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The unpopularity contest

June 22, 2007 | Page 2

YOU KNOW you're doing something very wrong when your approval rating is lower than George Bush's.

Just 23 percent of people approved of the job performance of the Democrat-led Congress, according to an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll in early June. That's an eight percentage point drop from April--and it's six points lower than Bush.

In the same poll, only 42 percent of voters had a positive view of the Democratic Party; 35 percent had a negative view. In other words, the party that swept into control of Congress in last November's elections is getting reviews that are almost as bad their opponents, the Republicans.

Just as the Democrats can thank the resounding opposition to the war in Iraq for their success last November, they can look to same issue as the reason for their plummeting support today.

The Democrats have fallen far short of the expectations of antiwar voters--culminating in an outpouring of frustration and anger when party leaders surrendered in their showdown with the White House and allowed the war-spending legislation that Bush wanted to pass.

As Howard Zinn wrote in the May issue of the Progressive magazine, "Ironically, and shockingly, the same bill appropriates $124 billion in more funds to carry the war. It's as if, before the Civil War, abolitionists agreed to postpone the emancipation of the slaves for a year, or two years, or five years, and coupled this with an appropriation of funds to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act."

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LAST NOVEMBER'S victory for the Democrats wasn't just about the war. It was a vote against the whole Republican agenda, and that leftward shift in attitudes has continued since.

Recent polls by Pew Research Center show that 84 percent of people support an increase the minimum wage. Gallup found that almost twice as many Americans sympathize with unions than with companies in labor disputes.

Meanwhile, an August 2006 Pew poll showed that by 45 to 32 percent, respondents said the best way to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks is to reduce the U.S. military presence overseas--a complete reversal of the results from four years earlier.

A June report from the Campaign for America's Future and Media Matters called "The Progressive Majority: Why a Conservative America Is a Myth" concluded, "[W]hat we can say is that at the moment, the public doesn't just oppose the Iraq war. In broad terms, over a range of questions, it favors a more progressive approach to national security policy."

It's not like the Democrats don't know what's going on. "It's the war, I believe so, it's the war," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the New York Times. "In terms of the issue that the American people want to have resolved, the war is three or four times higher than any other issue."

But the Democrats aren't responding to this sentiment. The conclusion reached by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid spoke volumes about what could be in store if congressional Democrats don't come under greater pressure. "I understand their disappointment," Reid told reporters. "We raised the bar too high."

No wonder some antiwar activists, like Cindy Sheehan, now ask if the Democrats will ever wage a fight. But if you look more closely at their history, the Democrats' surrender on war funding is not that surprising.

Both mainstream parties are concerned, first of all, with promoting U.S. economic and military power around the world. Bush's war on Iraq was always about oil--but not simply about helping oil companies line their pockets with super-profits. It was also about putting the U.S. in the position of power over future rivals, like Europe or China or Russia, by tightening its grip over the Middle East.

The deepening crisis of the occupation of Iraq is leading more and more of the ruling establishment to fear the consequences of continuing the occupation. But withdrawing now would mean giving up on the long-term strategy for dominating the Middle East and restraining U.S. rivals.

So the Bush White House continues to play for time, hoping its fortunes will change--and the Democrats step back from any concrete measures to end the war.

This dynamic shows that no one should put their hopes in the politicians in Washington to stop the occupation of Iraq. If they do take action, it will be because they feel the combined pressure of a strong resistance in Iraq, militant opposition within their own army, and active antiwar protests in the streets at home.

Today, the sentiment against the war is deeper and angrier than ever before. But there is very little organization through which to express that opposition--and there's no shortcut to building the kind of movement that can end the war in Iraq.

On the other hand, though today's antiwar activists might not always make the headlines they deserve, in cities across the country, people are reaching similar conclusions and taking it on themselves to organize action where they live and work and go to school.

In Amherst, Mass., for example, antiwar activists mobilized fellow students, their parents and teachers to take part in an overwhelming protest of former White House staffer Andrew Card when he was given an honorary degree. In Rochester, N.Y., antiwar activists have transformed an empty storefront downtown into an antiwar organizing center, providing activists with the materials and the meeting space to build on existing opposition.

In Madison, Wis., students sat in at their senator's office to show that they wouldn't accept a compromise on the war. And around the country, antiwar veterans, soldiers and their families are coming together to speak out against the war--and to organize others like them.

This type of organizing is critical to building an antiwar movement with deep roots around the U.S.--one strong enough to grow into a force that politicians can't ignore.

As Zinn concluded, "We who protest the war are not politicians. We are citizens. Whatever politicians may do, let them first feel the full force of citizens who speak for what is right, not for what is winnable, in a shamefully timorous Congress."

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