The destruction of Iraq, the looting of the national treasury, and the unregulated growth of corporate power were not of concern to the Democrats headed into the midterm campaign of 2006. Even though the party had lost ground in three consecutive national elections, Democratic leaders cautioned their candidates against taking a stand on any of the pressing issues of the era.
Instead, the directive from the Democratic Leadership Council and other party brass became, “It’s the security issue, stupid.” Confident that all the party needed to do was prove that it was tougher than the Republicans, Democratic leaders leapt at any and all opportunities to show their mettle.
Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton of New York took the lead in making the United Arab Emirates a new target of American enmity, singling out a Dubai concern’s attempt to own space in six U.S. ports as an obvious attempt by the U.A.E. to establish beachheads of terror on American shores. Even as Pentagon officials assured Americans that the U.A.E. were “very, very solid partners” with the U.S. military, the Democrats joined with Republicans in making the U.A.E. into another “Arab” enemy.
Across the country, the party eagerly sought to field war veterans as candidates for national office. In sum, more than 50 battle-tested Democrats entered the domestic fray. They did so with full knowledge that national service no longer served as a political shield. In the hands of Karl Rove, as Max Cleland and John Kerry could attest, a decorated veteran’s battle scars could become open wounds, and his medals of honor serve as bulls-eyes in a shooting gallery.
Although veteran Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha, a hawk, had made a splash in the fall of 2005 by becoming a dove in his call for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, few, if any of the party’s chosen candidates embraced Murtha’s position. By late February of 2006, Iraq had devolved into a daily bloodbath and civil war, with all sides angry at the U.S. presence. Public opinion polls in the U.S. registered substantial support for a clear exit strategy. But, aside from Murtha and a handful of others, the Democrats took no position on the war.
On the home front, the Democrats championed their support for expanded health care coverage, but many within the party remained reluctant to endorse single-payer, Medicare-for-all, national health insurance. Stalwart progressive Congressman John Conyers sponsored H.R. 676, calling for national health insurance, and many progressive congressional Democrats from urban areas signed on. But no Democratic senators expressed open support for H.R. 676, presumably because they didn’t want the party to be perceived as “anti-corporate.” A PEW study recorded 65 percent for national health care, but the party’s leadership sought to temper such enthusiasm.
The party also sought to distance itself from the issue of women’s reproductive rights. Formerly the party closely identified with the “pro-choice” position on abortion, a vital matter of individual freedom and public health, the party’s leaders backtracked on this issue as well. Senator Schumer was instrumental in pushing for Bob Casey, Jr., an anti-choice zealot, to become the party’s preferred candidate in the race to unseat arch-conservative Senator Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania. Casey wholeheartedly supported the nomination of arch-conservative Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, even though Alito is a dedicated foe of women’s right to choose as well as an individual’s right to sue corporations. Pro-war, anti-choice, and a firm believer in corporate power, Casey promised to become the newest breed of “New Democrat.”
As the midterm election season began, the Democratic Party thus offered no alternative agenda to the Republicans, who promised endless war, more tax cuts, and the end of personal liberty, all in the name of “freedom.” The Democrats hoped that the Republicans’ various scandals as well as the Bush administration’s disastrous handling of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans would make the voting public rally behind their calls for “better management” of the ship of state. But against the Republicans’ master strategist, Karl Rove, the Democrats appeared utterly rudderless.
To be continued…