Winning in 2006 — and beyond

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EDITORIAL There are plenty of Democrats running for the House and Senate this fall who don't exactly qualify as liberals. Howard Dean, the (somewhat) grassroots-oriented, progressive party chair, has been largely aced out of a meaningful role in the fall campaigns, which are being run by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who have said repeatedly that they're willing to eschew a coherent program or ideology because what they want to do is win. In fact, there isn't much of a clear Democratic Party platform at all.
But in a way, that doesn't matter. The Nov. 7 midterm election is all about President George W. Bush, the war in Iraq, and the precarious state of the US economy. The (ever more likely) prospect of the Democrats taking back both houses of Congress would be a clear and profound statement that the country wants a change.
This year's Democratic Party is not about fundamental social and economic change. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who will likely be the next House speaker, has said she won't consider hearings on or an inquiry into the impeachment of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The Democratic leadership under Pelosi and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would likely be far more bipartisan than the Republicans have been. And there are a lot of things that just won't be on the agenda.
But there are some very strong Democrats who will be in position to chair powerful committees. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D–Los Angeles) would be in line to run the House Judiciary Committee. That committee would never allow another PATRIOT Act to emerge. But even more important, Conyers and Waters would likely launch detailed investigations into a long list of Bush administration misdeeds. And with this congressional committee using the investigative authority and subpoena power it holds, the White House would lose a lot of its imperial immunity.
But if the Democrats are going to emerge from the next two years of leading the national legislature with the kind of momentum they'll need to field a strong presidential candidate in 2008, they'll need to do more than serve as the loyal opposition. Democrats need to take on some big issues — and the first one is the war. Congress can effectively end the war any time, simply by cutting off funding for it — and while that's not likely to happen in the first 100 days, the Democrats can and should demand that Bush offer a clear and acceptable timetable for withdrawing from Iraq — and prepare to start cutting appropriations on that schedule.
That would tell the public that the Democratic Party believes in something — and is willing to listen to the large and growing majority in this country who are sick of Bush's pointless war and want it to end, now. SFBG