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The Democrats need to win just 15 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate to win majorities in both houses of Congress, making George Bush a badly battered lame duck for the next two years.
This is Hillary Clinton’s, Al Gore’s, John Kerry’s and John Edwards’ dream scenario. Likewise, many liberal and progressive activists who seek to end the war in Iraq are putting their hopes in this outcome as well.
But how likely is a Democratic victory–and would it have anything to do with ending the war?
Recent polls show a 40 percent-to-30 percent preference for Democrats over Republicans in the mid-term elections. Over the spring and summer, Bush’s polls sank below 35 percent, a large majority of people grew disgusted with the war in Iraq, and falling wages and living standards were weighing heavily on workers’ minds.
Republican scandals are the talk of the town, and the festering sore of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina remains unhealed. Topping it all off, millions of immigrants took to the streets to protest a racist bill passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
This would be welcome news to any genuine opposition party. But the Democrats seem as nervous about the brewing class anger as their counterparts across the aisle, and they continue to cling tightly to their "Republican Lite" strategy–portraying themselves as the party that can "win" the "war on terror."
Thus, the election campaign of the next eight weeks will be very predictable. George Bush and the Republicans will raise security threats to orange and red, accuse the Democrats of wanting to "cut and run" from Iraq, and preach the old-time religion of tax cuts.
The Democrats will complain that Bush isn’t enacting enough Homeland Security measures (guarding our ports, bus stations, etc.) and that he bungled the war in Iraq. They will accuse Bush of giving away the farm to his wealthy pals, but they won’t propose transferring much more than pocket change from rich to poor.
And on Election Day, more than half of those eligible won’t vote.
In the past month, the Democrats’ full-throated cheering of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, their cooperation with Bush to push through anti-immigrant legislation in the Senate, and their inability to articulate a plan to bring economic relief to the working class majority has opened the door to a Bush recovery of sorts. Bush’s poll numbers are back up over 40 percent.
With Congress so thoroughly gerrymandered that winning even 15 House seats is difficult, the chances of a Democratic sweep are far from certain.
Pure-and-simple lesser evilism
SOME SECTIONS of the liberal establishment agree that the Democrats are acting too conservatively, but will organize support for them anyway on the grounds that anyone is better than the Republicans–that the Democrats are at least a "lesser evil."
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney clearly expressed this line of thought, saying, "George Bush isn’t on the ballot this November, but his agenda is, and the Republicans in Congress who have rubber-stamped his priorities are." He went on to pledge $40 million in union members’ dues money to help Democrats in 80 targeted congressional races.
This strategy doesn’t even make the pretense of supporting "progressive" Democrats. Rather, the AFL-CIO will throw cash at any Democrat who has a chance to win.
But it isn’t just Republicans who have been, as Sweeny put it, "rubber-stamping" Bush’s agenda. Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate voted 98-0 for Bush’s latest $450 billion Pentagon budget–the latest unanimous vote for Bush’s outrageous military spending requests. Similarly, the Senate voted 99-1 for the USA PATRIOT Act and 100-0 to invade Afghanistan.
In May, 38 out of 45 Democratic senators voted for so-called compromise legislation on immigration, supported by Bush, that would deport millions of people, build a bigger wall on the border with Mexico and establish a guest-worker program. More Democrats voted for the Bush-supported bill than Republicans!
On Labor Day, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) told immigrant rights marchers that the Republican Congressional leaders should "listen" to Bush.
Progressive lesser evilism
SOME SELF-described progressive forces, whose main aim is to become players in the Democratic Party, claim to reject Sweeney’s pure-and-simple "lesser evilism." Instead, they argue that the Democrats can only win if they are "pushed" to the left by grassroots pressure.
While accepting the idea that the Democrats winning is the most important thing, they highlight so-called "progressive" candidates as part of a plan to "take back" the Democratic Party.
MoveOn.org exemplifies this trend, and its current poster boy is Ned Lamont, who beat conservative Democrat Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Senate primary election. But if you scratch the surface, you find that Ned Lamont is not so much antiwar as he is anti-Lieberman.
This is what Lamont’s Web site said after Israel invaded Lebanon and murdered 1,000 civilians: "At this critical time in the Middle East, I believe that when Israel’s security is threatened, the United States must unambiguously stand with our ally to be sure that it is safe and secure. On this principle, Americans are united."
On Iraq, Lamont says, "I salute the patriotism and wisdom of Congressman John Murtha and others who emphasize that ‘stay the course’ is not a winning strategy for Iraq or America. While we will continue to provide logistical and training support as long as we are asked, our frontline military troops should begin to be redeployed, and our troops should start heading home."
While this sounds vaguely "antiwar," the devil is in the details. "Redeployment" is Murtha’s codeword for pushing the Iraqi puppet-army forward and relying more on American air power in Iraq.
Moreover, Lamont says only that "frontline troops" (what about special forces? the CIA?), should "begin" to "start heading home." Last December, after the election in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that American troops could "begin" to "start heading home." A year later, nothing has changed.
Just because Lamont is a Democrat, he shouldn’t be permitted to play the same verbal games with the lives of Iraqis and U.S. soldiers.
Antiwar lesser evilism
FINALLY, THERE are people who genuinely want to end the war, but continue to cling to the hope that a reformed Democratic Party will lead the fight, or at least believe that supporting "antiwar" Democrats must be a central component of a successful antiwar strategy.
The Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and the leadership of the United for Peace and Justice antiwar coalition represent these ideas.
One of the PDA’s main activities this fall is Camp Democracy, a two-week-long event in Washington, D.C., which was billed as a protest of the war featuring prominent liberal Democrats. Yet while PDA politicians such as Reps. Lynne Woolsey, Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Lee can sound very antiwar sometimes, when push came to shove, all either voted for or abstained on the House resolution cheering on Israel’s assault on Lebanon.
Moreover, they agree with the more conservative Democrats that one of the big problems with the war in Iraq is that it is an "ineffective way" to fight the "war on terror." As Woolsey put it at Camp Democracy’s opening day, the war in Iraq has made "the world a more dangerous place and increase[d] the terrorist threat… [It has] created more jihadists and inspire[d] more hatred of America among Muslim extremists…"
Emphasizing the "terrorist threat" and "Muslim extremists" is not exactly a principled basis on which to organize an antiwar movement.
This only goes to show how little difference there is between the so-called "progressive" wing of the Democratic Party and the corporate powerbrokers who run it.
In 2004, Dennis Kucinich campaigned in the presidential primary for months denouncing John Kerry’s support for the invasion of Iraq. Then, at the Democrats’ convention, he disciplined his supporters to shut up and get in line behind John "I’ll send more troops to Iraq" Kerry.
The PDA politicians put their loyalty to the Democratic Party above the interests of the movement. They aren’t part of the process of building an antiwar movement that puts ending the war as its primary goal, but are an obstacle to it.
The longer it takes our movement to reject all versions of lesser evilism, the longer it will take to build a movement powerful enough to win peace and social justice.
TODD CHRETIEN is the Green Party candidate for US Senate, running against Sen. Dianne Feinstein in California. He can be reached at: ToddChretien@mac.com