By Lou Dobbs
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Lou Dobbs' commentary appears weekly on CNN.com.
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The battle for the soul of the Democratic Party is under way. And the outcome of this battle will likely not be determined by any one of the rising number of candidates for the party's 2008 presidential nomination, but rather by the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill.
The House of Representatives passed important legislation designed, at least politically, to focus on the needs of our middle class, beset by stagnating wages, failing public education, destructive so-called free trade policies, skyrocketing health care costs, out-of-control illegal immigration and the soaring price of higher education.
So in Congress' self-proclaimed first 100 hours, speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered on her promise to have the House pass bills raising the federal minimum wage, cutting interest rates on student loans and helping bring down the cost of prescription drugs. But none of that legislation has passed the Senate.
The ascension of the so-called Lou Dobbs Democrats in the November election gave hope to many that our representatives and senators were awakening to the need to represent the largest single group of voters in the country, 150 million working men and women and their families. The reality is, however, corporate America and special interests still dominate our legislative and electoral process.
A successful Democratic candidate running for his or her party's nomination is as dependent as any Republican seeking the nomination of his party, and $100 million is the price of the ticket. Who has the money? Corporate America and Wall Street, of course.
Corporate America will fight as hard to control the Democratic agenda as it has to control the Republican agenda in Washington. Of great service to their efforts will be the "think tanks" bent on preserving the status quo and the all-but-absolute domination of corporate America over our political process.
The Democratic Leadership Council is obviously frightened that my brand of independent populism is a threat. The council claims that I, and those who agree with me, "are simply, factually, decisively wrong about the strength of the U.S. manufacturing economy itself," and that the more than three million jobs lost in manufacturing are a testament to corporate America's technology-based efficiency, not outsourcing and offshoring to cheap foreign labor markets. Then why are foreign-produced imports rising so dramatically and taking an ever-larger share of many of the most important sectors of our economy?
The Third Way, which is supposedly a "strategy center for Progressives," has just published a new study called "The New Rules Economy: A Policy Framework for the 21st Century." Third Way's conclusion that the struggling middle class is a myth requires it to avoid the fact that the share of national income going to wages and salaries is now at the lowest level on record. At the same time, the share of national income captured by corporate profits is at its highest level in more than half a century.
In fact, wages from 2000 to 2006 for working men and women in this country increased at half the rate they normally do in a recovery. And, not surprisingly, corporate America's profits are increasing at double the historic rate in that six-year period.
The Third Way adds: "...While economic conservatism is premised on the myths of an infallible market and incompetent government, neo-populism is premised on the myths of a failing middle class, a declining America, and omnipotent corporations." I call that independent populism, not neo-populism. And I also call that truth.
The middle class is also working more hours than ever before: Thirty years ago Americans worked an average of 43 weeks, but now U.S. workers are putting in an average of 47 weeks per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's in stark contrast to the rest of the industrialized world, where the number of hours worked in all other countries except for Canada has decreased over the past 30 years, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported.
About one-third of the families in this country bring in less than $35,000 of income each year, according to the Census Bureau, a figure that's nowhere close to ensuring the quality of life and standard of living to which many Americans have grown accustomed. I fear the American Dream may finally become the American Pipe Dream.
These families at the bottom of the wage scale are really struggling. According to the Federal Reserve's most recent comprehensive Survey of Consumer Finances (released every three years), average family income from 2001 to 2004 fell 2.3 percent, and the median net worth of the bottom 40 percent of families declined as well. And real median wages declined by more than 6 percent during the same period.
Why are the partisans of both political parties so committed to denying the economic and social reality we face? In the case of the Democratic Party, there seems to be a rising fear that more Lou Dobbs Democrats are on the way and are going to demand truth over slogans and an improving reality for working men and women rather than ideological posturing that will salve the corporate masters of both parties.
At least the Democrats still have a chance to save their souls.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.