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Political Cross-Dressing | The Nation

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Political Cross-Dressing

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SEC chairman Harvey Pitt lurches from lapdog to bulldog, threatening
CEOs with jail time if their corporate reports mislead. George Bush
demands "top floor" accountability. Republican leaders in the House
muscle their own caucus members into passing a sham prescription drug
benefit.

The run-up to the fall elections has begun. Barely a month ago, White
House political guru Karl Rove was telling Republicans they could retain
control of Congress by waving the flag, celebrating the recovery and
promoting an ill-defined "compassion agenda." Now, with the dollar and
the stock market sinking, the recovery looking shaky and Vice President
Cheney back in hiding as investigations widen into accounting deceptions
at his former company, Halliburton, Republicans are getting nervous.

Americans don't want the war on terrorism turned to partisan purpose,
pollster Stan Greenberg informed a Campaign for America's Future press
briefing, "and they want this election to be about their own pressing
concerns"--the soaring price of healthcare, educating their children,
paying for college, decent jobs with good benefits and whether they can
afford to retire now that their 401(k) has become a 201(k).

At such a moment, progressive reforms are not only good policy but good
politics. Add a real prescription drug provision to Medicare. Get
serious about cracking down on HMOs. Invest in teachers, schools and
after-school care and help with college tuition; pay for it by closing
down offshore tax havens and making billionaires pay what they did
before George W. Bush cut their taxes. Raise the minimum wage and curb
excessive executive pay packages. Protect workers' pensions and
prosecute corrupt corporate executives. Save Social Security from
privatization's benefit cuts. Stop fast-track trade authority and demand
trade accords that strengthen rather than diminish worker, farmer and
environmental protections. Make polluters pay for cleaning up their
toxic wastes instead of sending the bill to taxpayers and slowing the
cleanup.

The popularity of these reforms has led Republicans to add political
cross-dressing to the Rove strategy: Hug a tree, hang a CEO, don't say
the word "privatization." Whether they can get away with this is
unclear. It's a bit like putting pearl earrings on a sow. It's an
all-too-real prospect, however, at a time when Democrats control the
Senate but fast track passes easily, when Senator Ted Kennedy still has
trouble getting fellow Democrats to sign on for a rewrite of Bush's
fundamentally flawed tax plan, and when Democratic Leadership
Council-addled "money Democrats" blur the differences between the
parties.

If Democrats hope to win in 2002, they will have to do it the
old-fashioned way--by running as Democrats. And labor, community, civil
rights, women's and environmental groups will have to give them a push
in the right direction--just as they did with the successful effort to
keep the GOP from enacting a permanent repeal of the estate tax. Rove
and his army of strategists are masters at filling the narrow cracks
between the GOP and "kinder, gentler" Democrats. Only by opening a
significant divide between themselves and the GOP can the Democrats
emerge as the alternative that Rove and his minions fear--and that the
voters are ready to embrace.

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