Magazine article The American Prospect

Staying the Course: The Fight Isn't over; It's Just Begun. and Progressives Have More Ammunition Than You Think

Magazine article The American Prospect

Staying the Course: The Fight Isn't over; It's Just Begun. and Progressives Have More Ammunition Than You Think

Article excerpt

THIS ONE HURTS BIG. BUT PROGRESSIVES HAVE LITTLE TIME for grief or recrimination. George W. Bush claims a mandate for his radical domestic agenda and for his preemptive foreign policy. The dollar has already begun to fall and interest rates to rise, The evangelical right is clamoring for advancing the jihad against gays and choice. The corporate lobby is salivating at the coming feeding frenzy, Democrats, particularly those in red states, are shaken and ready to retreat. Progressives had better take a clear look at what happened and get ready to fight.

Karl Rove and the Republican chorus are claiming that Bush won this election with his vision and positive agenda. Bull--Bush won by waging the election we witnessed. The voters who returned Bush to office by a narrow margin are not enamored of his record or his policies. An election-day poll sponsored by the Institute for America's Future and undertaken by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research showed that a broad majority of the voters that returned Bush to office were looking for a change. By 51 percent to 41 percent, they thought America was substantially on the wrong track. By 49 percent to 45 percent, they thought the war in Iraq was making us less safe.

On issue after issue, they were closer to progressives than to Bush. Bush claims a mandate to privatize Social Security, but by 57 percent to 40 percent, voters preferred preserving Social Security to setting up "private retirement accounts." The corporate lobby claims a mandate for free trade, but by 58 percent to 33 percent, voters believe we should enforce labor rights and environmental protections in trade accords and challenge China rather than sustain current policies and train displaced workers. By 54 percent to 40 percent, voters thought our "first priority" in economic policy should be "investing in education, health care, and energy independence" rather than "reducing the deficit and government spending." Contrary to Bush's agenda, their strongest mandates for president and the Congress are to protect Social Security and to provide Americans with affordable health care.

A separate Web-based poll by Luth Research, meanwhile, found that 90 percent of voters favored a "crash program" for energy independence, echoing the call of the Apollo Alliance for new jobs and freedom from foreign oil. Sixty-seven percent wanted federal funding for stem-cell research. Exit polls show a majority opposed to outlawing abortion and for tolerance of gays. More self-described conservatives voted in the election, but the majority is not with the right.

Despite all that, Democrats are right to be shaken by Bush's victory. Republicans seem to be building an unassailable citadel in the South and much of the Mountain West, all while challenging Democrats in states from Minnesota to Michigan to Oregon. And the Republican mobilization effort, enlisting volunteers and anchored in evangelical churches, is forbidding. Those churches are growing; union halls are declining. The right has the potential for an organizing base that will increase even as the core of the Democratic base declines.

This has led Democrats to start talking about reconnecting with the "morals" voters, clothing liberal policies in the language of the gospel. Talking about values rather than programs always makes sense. And in this religious country, it is clear that leaders who are comfortable in a church--from Martin Luther King Jr. to Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson to Bill Clinton--have an advantage over more secular leaders.

But moral rearmament can go too far. Democrats must resist a desire for symbolic push-off politics--embracing the constitutional amendment against gays, abandoning affirmative action, ducking on anti-abortion judges. Democrats have paid a political cost for standing for civil rights, women's rights, and now the rights of gays and lesbians. But as Republicans discovered in California after Pete Wilson won re-election by bashing immigrants, Republicans can also pay a cost for being the party of intolerance and white sanctuary. …

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