Monday, October 5, 2009 may have been the beginning of the end of a Democratic majority in the House and Senate. Peace advocates demonstrated at the White House resulting in 61 arrests. The peace movement has grown tired of Obama's failure to end the Iraq war, his escalation of the Afghanistan war, his expansion of the war into Pakistan and his growing military budget. They have turned their criticism onto him and the Democratic Congress but the Democrats are not listening.
Does President Obama remember how the Democrats regained the majority in the House and Senate? Does he remember how he bested Hillary Clinton in the primaries? Here's a reminder.
Republicans dominated politics for the first eight years of the 21st Century. When President Bush attacked Iraq and pulled the U.S. into a war quagmire resulting in mass deaths of civilians and soldiers as well as bleeding of the U.S. treasury, the peace movement reacted. They highlighted the failures of the war, the lies that got America in to Iraq and the death, destruction and economic catastrophe the war was bringing. Peace activists demonstrated in Congress, sat-in the offices of elected officials and protested whenever Bush administration officials testified in Congress.
The public began to hear the full story -- the weapons of mass destruction were a lie, there was no link between Saddam and Osama, the casualties of war were increasing, the cost of war was escalating, the largest mercenary force in history was violating laws. Opinion rapidly turned against the war. The result, in 2006, the voters threw out the Republicans and gave the Democrats solid control of both Houses of Congress.
In 2008, the front runner, then-Senator Hillary Clinton, was running a campaign for the presidency that seemed unstoppable. The media and politicians treated her election as an inevitable fait accompli. But, Clinton had voted for the Iraq invasion and this did not sit well with the American public, especially with anti-war Democrats -- the base of the Democratic Party. The media anointed then-Senator Barack Obama as the "peace" candidate because of a speech he gave opposing the war before being elected to the U.S. senate. Aware of the mood of the voters he began his speeches with the promise: "I will end the war in Iraq." Anti-war Democrats were enough to carry him through the primary and into the presidency.
In both cases, voters opposed to war were critical to determining the outcome.
But now, the Obama administration is ignoring those voters. The day after the protests at the White House it was reported in Talking Points Memo that the administration said: "White House officials say Obama is not focusing on antiwar protesters -- neither the more than 60 who were arrested yesterday at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue nor the handful outside the White House gates today -- or on a MoveOn email petition circulating asking him for a clear military exit strategy."
The peace movement is noting that the president is ignoring their calls to end the war. Even worse for the president, this time we are starting as the majority. Polls show that more than 70% of Democrats oppose the Afghanistan war and sending more troops to the region as do a majority of Americans.
Obama is forgetting how he and the Democrats came to power. Who does Obama think provides much of the person-power for their elections? Or, the small grass roots donations? What do Obama and the Democrats think will happen if the peace movement stays home in 2010?
And, to make matters worse, he is repeating the mistake made in the health care debate. The president has been unable to excite grass roots support for reform because he and Congressional leaders took the most popular option, a single payer national health program, off the table. They would not consider the approach most Americans preferred. Instead, the Democrats have pushed a scheme that will enrich the health insurance industry -- corporations that Americans hate and see as corrupt -- by forcing Americans to buy their overpriced insurance.
So, what is his administration doing when it comes to Afghanistan? Making the same mistake. They are considering all options except the one Americans want. They have taken off the option list getting out of Afghanistan. Secretary Gates said this week "We are not leaving Afghanistan. This discussion is about next steps forward." And, the president's press secretary Robert Gibbs said: "I don't think we have the option to leave. That's quite clear."
At a time when the Republicans are energizing their base by challenging President Obama, the Democrats are turning off their base whether on health care, bailing out Wall Street or now on the Afghanistan war. Do the Democrats really have the hubris to think they can turn their base off and stay in office? If they do, they are likely to learn a very painful lesson in 2010 and 2012.