Rarely do "bright lines" occur in politics. The New York and LA Times reported one today, albeit with starkly different headlines. The New York Times headline about its poll shouts, "Only 25% in Poll Voice Approval of the Congress. An Echo of 1994 Findings." The LA Times says, "Bush and GOP Making Gains Among Voters. The turnaround is a sign that the election battle in November could be fierce. But history shows Democrats remain poised to claim seats."
What's the bright line? It's the fact that the Democrats have an historic opportunity to change the very essence of political and civil discourse in America this fall and by the way, to win. But the summary stories of both polls make clear that such a victory can only occur if, seat by seat, the Democrats can show clearly that a new majority in Washington will change America's course.
So far, we have not done that. But one issue alone--accountability--can sway voters. And, to paraphrase Henry Kissinger, it has the added advantage of being a truly signal issue. The polls show that voters are disenchanted with the course on which their nation heads, but they do not know what to do about it. The LA Times says that "46% of registered voters in the latest survey said their congressional representative deserved reelection, whereas 40% said they wanted to elect someone new - figures that that seem to show a greater desire for change than polls found shortly before the 1994 vote." The New York Times poll says, "While 61 percent of respondents said they disapproved of the way Congress was handling its job, just 29% said they disapproved of the way their "representative is handling his or her job."
The Democratic strategy for this election has always been to nationalize the vote and make it a referendum on President Bush and the Republican handling of the occupation in Iraq and the general direction of the country. However, voters increasingly ask, "what will you do if you win? What will be different?"
The answer: a new majority in Congress will hold the Bush Administration accountable for its conduct of the occupation, for its conduct of securing America and for its conduct as a paymaster to profiteers. If every Democratic candidate said, "look at the atrocities that have been committed in Iraq by people like David Lesar, the CEO of Halliburton, who has made about $150 million since the war started. Why has he gotten off scott-free while you are no better off today than you were five years ago, while good Americans continue to die in Iraq so that people like Lesar can get richer?"
It's the story we tell in Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers. It's the human story of abuse and death and family bereavement, of traitors and privateers such as Lesar and his fellow CEOs at Blackwater, Titan/L-3 and CACI that inform Americans about the urgency of change. We all respond to accessible stories. The film does the trick, but it's up to our candidates and party leaders to get the message out loud and clear.
The bright line: keep spending your money to make a few men very rich at the expense of thousands of dead and wounded, without any regard for national security or vote for people who will represent you, who will ask the tough questions and demand answers from Presidents Bush and Cheney, who will find out how the David Lesars of the world become so rich that they probably can't count their money, while our troops languish in a desert far away from home.
Imagine how a CEO of one of these companies would react if he were called before a Congressional committee knowing that he could face charges of treason, perjury and profiteering. I'd guess they'd realize that the bribes they've paid to Republicans these five years only pay off so long as the stories stay under cover. The stories are there to be told; it's our job to know them and to push our leaders to campaign on them. It's a sad but winning strategy. But it's also the Constitutional duty Congress has shirked for five years.