Wherever they were given the opportunity, voters across the country went strongly for antiwar candidates. True, the national Democrats, led by Rahm Emanuel of the Democratic Congressional Campaign, had tried pretty successfully to keep such peaceniks off the ballot, but in a few key races the antiwar progressives romped home. The Democrats won, despite Emanuel. If the Clintonites weren’t still controlling most of the campaign money, and more openly antiwar populists had been running, the Democrats today would probably be looking at a wider majority in the House and one committed solidly to getting out of Iraq.
Take the sixth district in Illinois, in the Chicago suburbs. This was where the national Democrats threw money at Tammy Duckworth, the prowar double-amputee running in the primary against antiwar Christine Cegalis, who almost took down Republican Henry Hyde in 2004. Flush with Emanuel’s campaign cash, Duckworth narrowly beat Cegalis. But yesterday Duckworth’s clouded message on the war failed to rouse the voters and she went down to defeat.
In northern California, another of Emanuel’s Democrats was Charlie Brown, an Iraq vet. The race looked like a landslide for the Republican but in the last weeks it began to tighten up. Then in a debate, Doolittle, the Republican, tried to bait Brown with supposed ties to Cindy Sheehan. Instead of standing his ground and denouncing the war, Brown quavered that he had no ties to Sheehan and Mrs Brown later told Sheehan to stay away. Confronted with this craven performance voters gave up on Brown and the awful Doolittle cantered home.
In the nearby district around Modesto it was a different story. Here was a ripe target, an implacable foe of nature called Richard Pombo, who had spent his entire career campaigning against the Endangered Species Act, and any enjoyment of nature other than the enrichment of cotton and rice farmers. In the primary season Rahm Emanuel and George Miller put the party’s resources behind a Pombo lookalike who was duly trounced by Jerry McNerney, an antiwar foe of corporate agriculture. National Democrats chafed at McNerney’s effrontery and predicted victory for Pombo.
But on Tuesday the voters leaped at their opportunity. They booted out Pombo and sent McNerney to Washington. In the upset’s aftermath, the Contra Costa Times marveled, “It will go down in California history as a massive upset in a congressional district where the incumbent held a 6 percentage point party registration advantage. No other district in the state has ever flipped parties with such a large registration gap.”
In northern Kentucky another progressive Democrat opposed by the Emanuel Machine, John Yarmuth, an alternative newspaper publisher, was nonetheless able to survive the primary. On Tuesday he defeated Anne Northrup, a popular Republican incumbent.
So the Democrats have taken the House, but Emanuel should not be crowing too loudly. The Democrats’ victories were clearly driven by antiwar sentiment across the country. Furthermore the contour of success in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana, send a very clear message that if the Democrats keep on pushing the old Clinton neoliberal recipe as now purveyed by Emanuel and the others, they will not recapture the White House in 2008, or even bolster their position in the Senate.
If you look at where the Democrats picked up their seats, there’s a line running from Pennsylvania, through Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Montana. The common thread is economic populism. In Indiana, the most Republican state, three seats turned over to Democrats. all of whom offered roughly the same political silhouette: fairly conservative on social issue, anti-globalization, tough on illegal immigration, and helped to victory by general hostility to the war on the part of many voters.
What happened to Kansas? It’s been crushed by the Clinton-Bush economy and by the war. Two red flags for the Democrats, who are already disdaining the clear message. Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean mumbled in victory’s aftermath, “We can’t leave Iraq now. We need to stabilize the situation.” They never learn.
If there’s one single object lesson for progressives to follow, it’s Sherrod Brown’s successful bid for the US Senate in Ohio, a state Democrats have to win to capture the White House. Brown was vehemently against the war in Iraq and an economic populist who zeroed in on those very counties in Ohio where Kerry feared to tread and where Bush won in 2004, despite the fact that one in three people had been laid off during Bush’s first term. These were mostly in coal country along the West Virginia line and up towards lake Erie. Brown stormed through, calling for a jobs plan and railing against the free trade pacts that have desolated the region. He romped to victory, overwhelming two-term Mike DeWine.
Tuesday’s polling results have confronted and answered two questions that the national Democrats tried to dodge throughout Campaign 2006. They didn’t want to take a clear position on the war and they didn’t want to attack the Clinton-Bush free trade consensus. On Tuesday antiwar and anti-free trade candidates prospered. The voters want the US out of the Iraq and they want decent jobs. Who are the Democrats who will speak to these concerns? Not Hillary Clinton. Not Joe Biden. Not Barack Obama. Maybe John Edwards, if he listens to his wife. What triumphed on Tuesday was not the Rahm Emanuel platform but something far closer to what Ralph Nader spoke for in 2000 and 2004.
The furthest the national Democrats have wanted to go on the war has been to attack its management. Not the principled position of Cut and Run as urged by Jack Murtha just over a year ago. Not Howard Dean’s “stabilize” message on Wednesday morning. What may well happen now is what we satirically predicted at the statrt of the week: a bipartisan consensus by the national leadership of both parties around the McCain position, calling for fresh troops and better manangement of the war. This is what Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden all endorse. What’s need now is a de facto alliance between the antiwar Democrats bolstered by Tuesday’s results, and the antiwar Republicans led by Chuck Hagel who no longer have to be beholden to the neocons and who have no desire to go the way of Santorum or Burns. Hagel-Edwards in 2008! (We mean Liz Edwards of course.)
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