Sunday, November 7, 2004

Dems can win by opposing war, favoring workers

By Mark Weisbrot
Guest Columnist

President Bush has been returned to office, with an increased congressional majority for his party. Amazingly, he achieved this after dragging the country into a disastrous war that had nothing to do with our national security, and on the basis of lies - and, after sacrificing the lives of more than 1,100 Americans and probably 100,000 Iraqis, mostly innocents.

On the home front, he was the first president in 70 years to preside over a net loss of jobs. Wages have been falling even as the economy grows. He rewrote the tax code to favor the richest Americans, and stuck the rest of us with a bill in the form of the largest national debt - as a share of the economy - in more than half a century.

This election result cries out for explanation, and unfortunately all the wrong answers are flooding the media. The pundits tell us that people don't vote their economic interests, that Sept. 11 changed everything, that "values" are what really matters. Disillusioned and depressed Democrats blame the ignorance of the American electorate, an explanation that resonates abroad.

Ignorance is a problem, although it is a willful ignorance that has little to do with formal education. A poll last month found 75 percent of Bush supporters believing that Saddam Hussein gave substantial support to al-Qaida, and 72 percent asserting that Iraq really did have weapons of mass destruction or major WMD development programs.

Compared with other democracies, this country discourages voting. If we held our elections on the weekend and allowed for same-day registration, a much bigger and more representative electorate would choose our government. The Republican Party as we know it would have little chance at capturing the presidency or Congress.

The leadership of Kerry's party supported most of the policies that have - over the last 30 years - eliminated decent-paying jobs for working people and caused a massive redistribution of income from working and middle-class Americans to the rich.

What if the Democrats put forth a real alternative, including health coverage for everyone, family leave, affordable college and child care, for example? This is not pie-in-the-sky, but the rights of citizenship in most European countries that are no richer than we are.

Of course Democrats would have to deliver the goods. But once they began to do so, Republicans would have a hard time cobbling together "majorities" on the basis of issues such as gay marriage, gun control or coded appeals to racism.

As for terrorism, people in New York and Washington - the sites of the 9/11 attacks and the most likely victims of future terrorism - voted overwhelmingly (82 percent in Manhattan, 90 percent in D.C.) to oust Bush.

Most of the rest of the country is also capable of understanding that wars of conquest against the Arab and Muslim world will only blow up in our faces. But the Democrats will have to be much more honest in explaining these things.

Proof from Wisconsin: Democrat Russ Feingold just won his third term in the U.S. Senate by a comfortable margin, in a state where Kerry barely squeaked by.

Feingold has a clear and consistent populist economic appeal to his working constituents, strongly opposed the Iraq war, and was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act. There is the future of the Democratic Party - if they have to guts to try it.


Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a labor-left Washington think tank. Readers may write him at CEPR, 1621 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20009, or e-mail him at weisbrot@cepr.net

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