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A number of factors appear to be coming together–a perfect political storm if you will–to suggest that the 2004 elections could be a watershed in American politics instead of the Democratic Waterloo many were anticipating only six months ago.
First of all, the growing cynicism about and disinterest in politics on the part of the majority of American citizens appears to be convincing political strategists in both parties that the Clintonian strategy of seeking out and winning over the undecided voter is a waste of time and money. Since so few of these swing or so-called “independent” voters will vote anyway, since they are so easily swayed back and forth in their choices, and since winning them involves a huge risk of alienating otherwise assured partisan voters, it is and has always been a foolish strategy.
This raises the possibility of a more ideologically driven campaign, with both parties appealing to what is left of their principles in an effort to get their more ardent supporters active in the campaign and to the voting both on election day.
Bad news that for the Democratic Leadership Council and for Republicans in Democratic clothing like Joe Lieberman.
I’m not deluding myself that the Democratic Party will suddenly become the party of FDR in ’36, but it and Democratic candidates for national office clearly will have to give those remaining 13 million trade union members, along with the nation’s black and Hispanic voters, its low-wage hamburger flippers, and its idealistic students, a reason to campaign and to vote.
Those fabled soccer moms of the 2000 campaign will not be courted so ardently this time around. In this campaign, they may simply have to decide for themselves whether abortion rights, adequate school funding and clean air trump feel good images of family men bussing their wives in public or talking about the need for morality in government.
Second, the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld all-war-all-the-time strategy of maintaining Americans in a state of jingoistic fervor, while keeping everyone on edge with color-coded terror alerts, appears to have backfired. Yellow and orange Homeland Security alerts don’t have everyone jumping for the duct tape and plastic any more. And meanwhile, things are falling apart rapidly in both Afghanistan and Iraq. A few months ago, if Iraqi guerrillas had managed to pull off a Lebanon-style mass bombing of American troops, a pumped-up American public probably would have demanded a massive infusion of more heavily armed troops to crush the bastards. Now, after months of quagmire-like occupation, with Iraq no better off than it was at the end of the American assault on Baghdad, with American GI’s getting picked off at a rate of about one per day, such a military disaster would probably, Tet-like, lead to popular demands for the U.S. to simply pull out of Iraq, leaving the country in complete chaos.
The Bush administration is desperate to avoid going into the 2004 election with a messy Iraq occupation still on its hands, but there is probably no way out at this point. The attacks on the U.N. compound and the latest horrific mosque bombing have pretty much obliterated any chance that other countries–already angry at U.S. unilateralism–will step in to help with the occupation (does anybody seriously believe that it was the U.S. that decided, after that latter blast, to delay the planned takeover of occupation duties in Najaf by Polish troops? ). At the same time, it has become politically impossible at this point for the Pentagon to send in more U.S. troops–something it might have gotten away with two months ago but which now would be portrayed as a replay of Vietnam.
Neither can Bush adopt the Nixonian approach of declaring victory and pulling out. The Nixon “secret plan” for ending the war in Vietnam, recall, was to hand the war over to the South Vietnamese government and army, providing it with sufficient firepower to allow it to hold off the inevitable Communist victory long enough to either get him through his term or to allow him to lay the blame for the “loss” of South Vietnam on Saigon.
But Iraq has no government or army to hand things over to, and the likelihood that its feuding tribes and religious sects could be cobbled together into something that could pass for a government at least through next November, or that the semblance of a puppet army could be created that wouldn’t simply fuel further chaos, civil strife and attacks on U.S. troops, is next to nil.
My guess is that Karl Rove is probably kicking himself for that hubristic staging of a Bush carrier landing. If anyone ends up using it in campaign commercials, it will probably be the eventual Democratic presidential candidate. My suggestion is for a “Mr. Bill”-style commercial featuring the KB Toys Bush flight-suited action figure, mocking his declaration that “Major conflict” in Iraq is over. This would capitalize on the new penchant, among pundits, to suggest that we need to have grownups in charge in Washington, instead of the adolescents who are running things these days.
The economy too, is likely to be in sorry shape during this campaign. Anyone who thinks that corporate America is going to start investing, with the prospect of those huge budget deficits on out to the horizon, with over 6 percent of Americans unemployed, and with everyone extended to the limits on their credit, is simply delusional. One in five Americans has been laid off at some point in the last two years, which means that just about everyone knows or has relatives who have been laid off, and that everyone is worried about their own job security. That’s hardly fertile ground for an economic boom.
The best that Republicans can hope for is perhaps a stock market rebound, but that won’t help that Democratic base or lowly wage-earners to which it appears the party will now be turning.
Of course, the Democratic Party and its presidential candidates have shown an uncanny ability to do the wrong thing in recent years. It’s still possible that Democratic candidates, whose lust for corporate affection resembles Clinton’s insatiable and self-destructive appetite for young women, could adopt the losing strategy of trying to appeal yet again to Republican voters. Candidate Howard Dean, for example, whose basic position on most economic issues are close to Lieberman’s, could end up campaigning after the primaries like a centrist and losing those crucial union and minority voters.
If whoever wins that nomination does decide to appeal to the party’s traditional base this year, however, and goes after Bush and Republican congressional candidates on the key issues of the war, the economy and the massive tax breaks for the rich and corporate America, November 2004 could bring dramatic changes.
Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html