Unfortunately, the answer is the Dems might be in more trouble than most people think. I know with Bush’s approval numbers way down it may not seem that way but stop and think for a second. Imagine that Bush had said in his 2007 State of the Union “We have accomplished what we set out to do in Iraq and find that we can start bringing out troops out of Iraq,” (I know this requires a lot of pretending, but bear with me). Does anybody really think that Bush’s approval ratings would still be stuck in the doldrums? Recent actual poll numbers on Americans desire to leave Iraq suggest no.
But Nick, if Bush did that he’d be flip-flopping. And we know from 2004 how the public hates flip-floppers. Actually the flip-flopping charge probably didn’t hurt Kerry (and probably won’t hurt the Democratic nominee in 2008 if that person is someone who initially voted for the IWR but now regrets it). I’ll have a post on this later, but in the meantime consider these two questions. John Kerry said loud and clear that President Bush rushed us into the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. But according to 2004 exit polls, about 53% of Americans approved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. Given that fact and what Kerry said about the war, the mystery is not why did Kerry lose, but how did he come so close to winning? Similarly, however one may feel about the troop surge, they must admit what Captain Kirk said about Khan in Star Trek Two applies equally to Bush: “I’ll say this for him he’s consistent.” If the public truly valued over all else politicans who never change course, or don’t “flip-flop,” than shouldn’t Bush have an approval rating well over 50% right now? The public doesn’t mind if you flip-flop as long as you flip-flop to agree with them.
But what if the surge doesn’t work and we do begin to pull (or redeploy) out of Iraq? Where does that leave the Democrats in 2008? While history is on the side of the Democrats keeping the Congress (also more on that later) it does not bode well for winning the White House for three big reasons:
1) Bush isn’t running, so the GOP can always nominate a strong candidate or a “fresh face.” Yes the GOP brand name has taken some hits as of late, but that hasn’t stopped the GOP before. Registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans in all elections from 1948-1988 but the GOP won 7 of those 11 elections!
2). If a majority of Americans sees the US as in the process of leaving Iraq come fall 2008 that helps the GOP. There is precendence for this. Throughout 1971, Richard Nixon’s approval rating was barely in the 50% range (after always being above 50% in 1969 and 1970). As the bulk of the troops returned home during 1972 (and the draft was all but ended) Nixon’s approval rating (also helped by a growing economy) soared until it stayed around 60% from April 1972 to April 1973, when Watergate began to take it’s toll.
3). An improving economy? For Many and Not Just Few? Apparently so. GDP and jobs are growing, interest rates and inflation (gas prices notwithstanding) remain low, the stock market is up, and at 4.6% unemployment is almost as low as it was for most of the booming late 1990s. Meantime the deficit has been reduced (and is not thought to be a big issue by a large amount of Americans anyway). Sure the percentage of Americans that are underinsured or are uninsured when it comes to health care has risen, but it also rose in the mid-1990s. Despite that, Clinton cruised to re-election in 1996. Finally, there is the area of real (inflation adjusted) household income. After stagnating or declining from 2000-2004, median household incomes rose (albeit not dramatically so) in 2005-06. With the minimum wage about to be increased (and a Democrratic Congress certain to increase spending on incomes programs for the poor) it seems the poor may finally get a piece of the growing economic pie (from this blog to God’s eyes).
This first hit me while watching a local political show called Inside Washington a couple weeks ago. It features editorialists, some of whom are liberal (e.g. Mark Shields) while others are very conservative (Charles “Sour” Krauthammer) and some that are just Washington elitist (Evan Thomas). I couldn’t help but notice that all Krauthammer wanted to talk about was the economy-specifically jobs and wages. If Krauthammer had limited his pro-GOP spiel to GDP, taxes, and the stock market it would be easy to accuse the right of doing what it normally does: ignores the statistics that directly affect those making less than 50 or even 100 grand. But Krauthammer was not ignoring those statistics. Not since 2000, when the GOP used the “New Economy” of the late 1990s to help re-elect a then GOP Congress has the right-wing been willing to call attention to all major statistics of the economy-even Bush has been willing to admit that income inequality has grown, even if his explanations for this are only partially true.
What’s more Americans seem to be buying the GOP spin on the economy. According to a CBS newspoll in Jan. 2007, “Mr. Bush’s overall approval rating remains low at just 30 percent, his worst number ever in a CBS News poll, while his approval rating for handling Iraq is even lower at 23 percent.” But on handling the economy “41 percent now saying they approve of the job he’s doing — his highest rating on this measure since July 2005. Six in 10 Americans now rate the economy as being in good shape,”a higher rating that the economy has gotten that at any time in Bush’s presidency.
Specifically, 58% rate the national economy as very good or fairly good, while only 40% rate it fairly bad or very bad. Despite record support for Kerry among voters making less than 50K and a minority of Americans giving the economy high marks in 2004 exit polls, Kerry still lost (albeit mainly because a majority of Americans still supported the decision to go to war and thought Iraq was part of the war on Terrorism).
Of course there is still plenty of time for something to go haywire with the economy between now and next November. The degree to which Bush deserves credit for the above statistics is certainly debatable. Furthermore, a lot of the economy growth comes from the stimulus of having a war going on-not exactly a solid platform for the GOP to run for office on in 2008. Furthermore, Bush’s economic policies have only served to widen the income (and opportunity) gap between the rich and everyone else. Indeed, the last time the income gap was this wide was the late 1930s! One major factor that helped win the Cold War was the growing prosperity of America during the Cold War, symbolized by it’s growing (and more economically secure) middle class, not to mention it’s rising living standards for even the poorest among us. Today there is a middle-class squeeze going on while we fight the “war on terror.”
Still, the gap between rich and poor has been growing since the 1970s (and grew especially fast during the 1980s). Yes, it is true today that over 50% of income in this country is in the hands of the top 20%! of households. But it was under Clinton, not Dubya, that the top quintle came to have a majority of the nation’s income for the first time since before WWII—-a fact that Hillary should be quizzed about just as much as her Iraq war resolution vote. All Dubya’s policies have done are make a bad situation worse. Of course Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton presided over increases in income inequality=and not only won re-election themselves but also saw their party’s successor win the popular vote-in part because the economy was thought to be doing well.
Let’s also not forget that those making over 50 grand make up only 45% of households, they made up 55% of the voting electorate in 2004. And while the under 50K crowd gave Kerry greater levels of support than both Clinton and Gore, the over 50K crowd gave Kerry smaller levels of support than both Clinton and Gore. Barring a downturn in the economy (and especially household incomes) without Iraq the Democrats’ fortunes would be no where near as good. As long as the US is still bogged down in Iraq in Autumn 2008, the advantage goes to Democrats. But if we are out of-or are at least in the process of leaving-Iraq the Democratic nominee will have three options.
1. Try to improve on Kerry’s vote and turnout totals among “downscale” voters.
2. Forget downscale voters and try to win ‘upscale voters”-think the Clinton triangulation strategy of 1996.
3. Hope for another crisis (economic or otherwise) that will unite both upscale and downscale voters in common disgust.
As a Democrat who wants to win in 2008 and wants the troops home as soon as possible I hope I’m wrong. I need someone to tell me the above scenario is wrong and also to tell me why this is so. My fellow Americans, the ball is now in your court.