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Dems Roll Over, Film at 11 | The Nation

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Subject to Debate

Dems Roll Over, Film at 11

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As in a paranoid novel by Don DeLillo, it all comes together in the end. The Democrats can't stand up to Bush on Iraq because they're afraid of looking soft on terrorism and Saddam Hussein--but they can't change the subject and attack the Republicans on the economy because they're part of the problem too. After all, last year they went along with Bush's "stimulus" plans to revive the economy through tax cuts only slightly less generous than those proposed by Bush. They're implicated in the corporate implosions and accounting scandals: Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe made nearly $18 million by selling Global Crossing stock before it crashed; Joseph Lieberman, who was supposed to be leading the post-Enron cleanup as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, actually headed the 1993 opposition to tighter accounting rules that helped pave the way for the meltdown. And it was the Clinton Administration that laid the groundwork for WorldCom by deregulating the telecommunications industry. Reliance on soft money and huge donors makes it hard to play the class card now--not that ex-candidate and champion fundraiser Robert Torricelli didn't try.

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Katha Pollitt
Katha Pollitt
Katha Pollitt is well known for her wit and her keen sense of both the ridiculous and the sublime. Her "Subject to...

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Just in case the Dems might be tempted to show signs of independent life, the media are ready to stomp all over them with combat boots. Al Gore was widely slammed as cynically seeking advantage for making a speech opposing the rush to war, but by the media's own logic, which is that pro-war is the politically safe position, he was as bold and selfless as a samurai. Jim McDermott and David Bonior, a k a "the Baghdad Democrats," who went to Iraq and called for the return of weapons inspectors, were described by Cokie Roberts on Morning Edition as looking "like they've been taken in by Saddam Hussein"--because they appeared on TV with the backdrop of Baghdad behind them. The media have seriously underreported protests around the world (1.5 million across Italy; 200,000-400,000 in London, ignored by the New York Times, unlike a pro-fox-hunting rally it covered earlier that week) and across the country. The October 6 Central Park rally was not, as the Times reported, "several thousand" people. It was 20,000 people--that's a lot. And so it is that narrow political calculation, combined with the media echo chamber, gives us the phenomenon of politicians hot for war even as polls show that the voters want to wait, find out more, get support from the United Nations and from other nations. Years and years of letting the right define the debate and establish its tactics have brought Dems to the pass that 84-year-old Senator Robert Byrd, who regrets voting for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964 and whose main cause in life has been to move as much of the federal government as possible to his home state of West Virginia, is the major voice speaking truth to power.

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But then, the antiwar movement too has some tricky terrain to negotiate. In his LA Weekly column and in the Los Angeles Times Marc Cooper mounted a characteristically energetic double-barreled attack on the antiwar movement for lacking human sympathy for the victims of 9/11, not giving America credit for anything good, underplaying the badness of Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, continuing to bemoan the invasion of Afghanistan when it actually turned out pretty well, and letting itself be represented by former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, anti-imperialist hard-liner and co-chair of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic. I don't think the antiwar movement right now is as monolithic as Cooper makes out or as numerically insignificant either (see Liza Featherstone's rather more optimistic report in this issue). Iraq isn't Afghanistan redux. But in any case, it's hard to imagine the means by which the movement could purge itself of the people Cooper dislikes. Isn't it the nature of ad hoc coalitions that they bring together wildly disparate factions with different reasons for supporting the same limited goal? If Ralph Nader can bond with Phyllis Schlafly to fight Channel One, and Cooper himself could pen valentines to John McCain because this warlike reactionary's primary run struck him as a challenge to the two-party system (right--who's going around the country stumping for every Republican running? but I digress), surely there's room enough in the peace movement for all sorts of people who oppose invading Iraq for a broad, and contradictory, spectrum of reasons. Besides, those anti-imperialist hard-liners work like Trojans.

That said, the extremely unsympathetic nature of the enemy presents a potential problem for the antiwar movement. Who can regret that the Taliban is gone? Who will mourn Saddam Hussein? As for Al Qaeda, the day the left lets itself appear to be defending Muslim fundamentalists as challengers of American hegemony--albeit by slitting the throats of schoolgirls, murdering writers, arresting partygoers, stoning rape victims and crashing passenger planes into office towers full of ordinary working people--is the day American hegemony starts to look like a good idea.

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Send a dollar, save a life. Planting yet another wet kiss on the toes of the religious right, George W. Bush has refused to turn over the $34 million appropriated by Congress to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). This despite the report of his own fact-finding commission, which found no evidence that UNFPA funds coerced abortions in China as antichoicers claim. In response, Lois Abraham of New Mexico and Jane Roberts of California have started a grassroots e-mail campaign to get 34 million American women (and men, and non-Americans) to donate a dollar or more each to the organization, which promotes family planning and safe maternity around the globe. You can add your mite to the heap--over $50,000 so far--by sending a buck (or a check made out to "The UN Population Fund") to The UN Population Fund, Attn: Chief, Resource Mobilization Branch, 220 East 42nd Street, 23rd floor, New York, NY 10017. Or make a tax-deductible donation at www.uscommittee.org.

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