Monday, May 12, 2008
Why haven't the Democrats ended the wars?
The newly energized voters on the moderate left look at what they have wrought in the 2006 election and wonder why they've seen no change—especially in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lulling the Republican base and the fellow-travelers
The most benign view of the Democratic majority in Congress is that they don't want to "rock the boat." That is to say, the Democratic leadership knows that if they sit tight and keep their trousers buttoned the Democrats are going to win big come November.
It's also true that the Democratic majority in the Senate is razor-thin and falls apart at the slightest sign of contention. This means there will be no impeachment of Bush or Cheney. Confrontations between the Democrats and the White House will go no further than a sound-bite on cable news. And you can be damn sure they're not about to cut off funds for the war and lay themselves open to accusations of "not supporting the troops" or "losing Iraq."
Underlying this calculation is a fear that they will do something to re-energize the Republican constituency—the low-paid white men, the conservative money machine and of course the Christian evangelicals, who've been the real workers at the roundup when it came time to herd the Republican faithful to the polls.
The multi-party Democrats
Another reason for Democratic inaction that many voters fail to appreciate is that within our two-party system, unlike the European multi-party systems, we have parties within parties—and this is especially true of the Democrats.
An item in the Wall Street Journal provides an excellent illustration of this. Bush has demanded—and the Democratic leadership intends to give—$183.7 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through next summer, which will be agreeable to the so-called "Blue Dog" Democrats. But the Democratic leadership hopes to sweeten the bill for the antiwar Democrats by providing better benefits for veterans and a requirement to begin the drawdown of troops within 30 days of the bill's passage. And for the populist liberals there's a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits—all in the same bill.
Sarah Lueck writes—
House Democratic leaders have set a floor strategy intended to deal with the different views of the war within their party. Three separate votes will be held: one on the war funding, one on the war restrictions and one on the domestic-spending items. No lawmaker will have to vote for all three items. The procedure will allow antiwar Democrats to support the domestic programs but vote against the funding for Iraq. Fiscal conservatives can oppose the domestic spending but vote for the war funding.1
There's something for everyone—and an escape hatch for all.
But Bush has promised to veto any bill that contains anything other than the money he wants, and I'm doubtful that anything but the war funding can make it through the Senate. Perhaps if the Republican Senators become sufficiently frightened at the prospect of being accused of "not supporting the veterans" or if employment figures begin to worsen (which they will), there is a possibility that a veto-proof majority could be fashioned that would include some progressive features in the bill. But whether that occurs or not, when the dust has settled you may be sure that Bush will get his war money.
The power of capital
Of course there is another view—readily found among the more leftist writers—that the Congressional Democrats are simply sucking on the same capitalist teat as the Republicans and are not ready to switch to formula. The corporate profits from this war are enormous, and small portions of those profits are allowed to filter back not only to the campaign coffers of the Congressional Representatives but also to the citizens of the Senators' states and of most Congressional districts.
Nevertheless, if the Democrats are installed in Congress at a level not seen for generations and Obama wins the Presidency, there will be some real pressure to get off the teat—at least so long as the public continues to demand change and the internet donations keep coming.
That said, we will be electing politicians—not heroes. Unfortunately, too many Democratic politicians—especially the old-guard—will readily accept the murder of vast swathes of foreign populations in return for two more years in office. To end the wars will require ongoing pressure from the electorate and real Presidential leadership. Either precondition is hard to come by, and to satisfy both at once will be a miracle.
A Simply Appalling view
I believe that all of the factors cited above are playing a role in Democratic inaction on the wars. And I'm doubtful that any combination of marching, letter-writing, praying, voting or electing will be sufficient to overcome them—especially the power of capital.
Regular readers may have noticed that I haven't been writing about Iraq or Afghanistan but have preferred to write about banks and bankruptcies. This isn't because I've lost interest in ending the wars, but because I'm persuaded that the only force powerful enough to end them is economic—a massive failure of the U.S. economy. Day by day that is looking more certain.
As it happened, Jim Hightower, the columnist and radio personality, was on C-span yesterday addressing some of the issues in this post. He's more optimistic than I am about what can be achieved through electoral politics, but here's his answer to a questioner who wanted to know why the Democrats "haven't been able to make more of a difference."—C-span clip. (If you have a popup blocker, you may need to click on the Flash icon on the right side of the screen to play the video.)