With success in Iraq, Democrats must find new outlet for anger

It seems like only yesterday. In 1990, I first entered politics in Oklahoma. I ran for a seat on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the agency tasked with regulating public utilities and our oil and gas industry.

The nine-year incumbent against whom I was running gave me an issue that was like a gift from Santa Claus. One of our major utilities had overcharged ratepayers to the tune of almost $30 million, and he had voted to let the offending public utility keep the windfall to upgrade its infrastructure. I felt the ratepayers deserved their money back, whether it was $50 or 50 cents.

The voters of Oklahoma apparently agreed with me, and I won by 9 points in a three-way race. I felt then that it was the right position, and I never regretted my stand.

In early 1991, President George H.W. Bush had a 91 percent approval rating a year before the 1992 campaign got under way. It seemed nothing could stop America or our leader. Americans were pleased with his handling of the Persian Gulf War.

One year later, though, Americans concluded he had dropped the ball on the economy, and a little-known governor from Arkansas built a national campaign around four simple words: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

The point is, in campaigns, there are issues you hang your hat on to win or lose.

Fast forward 16 years. We now are in another, less popular, war in Iraq. After the 2006 elections, the Democrats gained majorities in the Senate and House, and were riding a wave of self-confidence and assuredness that they would regain the White House because of the Iraq war.

The stars were aligned for the Democrats to accomplish this trifecta. The media was trumpeting our failures in Iraq on a daily basis. It was the topic du jour of television talking heads. Conventional wisdom had Democrats trouncing Republicans on Election Day over this one issue.

Sally Field epitomized Hollywood’s political position when she accepted an Emmy and laced her speech with a profane anti-war screed that, thankfully, was bleeped by a sensible censor. Cindy Sheehan was seeking a platform and a political career, riding the wave of discontent.

Joe Lieberman saw his party establishment turn against him, and he had to run for Senate re-election as an independent over his support of our troops and the Bush administration’s war policy. He and others were urging more troops — not fewer.

Some Democratic House and Senate members were proclaiming daily that the United States should pull out of Iraq immediately. Democrat candidates for president are still offering their plans to withdraw troops, albeit not with the same fervor and intensity as they showed just six months ago.

The once-noisy opposition has been reduced to whimpering today. Why?

That’s easy. They all misjudged where so many Americans are on the Iraq war. Most Americans are not opposed to Iraq as a matter of values, but as a matter of execution. The surge of troops that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, Sen. John McCain and others called for three years ago finally happened about seven months ago, and real progress is now being made.

There continues to be a growing sense of normalcy in Iraq, and success is finally coming into better focus. Civilian deaths are down more than 80 percent from a year ago. Eighty percent of Baghdad’s neighborhoods are secure today, compared with 10 percent a year ago.

The Democrats and the accommodating media don’t want you to hear the following:

— U.S. and Iraqi forces now basically own the streets.

— Anbar Province, which was once a hellhole of terrorists, was turned over to Iraqis a few weeks ago.

— People who fled Iraq over the past two years to avoid sectarian and terrorist violence are coming back to work and going to worship.

— Last month, thousands of Christians went to worship in church on Christmas.

— The Iraq Parliament even passed a pension law — something President Bush rightly observed our own Congress hasn’t been able to do!

There is clearly more work to be done. The gains are not yet etched in stone, but much success has been seen. Enough, in fact, to motivate the Democrats to displace Iraq as their primary issue in favor of the economy.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus have done an admirable job over the past year. President Bush showed resolve in his decision to fight for freedom, just as anyone with right on his side should.

Time magazine missed it a few weeks ago. As far as I’m concerned, the United States military should have been named Time’s People of the Year for 2007.

J.C. Watts (JCWatts01@jcwatts.com) is chairman of J.C. Watts Companies, a business consulting group. He is former chairman of the Republican Conference of the U.S. House, where he served as an Oklahoma representative from 1995 to 2002. He writes twice monthly for the Review-Journal.

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