iraq. That alone could fund an initiative to guarantee subsidized housing for low-income areas throughout the country. And that doesn’t even get into ideas like letting the Bush tax cuts expire or streamlining budgets of wasteful defense projects that go nowhere and don’t help the troops.

    The money’s all there. It’s just a matter of directing it smartly.

  8. You may be right. After all, America’s true God is named ‘MONEY’.

    Moral decency and rightiousness are merely marketing slogans.

  9. >Complete withdrawal from Iraq could free up money to spend on
    >our crumbling bridges, decaying roads, and aging mass transit
    >systems, which could help enhance better urban planning and
    >reliance on gas guzzlers.

    Actually, withdrawal from Iraq would only free enough money to start paying off the 20 trillion or so in internal and external debt that is currently not funded.

    To create any meaningful programs of the sort you mention, the US will need to reconsider it’s status as an empire. Does it really need to maintain an active military pressence in more than a hundred nations, does the US really need to spend 50 percent of it’s budget on military related spending etc. If you cut back the *ACTUAL* military spending, you’d have money up the wazoo to pay for any social programs you might want.

  10. Yeah, that’s it. The Democrats have shown over and over again that they support Bush and the Corporations over the people. Expecting them to suddenly make a turn-around in the public’s perception is futile. Even if they wanted to do something about the economy, it is too late. Massive US debt, a costly war, failing health care, oil shortages, a collapsing banking sector, and a dollar being propped up by magic, are crushing us. I don’t want any useless Democratic promises. I don’t care if these spineless Democrats gain votes. We’re are heading down a slippery slope and you are better off making preparations for you and your family at this time rather than relying on any politician.

  11. Martin Said:

    “We’re spending upwards of a trillion dollars in Iraq. That alone could fund an initiative to guarantee subsidized housing for low-income areas throughout the country. And that doesn’t even get into ideas like letting the Bush tax cuts expire or streamlining budgets of wasteful defense projects that go nowhere and don’t help the troops.

    The money’s all there. It’s just a matter of directing it smartly”

    No matter who’s directing the money, it won’t be spent smartly, you can bet on that. The Democrats won’t spend it any smarter than the Republicans. Streamlining wasteful projects, it’s just not going to happen in government. I wonder how many times a cabinet officer went into a meeting with the president and said, “You can cut my department’s budget.”

    As for letting the tax cuts expire, I think they ought to be increased. It’s guys like me who pay the lions share of the taxes in this country, and we need tax relief. My tax bill is astronomically high for an individual, even with all of the deductions figured in. I’ve thought about booking all of my trades offshore in a tax haven, but my patriotism got the better of me and I decided not to pursue that path. I guess it’s that old “Rend unto Caesar..” clause that keeps me honest. A capital gains tax cut, or elimination of that tax altogether would help the middle class greatly.

    As for people thinking that governments have control over the economy, they’re sadly misled. Governments can temporarily influence an economy, but they can’t control an economy, except to make it worse by bad policy. And their making it worse is still subject to the vagaries of the market and the psychology of the participants. The market is so much bigger than any government. The Fed has much more influence over this economy than the government, which is the way it should be.

    Tax cuts don’t necessarily stimulate an economy when things are in a pronounced slump, either. Tax increases,( transfer of wealth that undermines success) punish the successful, but don’t always hurt an economy (much to the chagrin of my Republican buddies). Tax increases do push a lot of business away from our shores. And business(an evil concept for many) is good for everyone, rich and poor alike.

    Gallery is headed in the right direction when he/she said:
    “We’re are heading down a slippery slope and you are better off making preparations for you and your family at this time rather than relying on any politician.”

    Jeff

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