Bush's Woes Won't Guarantee Dem Wins

President Bush has virtually handed Democrats the GOP's head on a silver platter.

Polls on the third anniversary of the Iraq war showed Bush in the tank with much of the American public -- and many Republicans are in there with him. More Americans now say that the Democrats can do a much better job than Republicans in handling the war and the economy. Their disgust with Bush, and by extension Republicans, is so great, that almost as many Americans say that the Democrats can do as fine a job as Republicans in fighting terrorism. If the elections were held today, voters would be more likely -- by a double-digit margin -- to vote for a Democrat than a Republican.

That's great news -- but Dems shouldn't uncork the champagne yet. They can't depend solely on anti-Bush antagonism, or voters' Republican fatigue, to power them to victory in the fall elections. Millions of eligible voters have long since thrown up their hands in disgust and rage at a system they see as suffocated by special interest groups. They continue to stay away from the polls in droves.

The overwhelming majority of those turned-off potential voters are minorities, lower-income workers, and immigrants. Many of these estranged voters will not turn up on Election Day if the Democrats sit on their haunches and don't mount a sustained, free-wheeling, no-holds barred assault on Bush's policies -- and that means telling voters what they'll do to end the Iraq debacle. But that's just a start.

Dems will also need to convince millions of black, Asian and Latino voters that Bush's minority business, homeownership, and education initiatives are nothing but smoke-and-mirrors puffery. Then, once that's done, they'll have to convince them that they'll fight like tigers in Congress and state legislatures for a massive increase in funds to implement meaningful anti-poverty, job and education programs to give a real lift to millions of minority poor.

The Democrats relentlessly pound Bush on his economic failures, job losses, tax cut giveaways and budget deficits. But the economy hasn't totally collapsed. The Feds have sent enough mixed signals about the strength of the recovery to muddy the economic water. This gives Bush the hook he needs to boast that his economic policies have paid dividends for Americans -- but they haven't. The Democrats will have to fight through the administration's inflated claims of prosperity for mid-income workers and convince them that they -- not the Republicans -- can best protect their pensions and health plans; provide greater funding for their children's college educations; combat soaring oil/gas prices; fight job outsourcing and battle inflation.

The Republicans' repeated smear of Dems as tax-and-spend, liberal big- government proponents has struck a chord with many Americans. They've almost made the L (liberal)-word a dirtier word than the N-word -- and still, only a tiny minority of Americans would dare call themselves liberals. Democrats will have to redefine the political lexicon and convince a majority of voters that fighting against privatizing social security, for a universal, comprehensive health care plan, massive spending on failing urban public schools, and strengthening environmental and workplace safety protections is a far more effective use of government than tax cuts for the wealthy, big corporations, and spending billions to bloat the defense industry.

For decades, Republicans have coined and exploited racially-charged code words and slogans, such as "law and order," "crime in the streets," "welfare cheats," and "absentee fathers," to stoke the fury of middle-class voters against the Dems. They have whipped up public hysteria over gay marriage, gay rights, and abortion among millions of Americans -- especially those that deem themselves evangelicals.

Democrats must stir the same public passion on issues of failing public schools, reforming racially-scarred drug laws, shrinking the swollen prison-industrial complex, enacting tougher hate crime laws, and strengthening family support programs.

Polls show that voters think Democrats can be almost as tough on terrorism as Bush. Yet despite Bush's outlandish fumbles in the anti-terror war, terrorism is his last refuge to get the fig of poll support he still gets. Democrats must snatch that last remaining fig away. They can't do it by cheerleading his constitutionally- dubious and civil liberties-imperiling Patriot Act and anti-terror initiatives. They must fight for an anti-terrorism program that safeguards ports, airports and power plants, but does not scrap civil liberties protections and tacitly scapegoat non-whites.

The Republicans still have mountains of cash, the bully pulpit of the presidency, and a slew of well-heeled conservative cable networks that justify, rationalize, and put a happy face on Bush's Iraq and domestic ails. No matter how bad Bush's poll ratings are now, it won't guarantee the Dems double-digit wins over the Republicans next fall -- they can score those wins only with aggressive action.


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