The Democrats’ election to lose

August 13, 2008

Support for Barack Obama is one sign of a deeper shift to the left.

THE MAINSTREAM media are focused on opinion polls that show Barack Obama and John McCain neck and neck in the presidential campaign. But the Republican nominee gave a more accurate picture of the race with his actions in the past few weeks.

Case in point: McCain's pathetic attempt to accuse Barack Obama of "playing the race card"--when his own campaign and his own party have been the ones to use veiled and not-so-veiled appeals to racism. It was the latest in a series of sleazy moves aimed at building up McCain by tearing down Obama.

No one could be surprised when it turns out McCain--the supposed maverick and straight shooter--has no limits to how low he'll go. But McCain's tactics are an unstated confirmation that he understands he has no hope of offering a positive message to win voters, so his only chance is slander and fear-mongering.

Maybe the media commentators think it's close--after all, they have a professional interest in maintaining that illusion. But the Republicans recognize how deep in the hole they are against the Democrats in Election 2008.

Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi
Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Kevin Dietsch | UPI)

"American conservatives had one defeat, in 2006, but it wasn't a big one," conservative columnist David Brooks told George Packer in a May 26 New Yorker article. "The big defeat is probably coming, and then the thinking will happen. I have not yet seen the major think tanks reorient themselves, and I don't know if they can."

Brooks added, "You go to Capitol Hill--Republican senators know they're fucked. They have that sense. But they don't know what to do."

THE WAR on Iraq, an epidemic of foreclosures, skyrocketing food and gas prices, the Bush administration's total lack of concern in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina--there's no shortage of reasons why George Bush and the Republicans are discredited and despised. A May CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey shows 71 percent of Americans now disapprove of George Bush, making him the most unpopular president in history, even worse than Richard Nixon.

Election 2008 is the Democrats' to lose--at every level, including the presidential race.

For one thing, economic crisis generally means bad news for Republicans. Three recent studies that track the state of the economy and the presidential race point to an Obama win. "The economy is certainly not going to be a positive for the Republicans," said Ray Fair, an economics professor who conducted one of the studies.

Another indicator of the changed fortunes in Washington can be seen from Corporate America's eagerness to get behind the Democrats. According to a New York Times report, the number of "bundled" donations to Obama's campaign from wealthy donors "almost rivals the $147 million raised by President Bush's network of Pioneers and Rangers in contributions of $1,000 or larger during the 2004 primary season."

This shows just how far the desire to see the end of the disastrous Bush administration extends. But among the millions of ordinary people who will vote for Obama, there's also enthusiasm at the prospect of a Democrat in office who might pay attention to the issues that ordinary people are concerned about.

Over the last few months--in particular, since he wrapped up the nomination--Obama has given people precious little reason to hope for substantial change. He's promised to escalate the "war on terror" in Afghanistan, voted for the right of the government to wiretap phones without a warrant and blamed Black men for Black poverty. But the expectation remains that an Obama administration will make ordinary people's lives better.

Support for Obama is one sign of the growing dissatisfaction among wider groups of people.

According to a February 2008 Gallup poll, for example, 44 percent of people agreed with the statement, "The government is spending too much for national defense and military purposes," compared with 19 percent in February 2001.

A Time/Rockefeller Foundation poll found that 88 percent of people say Americans are working as hard or harder to just get by, 58 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds have had to borrow money from a friend or relative in the past year to meet expenses, and 78 percent think the "social contract" of the 20th century has been broken.

Along with the thirst for change comes an eagerness to make change happen and the confidence that it could. According to the Time/Rockefeller Foundation poll, 82 percent of people think the government should increase spending on things like public works projects to create jobs, and 88 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds think the government should subsidize child care.

BUT WHAT will happen when these expectations run into the reality--as seems likely now--of the Democrats in charge of both the White House and Congress?

In the November 2006 congressional election, Republican control of both houses of Congress was ended, with the expectation among voters that Republican polices would end, too.

"What a great day that was, seeing Nancy Pelosi bang the gavel down to open Congress," liberal filmmaker Michael Moore wrote in a recent Guardian article directed at the Obama campaign--and titled "How to blow it."

"And what was her first act? To declare that any discussion of the impeachment of George W. Bush was verboten, and no one was ever to bring it up again. And that was that. It sent a clear message to Bush that he could just keep doing what he'd been doing for the first six years. The result? That's exactly what he did, with Congress authorizing every war-funding bill he sent to them.

"How did the American people respond? Congress's approval rating sank lower than Bush's. How disgusting do you have to be to sink lower in the public's eyes than a man who can't even successfully choke himself on a pretzel?"

For Moore--once a supporter of the 2000 independent campaign of Ralph Nader, but now firmly behind the Democrats--the moral of the story is that Obama should run a harder-nosed, less conservative campaign.

But people who want to build an opposition to the status quo politics of official Washington should draw a different lesson: If we want to win our demands, we have to organize independently of either of the pro-business and pro-war parties. We have to refuse to tailor our demands to what "hurts" or "helps" the Democrats in the election.

In preparing for their convention this month, Democratic Party leaders discussed their platform, calculating just how close to the Republicans they should steer. They even considered inserting language in a carefully crafted section on "choice" to welcome opponents of abortion rights.

In other words, for Obama and the Democrats, where they stand on a woman's right to choose is something that could be bargained away, based on a political calculation. That's no basis for defending abortion rights.

The scale of the Bush administration's crisis and the economic turmoil are opening up big questions in many people's minds about what's wrong with society, and what can be done to make real changes in people's lives.

What would it mean for the government to bail out homeowners facing foreclosure, not the banks and corporations that swindled them? Why is the U.S. government spending tens of billions of dollars every month on the occupation of Iraq while Iraqis continue to live in misery and the politicians at home continue to talk about cutting spending? Why, in a country that spends double on health care what other nations do per capita, do 50 million people go without access?

These are questions that go well beyond the 2008 presidential election campaign. We have a chance to begin answering them now--both in political discussion and in action--while building the networks of people who will be prepared to fight for change when the next president takes office.

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