Americans in large numbers are calling for a new direction. They are looking for bold leadership — and bold new policies to deal with the challenges we face. Support for the president is near its lowest levels. Support for the Republican Congress is declining below even the Republican base level.
And yet there is no lift in this for Democrats — and that's no surprise. Faced with the epic catastrophe wrought by this administration and this Congress's policies, Democrats have yet to lay out any compelling alternative. They have not missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Americans are slowly reckoning with the extent of the failure. Pre-emptive war in Iraq has isolated us from our friends, provided a recruiting boom for our enemies, drained our military and weakened our country. Our casualties are mounting in what is turning into a civil war. And Congress is about to add another $70 billion to waste on a war that Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates will cost us more than $1 trillion.
The president's tax cuts have racked up record deficits and contributed to unparalleled inequality but have failed utterly to generate jobs. Take away the increase in public-sector jobs at the local, state and national levels and the jobs generated by the military buildup, and the United States has lost net jobs over the course of Bush's administration. The bulk of the lost jobs are better-paying manufacturing jobs. That's why even with the economy growing, wages are still not keeping up with expenses, while corporations roll back benefits on pensions and health care.
The president's trade and corporate policies have racked up trade deficits beyond any recorded in the annals of time. He is essentially mortgaging America to foreign creditors — largely Chinese and Japanese central bankers. Our children will have to work part of their days to pay back foreign creditors. And again, the result is pressure on wages, the flight of good jobs and the devastation of our manufacturing sector.
The president's abject failures in homeland security were laid bare in the suffering of Hurricane Katrina's survivors and the utter failure to help Americans in peril. They are also apparent in the failure of port security, the failure to review defense plans for dangerous chemical plants — a sellout to the chemical industry — and the ladling out of resources without targeting them on priority needs. (Here the corrupted Congress is far more at fault than the administration).
The president's politics of division have put government in our bedrooms and at our death beds, weakened the protections of the Voting Rights Act, turned the government against affirmative action, emboldened the opponents of women's rights and fostered fear about gays and lesbians. He's used the war on terror as a partisan club, dividing us when we should be coming together.
None of this is news. But Democrats have, as yet, been too timid or too divided to do much about it. With America in desperate need of bold leadership and a new direction, their slogan for the 2006 election is, hilariously, "We can do better."
Evenafterconservative Democratic Rep. Jack Murtha, the Pentagon's favorite ex-Marine, spoke up, the Dems dance around raindrops on Iraq. They seem unable to offer a coherent alternative to the president's ruinous tax-cut policies. They say nothing collectively about the hole that we're in from the catastrophic trade polices. Even on Katrina, they've failed to provide a clear alternative to the administration's utter failure to help the hurricane's survivors.
They've railed against the "culture of corruption" but failed to put out a comprehensive reform agenda, blocked by their own money-driven incumbents. They've railed against the big-oil policies of the administration, but failed to embrace the Apollo Alliance for generating good jobs by investing in new energy sources and energy efficiency, tongue-tied by their unwillingness to invest any significant resources.
The Democrats accuse the president of playing on the politics of race, of gender, of sexual preference — but they've failed to put the assault on basic rights at the center of their campaigns. Even on the president's imitation of Richard Nixon's radical view of imperial presidential powers, they've been easily rolled by the president's defenders.
Now some of this is the fate of a party that is completely locked out of power. With the right wing in control of every branch of government, Democrats are naturally easily divided; they should be having a big debate about what they believe and where they want to take the country.
But a lot of this is simple cowardice — the belief that Bush and the Republican Congress have fallen so low and failed so completely that Democrats can inherit power without ever committing to anything.
That is bad politics and bad policy. And those Democrats who want to run for president are about to learn from core supporters that dancing between raindrops on issues of vital national importance won't get them there.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.