Let's consider the following scenario:
• Thirty years from now, American politics remains the exclusive domain of the Democratic and Republican parties.
• The US in 2037 is no closer to national health care. HMOs and insurance companies are still paying off legislators, still in charge of most Americans' health care, and making record profits while the number of uninsured has doubled. (These companies have become so powerful that they've wrecked the national health care programs of Britain and some other European countries.)
• Republican lawmakers, with help from Democrats, have fatally damaged Social Security, Medicare, public education, and other programs through partial or full privatization. The disastrous effect on working Americans hasn't dampened the zeal of politicians for the free market and dismantling "big government." New trade agreements, built on the early successes of NAFTA, have resulted in even greater economic upheavals in the US and abroad, with whole populations facing displacement.
• Under both Democratic and Republican White Houses and Congresses, the US has launched new wars as oil, fresh water, food, and other resources became scarcer and more expensive. The conversion of agriculture in many parts of the world from provision of food to provision of biofuel has threatened peace as nations began to realign -- many of them against the US, thanks to American overconsumption and decades of belligerency that began after 9/11.
• By 2037, the effects of climate change have accelerated, leading to mass evacuation in some areas. Carbon-trading among polluting industries and the construction of hundreds of nuclear power plants have had no effect on global warming's advance. Nuclear power has proved an enormous liability to security and the environment.
• Under Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the executive branch has gained nearly unlimited power. Thanks to the new national ID card and microchips in credit cards, cars, and other items, satellites can pinpoint the whereabouts of any American at any given time. (Associated Press, November 11: "A top intelligence official says it is time people in the United States changed their definition of privacy." <)" target="_blank">http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hJKgeE0Z-SivATjok-utYBdh9wDwD8SRIV8O0">) As a result of new spy technology, warrantless surveillance of citizens, the War on Drugs, more zero-tolerance laws, and increasing poverty, America's prison population has more than doubled since 2007.
• With campaigns now costing millions of dollars, even for local office, both parties' politicians take record amounts of cash from corporate contributors. Elections in the 2030s are huge, expensive spectacles, but hardly anyone bothers to vote. Among Democrats, a small group of progressives hold out hope that they can rehabilitate their party. But the Democratic Party's leadership knows from the evidence of the past century that it can assume the votes of progressive, antiwar, and ecologically minded voters, as well as African Americans, gay people, and other constituencies, because they have nowhere else to turn....
That's what the world might look like thirty years from now. All of the above is either probable or all too plausible.
On the evidence of the Reagan, Clinton, and both Bush administrations and the current crop of likely nominees for 2008, the US will continue in the same direction whether we elect Democrats or Republicans to the White House and Congress. The only difference is that it'll happen a few years sooner under Republicans.
Can we forecast an alternative, more humane future? Yes... but not without a dramatic disruption to the political status quo. America needs a transformation comparable to the abolitionist Republican challenge to pro-slavery Democrats and Whigs in the 1850s, the confrontations that led to the end of the Robber Baron Era and ultimately to progressive and New Deal reforms that gave the middle class its mid 20th century prosperity, and the point of anger that led black people to launch the Civil Rights movement.
Americans are by nature conservative. They prefer stability instead of revolution. Some historical upheavals, like the Civil War, resulted in enormous violence and suffering. It's very likely that the thirty-years-from-now scenario I described will also bring violence, domestic as well as international, unless some kind of less tumultuous political disruption happens now to offset it. In short, we need a drastic change in America's political landscape.
Bipartisan business as usual
We can begin by admitting that the Democratic Party, if it regains executive or maintains legislative power or both, is not going to end the Iraq War or enact national health care or make other significant changes. The Democratic leadership has no incentive to do so, nor do they intend to gamble with the generosity of corporate contributors.
On the Iraq front, Democrats no less than Republicans want to keep US control over the oil spigot as much as possible. Democratic leaders have endorsed the Iraqi hydrocarbon law "benchmark" that would place 2/3 of Iraq's oil resources under the control of major US and UK energy companies. The benchmark will require continued US military presence in Iraq to protect the investments of corporations like ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and BP.
It's why top Dems are only offering delayed timetables for partial withdrawal, instead of a plan for all US troops be ordered home safe and sound as quickly as possible. Democrats in Congress could force such a withdrawal simply by stalling on Bush's requests for war funding, but have declined to do so. According to an Associated Press news report on October 10, congressional Democrats have put troop removal "on the back burner," and in November passed a bill (doomed to veto) for partial withdrawal by the end of 2008, but which will leave tens of thousands of US troops deployed in Iraq (Associated Press, November 11: "Democrats' bill on Iraq wouldn't end war" http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hCwFdr1kPXe2fDoezo2dDrBqR2HgD8T32QS00).