Who will speak for the American majority?

Friday, September 30, 2005

  • This administration is 'done for'

    This administration is 'done for'

Approval ratings are plummeting for George W. Bush. Just 41% of Americans approve of his performance, while only 32% support the way he's handled the war in Iraq. Even the conservative American Spectator, has admitted that "this Administration is done for."

If the trend continues, the Republicans look to be destined to lose seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives in 2006 and to lose the White House in 2008. And then, of course, everything that is wrong in the United States - from poverty and racism to imperialism and environmental destruction - will be immediately corrected. Or, then again, maybe it won't.

The great dilemma for American progressives is that the Democratic Party takes their support for granted but, in exchange, refuses to deliver much more than Republican Lite. For those who are working hard for change, the timidity of the Democrats is almost as big a problem as the policies of the Republicans.

The Republicans know who their base is and everything they do is aimed at solidifying that base. Democrats, on the other hand, seem almost embarrassed by their base and spend most of their time trying to disown it. In the aftermath of last November's vote, Michael Moore publicly lamented "the pathetic sight of the Democratic Leadership Committee (the conservative, pro-corporate group of Democrats) apologizing for being Democrats and promising to 'purge' the party of the likes of, well, all of US!"

There's plenty of evidence to suggest that Democrats are badly misreading the political climate and, in doing so, they are robbing Americans of the opportunity to vote for a real alternative. On abortion rights, for example, the most recent Gallup Poll on the subject (from August 28) found that 54% of Americans were pro-choice, while only 38% described themselves as "pro-life". In a New York Times poll in January, "36 percent of respondents said abortions should be generally available, 35 percent said the procedure should be available but under stricter limits, and 26 percent said abortions should not be permitted."

Despite the numbers, Democratic Party leaders seem convinced that the party's support for a woman's right to choose cost them the Presidency. Several of them have mused about softening that support, and the party has gone out of its way to promote anti-choice individuals, including Harry Reid of Nevada, who was named minority leader in the Senate. Karen White, of Emily's List (which fundraises for pro-choice female candidates) has complained that "We fought like mad to beat back the Republicans. Little did we know that we would have just as much to fear from some within the Democratic Party who seem to be using choice as a scapegoat for our top-of-the-ticket losses."

While Americans overwhelmingly want to see an end to the war in Iraq (or at least a timetable for ending it), only Senator Russ Feingold has called for a withdrawal by the end of 2006. Others, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, are so nervous about offending people who will never vote for them anyway that they refuse to commit to a date for withdrawal. After meeting with anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, Clinton rejected the call for an immediate withdrawal of troops. "I think it is a much more complicated situation. I don't think it's the right time to withdraw, but we also have to stand up and send a message that we're not going to be there indefinitely."

There are many other examples. Even though Americans appeared doubtful about the suitability of Bush nominee John Roberts for the position of Chief Justice, only five Democrats on the committee reviewing his qualifications mustered up the courage to vote against him. Only one Democrat voted against the reprehensible USA PATRIOT Act.

According to a year-old (mid-campaign) article in Newsweek, Democrats were also missing a major opportunity to challenge Bush on foreign policy. "The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations last week released a large opinion survey, asking Americans about their attitudes on world affairs. Sixty-six percent of Americans favor working within the United Nations, even when it adopts policies that the U.S. does not like. Fifty-nine percent want to do away with all vetoes in the Security Council, including America's. Seventy-four percent want a standing U.N. peacekeeping force, commanded by the U.N., not the U.S. Forty-nine percent approve of a tax on oil and arms that would fund U.N. activities. Friend of the world though he is, John Kerry would not dare propose any one of these positions. During the debates, Bush chose to mention his opposition to the International Criminal Court because he thought that would please the crowd. He mocked the idea of "foreign judges" trying American soldiers. But 76 percent of Americans in the Chicago survey support the court. Seventy-one percent support the Kyoto accords. Eighty-seven percent support the treaty banning nuclear testing. And 80 percent support the treaty banning land mines. Washington is not a signatory to any of these agreements."

So, the question is, why won't the Democrats stand up for the views of the majority of Americans? Perhaps it's because, not only does the American political system discourage the creation of viable third parties, it has effectively led to the capitulation of the second party. If the Democrats won't gain some intestinal fortitude, maybe they should just step aside and let someone else do the job.

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