Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Realignment and Missed Opportunities

The huge gains made by Democrats in the 2006 elections were fueled by several factors. Combined they provided the chance for a significant realignment of the the nation's politics. If the opportunity were seized the Republican Party could successfully be marginalized as a regional party of the South. However, I will argue that some of this opportunity has already been squandered, simply by a failure to push for an end to the Iraq War.

Last year's political climate provided fertile ground for Democrats to reclaim the majority. From the failed war in Iraq to slow economic growth to eroded civil liberties, people were open to new approaches and ideas. There were two particular strains of disaffection with the GOP. One part was driven largely by a war that many have come to see as spiraling out of control, costing the lives of too many young men and women. In these traditionally more conservative areas you had Democratic challengers who openly opposed the war and called for its end. The key to their success, though, was in their own populist economic messages and, to some degree, social conservatism. Yes, there were open liberals able to win in red areas of the country, but in large part we were victorious in these places because voters were given the choice of someone who shared their "values" as well as opposed the war and someone who enabled the president's failed war.

Then you have the more traditionally moderate areas of the country. These are places where folks vote Democrat for president, but are willing to cross party lines and support a "moderate" Republican for Congress. However, the events of the past couple of years have shown that these Republicans were more beholden to their party and president than to the voters in their districts. These voters are clearly uncomfortable with giving their support to "moderates" willing to abet the erosion of reproductive rights, vilify homosexuals and establish a theocracy.

The Democratic Party ought to be able to keep the latter voters fairly easily. Their eyes have been opened to the realities of today's GOP. However, the former camp is the one we have to worry about. We need to hold onto these seats in 2008 and beyond if we want to maintain our majority. Yet, in future elections they are going to have a choice between a candidate who more surely shares their "values." These voters gave us a chance largely because of Iraq. And, as time passes and nothing changes, the troops have not come home, etc. they are going to be unwilling to return a Democrat to Congress. We would have failed these voters. And they will surely punish us for it. We can be certain that the GOP has learned the lesson that economic populism sells in these areas. You can bet to hear more about "values" and less about tax cuts in 2008. You should also expect to hear about how the Democrats failed to end the war. Heck, you could be a GOP challenger and run against the war!

If the leadership in Congress does not take some decisive action on Iraq sooner than later, they risk becoming the minority once again in 2008. Sure, Bush's unpopularity and the relative lack-luster crop of GOP contenders for the White House should give us the executive branch. And maybe those coat-tails will be long enough to retain our majorities. But, if we fail now, we risk all that. Instead of increasing our majorities, we may be fighting to retain them.

We must act NOW on Iraq.


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