If the 2006 elections were held in March or April instead of November, just about all any Democrat would have to do to win would be to buy 15 seconds of TV time and mutter three words–Iraq, Dubai, Katrina–then go home and plan the victory party.

Well, not really, but you get the idea. Unfortunately the election isn’t till November, and the issue with the greatest staying power and most potential isn’t either of the obvious ones: it’s Katrina.

Dubai may fade, Iraq may change, but Katrina is firmly fixed in the public mind, as two recent if largely overlooked polls indicate. Katrina is the Democrats’ political equivalent of 9-11.

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Bushites have made shameless and effective political use of 9-11. But Democrats have not effectively focused on an equally powerful phenomenon, with its equally powerful associated images, that is ready-made to tell the tawdry story of Bush administration failure. The Democrats have Katrina. They don’t need to distort it or exploit it.  But it’s about time they used it.  Because people care about what it means.

The issue is ready-made because it remains powerful in the public mind, even with the extreme fall-off in coverage of the affected region, and the Democrats’ failure to concentrate on it. Just in the past week or so:

An Ipsos poll conducted for Associated Press shows Americans choose spending on Katrina over spending on Iraq as the country’s highest priority by a margin of 2 to 1:64% to 31%. Nearly 90% believe that the affected area is still devastated. More than half are not confident that the federal government can handle a similiar disaster in the future.

A WNBC poll conducted by Marist College says :

Among the many controversies surrounding the Bush Administration, its response to Hurricane Katrina is most troubling to voters. 66% of registered voters nationwide are bothered a great deal or a good amount by the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Although Democrats are most critical, 64% of independents and 42% of Republicans are bothered by how the administration handled the disaster.

(Hat tip to Political Wire which reported both polls.)

Katrina is the narrative that tells all the stories about Bushcorps that Democrats need to tell. Inattention and inaction when Americans were in trouble and needed their federal government. Disrespect for working people, the poor and people of color, which can be further illustrated through many other policies and failures. Failure of leadership, and failure of character. An aftermath studded with scapegoating and more evidence of the Culture of Corruption in the awarding of no-bid contracts to cronies. Wasting taxpayers’ money on these contracts with companies which demonstrably fail to do the job.

Even the Bush administration admits that its response was too little and too late. But what is their solution? Its Homeland Security office issued a report recommending the full militarization of disaster response. Such a response leads directly to a critique of the Bushite penchant for a police state, in the guise of national security.

There is also a clear opportunity to get the Climate Crisis on the table at last. Katrina is also a golden door to making the Climate Crisis a Democrat issue, especially with the recent statements by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, amending the view that the severity of Katrina and other hurricanes last year was not linked to global heating, to say that some researchers there think there is a causal link.

Katrina offers the emotional center and the opportunity to begin an incessant and relentless assault on Republican failures, while making the positive case for what Democrats stand for.

And it is not too late. Katrina is not going away. Cleanup still continues, and bodies of the dead continue to be found in New Orleans, at the rate of one or two a day. More than 1400 dead are recorded, with some 2300 still missing, three-quarters of that number are African-Americans. This tragedy is still unfolding, and it represents a threat to every American worried about how its government responds to emergencies.  

Levees are being rebuilt, amidst controversy. Hurricane season is fast approaching.Katrina should be on every Democrat’s lips going into the 2006 Congressional elections.

And there is occasion to begin very soon. According to Truthout, a march is planned for March 14, the day before the first scheduled evictions of Katrina victims. It will be in Washington, and the route goes past FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security, to the White House. A rally will be held in Lafayette Square Park.

Apart from its specific purpose to bring attention to the plight of Katrina survivors, this event should be the unofficial but very real beginning of the 2006 campaign: the Katrina campaign.

While these other issues are powerful, Katrina can be the centerpiece.  At the very least, it cannot be forgotten: it must be prominent. It has the advantage of being visceral, relatively free of complications or mixed messages, and it provides the opportunities to make a positive as well as negative case–to say what Democrats stand for as well as what they are against.  If Democrats seize this opportunity, and use it well.

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