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.