The Democrats and Dubai

It didn’t take long after the flap over the Dubai ports deal broke for media pundits to claim that this issue might just be the push the Democrats need to win back Congress later this year.

Pollster Scott Rasmussen wrote that the Dubai ports controversy gave Democrats the opening to make their case. “It’s important to note that the Dubai Ports story is far more significant politically than the issue itself,” said pollster Scott Rasmussen. “That’s because it gives people an opportunity to re-evaluate the president on a whole range of issues relating to national security.

“Our latest survey finds the number who think the U.S. and its allies are winning the ‘war on terror’ has dipped below 40 percent and is near the lowest levels ever recorded. By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans think things in Iraq are likely to get worse in the next six months. That’s the bleakest assessment since the first votes were cast in Iraq over a year ago.”

As the University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato put it, “Since 9/11, Bush’s consistent political advantage has been the public’s confidence in him to handle the terrorist threat. The Iraq war has weakened Bush’s edge, and now the Dubai ports misstep may destroy it. This has become a troubled and tone-deaf presidency.”

While there is still a long way to go before the November mid-term elections, there is no denying that the Democrats are feeling more confident these days. In the Dubai deal, they feel that they have painted the president into a corner–hanging a tangible “flip flop” on “national security” around his neck.

After putting up with years of Bush and the Republicans bashing them for being soft on “national security,” Democrats feel they can return the favor. And many of their partisans, including most liberal bloggers and commentators, went along with them.

Yet the fact that Democrats could win support by adopting an openly racist and jingoist position on the ports deal is hardly a cause for celebration. It was yet another example of how confusing support for the Democrats with advancing a progressive agenda leads in the wrong direction.

The key factors driving opposition to Bush are the war in Iraq, declining wages and living standards, and the perception of the administration’s corruption and incompetence, as demonstrated by its inaction around Hurricane Katrina.

But Democrats are loath to promise an end to the war, better jobs and health care. And any promises to reform the “culture of corruption” in Washington are likely to evaporate if they become the congressional majority.

So the Dubai controversy gives them a way to talk about something else: how they’re tougher than Bush when it comes to the “war on terror.” If they listen to the pundits and convince themselves that the Dubai flap helped them, then expect more jingoism and racism from leading Democratic candidates.

In 2004, John Kerry’s pro-war message didn’t work as well when Bush could still draw on just enough voters who were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. In 2006, with Bush widely seen as a failure, the Democrats may indeed gain some support for their hard-line positions on the “war on terror.”

But if this is the case, then the millions who most hate what Bush and his administration represent will end up voting for politicians who don’t really want to put an end to Bush’s disastrous policies as much as they would like to make them work better.

As in the recent tussle over the USA PATRIOT Act–where Democrats waged a brief filibuster, only to drop their opposition after the administration gave them a few meaningless changes to the law–they don’t seek to stop the administration so much as give its policies a bipartisan seal of approval.

Democrats aren’t aligning themselves with the huge majorities who oppose the war and question the “war on terror” so much as they are rehabilitating these discredited Bush initiatives.

LANCE SELFA writes for the Socialist Worker.