Iraq…24/7. That's what will dominate the news over the next two or three weeks, as the Congress and president struggle over what to do with the disastrous occupation of Iraq.
Democratic voters will be looking to see if the Democratic leaders in Congress stand up, and which of the Democratic contenders for the presidency is ready to lead in bringing the war to a close. Republican candidates will remain wedded to the unpopular president's strategy, embracing the "progress" myth that the White House is peddling.
But if Iraq dominates the air waves, other concerns dominate the discussions Americans are having around their kitchen tables at night. This economy is slowing, wounded by the collapse of the housing bubble. And the "recovery" that the president keeps touting hasn't reached most Americans. The economy has been growing, productivity is up and profits are up, but incomes for most Americans have stagnated over the last two decades of conservative rule. If most Americans aren't benefiting when the economy is good, then when it slows, things will get much worse.
This reality – along with Iraq – will be at the center of our elections next year. Republicans all stick with the policies of the last years – tax cuts for the wealthy, big military budgets, deregulation, privatization and corporate trade policies.
That agenda, however, is what has put America's working and poor families in what the AFLCIO calls "the box." It's why wages aren't going up, even when the economy is growing, and unemployment is relatively low. Workers are forced to pay more and more for basic health insurance (if they have it) and for any retirement savings. Corporate trade policies make outsourcing more attractive. Public investment in education and training doesn't keep up. Spending on affordable housing gets decimated. Perverse policies combined with vicious corporate campaigns virtually eliminate the ability of workers to organize at the workplace.
The result is that wealthiest 10 percent of Americans capture all the gains of the increased profits and productivity. Corporate profits reach records, while workers' share of the revenues they help to produce declines. We now witness the most inequality since the Gilded Age of robber barons at the beginning of the last century. The top 1 percent of Americans make about as much as the poorest 50 percent. This thing isn't working.
In 2006, Democrats won by running populist campaigns – coming out against corporate trade policies, calling for raising the minimum wage, for investing in education and jobs here at home.
The Democratic presidential contenders have a bigger chore. They've got to lay out just how they will get America's families out of the box. If trickle down doesn't trickle, how do they propose to irrigate the roots?
We need to change our course in this country. The Republican candidates are for sustaining Bush's occupation in Iraq and economic policies at home. Will Democrats offer a choice? That remains to be seen. One thing is clear. Making sense on the economy will be just as important as making sense on Iraq in the election ahead.
Jesse Jackson is a longtime civil rights activist and president of the RainbowPUSH Coalition.