The New Misery Index

President Obama’s decision to nation-build in Afghanistan in the midst of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression is likely to produce a new Misery Index for Americans: The escalating numbers of dead and wounded American soldiers in Afghanistan PLUS the likely high level of unemployed Americans at home. For Congressional Democrats, the Misery Index could add up to big trouble at the polls in November 2010.

Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan coined the term “misery index” as a very effective way to focus attention on the Carter administration’s double barrel headache in 1980: rising unemployment and inflation. President Obama’s decision to double down on a failing Afghanistan strategy by ordering an immediate military escalation is likely to present Democratic Congressional candidates with a Misery Index of their own in 2010.

President Obama wants to rush the troops that General McCrystal has requested for Afghanistan as soon as possible so that they can be in place for the so-called spring “fighting season”. The significantly larger military footprint of foreign forces will, inevitably, swell the ranks of Taliban fighters who have been successfully using the presence of these forces as their most potent recruitment weapon. The result is not hard to predict: a significant spike in US casualties in Afghanistan in the summer and fall of 2010 at precisely the time that Members of Congress are facing voters in the 2010 elections.
The dreadful reports of these escalating numbers of American casualties abroad will be in addition to the number of local news stories of the casualties of escalating unemployment at home. The numbers of Americans who are unemployed and underemployed – not to mention those who are worried that they will soon join the ranks of both – are increasing steadily. So is the view of voters that the nation is on the wrong track. While Wall Street is basking in profits and brokers are getting well publicized bonuses, workers are getting pink slips. It begs the question: what are the priorities of those we elect to represent us in Washington?

Political leadership is about setting priorities and making choices. Those who support the president’s military escalation in Afghanistan will be charged with being more interested in nation building abroad than in nation building at home. And, the nation building policy that they have chosen to support abroad is not only generating new levels of casualties to Americans in uniform, it is producing absolutely no discernible progress in making America safer.

To make it worse, Democratic Congressional candidates who support the President’s Afghanistan policy will likely be hit with another political misery indicator: declining support from the political base that was so critical to their success in 2006 and 2008. There is real danger that the hope and enthusiasm that drove so many progressive Democrats in those election cycles will be transformed into cynicism and apathy in 2010. That is bad news for any incumbent Democrat running in 2010.

I hope that Congressional Democrats will do the right thing and oppose the president’s military escalation in Afghanistan because it’s the right thing to do. But, if they need more of an inducement, they may want to consider the electoral misery index that may await them in 2010.