IF I HAD A HAMMER...
I agree with Katrina vanden Heuvel on the necessity of building a better infrastructure to combat the right-wing corporate giant ["Building to Win," July 9]. The right has the money and the media. The progressives have the brains and the moral highroad. Let's keep to the latter while concentrating on how best to position the former. Newt Gingrich used computer technology to fire his misguided agenda. Progressives need to capture the Internet as the means to train, inform, meet and proselytize (The website Common Dreams is a good start). Technology can go far beyond a simple reprinting of well-written articles. I suggest that the web be our printing press as well as our town meeting hall to take back our party, the Democratic Party, and to then move the rest of the country back from the fringe of fascism.
New York City
Unquestionably, infrastructure is essential. But until we regain command over the buzzwords, conservatives hold the advantage. After a relentless barrage of invective by conservatives and sixties radicals, "liberal" became a term of opprobrium. "Marketplace" must be shown to be a myth; "privatize," a synonym for corrupt favoritism; "missile defense initiative," a form of corporate welfare; "interests" returned to its original meaning, corporate oligopoly; "tax reduction," a transfer of wealth from those who have little to those who have much; "globalization," a search for the most repressive dictatorships that deliver the lowest wages and costs. Government and labor must be what they were in the past, the only counterweights to supranational conglomerates.
Katrina vanden Heuvel perpetuates a common misunderstanding when she states, "The 1997 Supreme Court decision against the New Party...has chained us constitutionally to the existing duopoly." Not so. Nothing in the Constitution "chains" us to the two-party system. Only federal law does. A statute passed by Congress forces states to gerrymander their territories into single-member districts. This law entrenches duopoly politics, because a one-winner election turns third parties into spoilers and encourages voters to hold their noses and vote for one of only two candidates. Thus, states are prevented from using proportional representation (PR), which the Constitution would allow. By using larger, multimember districts and preference or party-list voting, PR would give third and fourth parties a chance. A bill in Congress, HR 1189, the Voters' Choice Act, would eliminate the single-seat requirement, allowing states to experiment with PR. The duopoly can be broken without having to face the Supreme Court or amend the Constitution. It's a legislative issue, like other election reforms, and progressives should be leading the way.
Midwest Democracy Center
VANDEN HEUVEL REPLIES
New York City
I'm sorry if my shorthand summary of our present predicament was confusing. It is quite true, of course, that the Constitution does not mandate a two-party system. Indeed, it says nothing at all about parties. Our duopoly is a creation of statutory law and administration rule, and in principle we could change it by the same means. The age-old problem, however, is that the very duopoly the law protects also runs our government and has never shown the slightest interest in increasing competition. So those who wish to reform the system are forced to use citizen initiative or the courts.
What the Supreme Court's decision in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party did was in effect to preclude the second line of attack. Steered by the same Gang of Five that later gave us Bush v. Gore, it held that the current major parties werefree to construct electoral rules for the exclusive purpose of limiting competition to themselves. Just how profound a departure from past law this was is important to see. Before Timmons the Court often recognized the endurance of our two-party system and even the possible virtues of the duopoly over other electoral systems. But what it had never done was misread the Constitution to favor party duopoly, and it had always treated any effort by the two major parties to reproduce themselves indefinitely as the duopoly--by erecting artificial barriers to new party entry and effective competition--with something approaching contempt. The Court said in Timmons that existing parties had a legitimate interest in doing just that. Moreover, it declared itself prepared to uphold this interest regardless of a showing, as was made and accepted in the case, that doing so hurt our electoral system's representativeness with no gain in any other electoral value--accountability or stability, for instance--traditionally recognized by the Court. After Timmons, I see no constitutional argument that might successfully be made against the rules upholding our duopoly. That's what I meant by saying the decision "chained us constitutionally."
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL
A MODEST PROPOSAL
I know a place where the Navy can shift its bombing operations that will make everybody happy--Martha's Vineyard [Angelo Falcón, "Liberating Vieques," July 9]! Like Vieques, the Vineyard is a charming island with easy access to sea and land. With more than three times Vieques's paltry fifty-one square miles, it should afford the Navy a much wider range of out-of-the-way targets. And since the peak season runs only about three months, there'll be ample opportunity to squeeze in the 180 days a year of bombing the Navy says it needs to maintain readiness. Since the Navy claims these operations have no significant impact on public health, safety, economy, ecology or quality of life, I don't foresee a problem.
YOU CAN TAKE THIS VOTE & SHOVE IT
As one of those blue-collar white folks examined in Andrew Levison's review of why most supported Bush in the last election, I'd like to point out that most of us didn't support anybody--refusing to take what time off we have to vote for one elitist son of a politician over another. Just whose version of NAFTA were we supposed to endorse? As best as I can tell, a lot of scholarship went into explaining the obvious ["Who Lost the Working Class?" May 14].
Working white folk have been abandoned for decades by the Democrats and corporate labor, a feeling native workers "of color" are beginning to experience. Racial divisions were exploited by conservatives for profit and liberals for posture. And while we knocked heads over jobs and wages, the libs and cons retired to their clubs under the awning of loyal opposition.
Levison continues the obvious fallacy that unions represent the majority of workers and their interests. After they purged action-oriented activists a couple of generations ago, their flaccid advocacies have served only to diminish their own numbers, bolstered today only by a willingness to adopt scabs once workers have lost their jobs. The new predominant service industries require servility over skill. Americans suck as servants. Immigrant labor, so unsurly and so adored by progressives, met no opposition from the liberal side until it impacted jobs of college graduates in the high-tech industries. Republicans don't have the working-class vote any more than the Democrats have our interest at heart. It don't take four years in the Ivy League for most of us to recognize the two empty husks in the American shell game.
I recognized the values Andrew Levison enumerates as "working class," and his description of the 1950s, from my own experience as the daughter of an East Texas railroad engineer and labor organizer. We used to iron my father's striped work overalls, so he left the house each day starched and clean and returned greasy. But in the 1950s he started wearing a suit to work and would change into his overalls at the rail yard. Even as a child, I sensed the shame that had replaced his militancy.
"Who Lost the Working Class?" fails to mention two singular men who also toiled in Andrew Levison's vineyard. Where is Will Gavin (whose prophetic 1975 sleeper, Street Corner Conservative, argued that the "Right" kind of Republican could take all the marbles in places like the People's Republic of Queens)? And what about the late Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Tom Fox (who in 1976 coined the phrase "Reagan Democrats")? I gave Fox my own Rx for the GOP: Let Jerry Ford spend more time with Joe Garagiola (and less with Henry Kissinger) and he wins. But they didn't. So he didn't.
NOEL E. PARMENTEL JR.
NOT BY SEX ED ALONE
Santa Cruz, Calif.
Marjorie Heins disputes myths of abstinence-only education only to uphold the myth that better sex education would eliminate the difference between high US and low European teen pregnancy rates ["Sex, Lies and Politics," May 7]. In fact, the biggest reason for the difference is poverty. In more affluent communities where US teenagers have poverty rates as low as those of European youth (around 5 percent), US teen pregnancy rates are as low as Europe's; in America's impoverished inner cities and rural areas, teen pregnancy rates are 20 times higher. Black and Hispanic adolescents suffer poverty levels triple those of white youths, and the Centers for Disease Control's latest report shows that black and Hispanic adolescents have pregnancy rates three times higher than whites'.
Comprehensive evaluations of American teen pregnancy prevention do not show that sex and abstinence education reduce pregnancy rates but that poverty exerts powerful effects. The best evidence indicates that sex education and contraception provision help to deter pregnancy only when accompanied by social and economic reforms that provide expanded opportunities for poorer populations. By drastically overstating the effectiveness of programmatic interventions, sex education advocates interfere with the crucial need to redress America's grotesque socioeconomic inequalities and youth poverty levels.
COLD WAR CITATION REVISIONISM
New York City
In my July 16 essay, "Cold War Ghosts," I should have cited either Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes's Venona or Allen Weinstein's Perjury rather than The Haunted Wood (by Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev) for the argument that since the person code-named ALES returned from the Yalta Conference via Moscow, and Alger Hiss did the same on a plane carrying three others, none of them spy material, ALES was probably Hiss.