This is the defining populist event of the year - and possibly the decade.

Since the 90's, countless working-class voters have shifted to the Republicans - we think of them as the "moral values" voters.  What caused these people to lose faith in the Democratic Party as the party that protects their jobs and their well-being?

Many of these people don't follow politics in the slightest, but there is one issue they recognize, and they blame Bill Clinton for - NAFTA.  When you say NAFTA, they hear LOST JOBS.  And now, the issue is back again, with a vengeance...

The event is the upcoming House vote on CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement.  To these working-class voters, who are supposed to form the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, THIS is the issue by which Democratic legislators and candidates will define themselves.  Will we stand with the workers, or against them?

Bob Brigham at the Swing State Project calls our attention to an AP report indicating that the fate of CAFTA is very much up in the air, and hangs in the balance as we speak:

Opponents of a free trade agreement with six Central American and Caribbean countries said Wednesday they have the votes to kill the deal when it comes up for a House vote. Supporters declared they have just begun to fight.

Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, an opponent, said that if a vote were held now on the Central American Free Trade Agreement, 195 Democrats and more than 60 Republicans would reject it, well more than enough to defeat the measure in the 435-member House.

"If CAFTA weren't so wrong-headed and opposition to it so deep, Congress would have voted on the bill shortly after the president signed it" last May, Brown told a large anti-CAFTA gathering including farm-state lawmakers from both parties, Democrats with ties to organized labor, and groups representing agriculture, labor, religious, human rights and environmental interests.

House Republican leaders, meanwhile, held a strategy meeting with business groups, ambassadors and administration officials -- including Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez -- to discuss how they are going to win the vote that the leadership says they would like to hold next month.

For one reason or another, there are issues that grab the attention of the dkos community, and there are those that don't.  Many Kossacks, king crab in particular, have called attention to this issue in recent weeks, and their diaries are worth reading for more details:

Action Alert! Stop CAFTA today

The Coming World Trouser War

CAFTA: A Fight We Can Win, If Only We Try

The time for action is NOW.  This is not an issue we need to educate the voters on; millions of working-class voters already know what they think of NAFTA.  This is the time for Democratic politicians to stand up and declare that our party represents the working class, and that on this issue they care about so deeply, we have their backs.

Let me be very clear about something.  I know there are many Kossacks who support "free trade" and who can articulate economic arguments in favor of CAFTA.  But that is not the point.  THIS IS A POLITICAL DIARY, NOT A POLICY ONE.  If the Democrats are to regain power in this country, they need to reestablish their credentials as the party of the working class.  We can sit up on a high horse and watch more elections slip away while we tell them "Sorry, this is what our economic textbooks tell us" - or we can promise to fight for their rights.

The policy arguments do not matter.  There are literally MILLIONS of working-class people who already have their minds made up on this critical issue.  The question for every Democratic Congressman and candidate is clear:  Will you represent these voters, or will you let someone else do it?

Originally posted to Steve M on Thu Apr 21, 2005 at 10:26 AM PDT.

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