Friday, April 11, 2008

Our Ms. Brooks: The Bill's Come Due

Rosa Brooks makes the argument in her latest column that, contrary to the opinion of news desk editors and television pundits, the Iraq War is going to play a major role in the November election:

As I said, it's a downer.

Especially for the GOP.

Over time, as more and more Americans have become convinced that going to war in Iraq was the wrong decision, President Bush's approval ratings have plummeted -- and Bush appears to be taking the Republican Party down with him.

According to a March 20 Pew Research Center study, Republican Party identification is at its lowest point in the center's 16 years of polling: Only 27% of registered voters will now fess up to being Republicans, a 6-percentage-point drop since 2004. And the decline is particularly notable in key swing states.

It's not just the fence-sitters who are shifting; core GOP constituencies are fleeing too. In a warning sign of what the future may hold for the GOP, Republican Party identification among younger white evangelicals -- 55% in 2001 -- had plummeted to 40% by September 2007.

The same trend has been true among military personnel, for decades a solidly Republican constituency. In 2004, 60% of active-duty military personnel who responded to a survey sent to Military Times subscribers identified themselves as Republicans. By 2007, that had dropped below 50%. (Military personnel tend to take screw-ups in Iraq pretty personally.)

It's heartening that even with the news black-out, large segments of the American public are not only still aware of the war, but angry about it. And the latest announcement that troops will remain at the current high levels because ... well, because we're making progress (?) and we don't want to lose that progress can't help but stoke the anger further.

Will that anger be enough to show up at the polls this November? When combined with an economy that is proving disastrous it just might. Don't think Republicans aren't aware of that. They've already started whining that the Democrats are engaged in partisan showmanship by linking those two issues.

It's pretty hard not to link the two, however. The hundreds of billions appropriated off budget for the war could have and should have been used in domestic programs like improving our infrastructure (thereby providing badly needed jobs). That money could have and should have been used for extending health care access to children and their families. The money could have and should have been used for education and training programs for children and for workers whose jobs have been transferred to other countries.

And the mind set that could swallow the lies that led us to this "premptive war" also stripped federal agencies of the regulatory power that could have stopped the insane speculation on Wall Street and that made it easier to import faulty and poisonous goods that we used to make here.

The trick for the Democratic candidates, all of them, is to make that link intelligibly and forcefully.

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