The prospect of hanging, Dr. Johnson said, concentrates the mind wonderfully. The threat posed by George W. Bush’s right-wing reaction has organized the left for Kerry, just as Clinton galvanized the right for Bush.
As a referendum on Bush’s failed agenda, Election 2004 can help toll the end of the conservative era that has defined our politics for the past quarter-century. For progressives, this election has revealed the growing power of their arguments and the sophistication of their activism. That energy, at the base of the Democratic Party, provides hope that victory in 2004 may mark the beginning of a movement that can transform American politics.
1. The Collapse of the Conservative Era
Bush is in trouble, and the reason is simple. With the right controlling both the White House and Congress, he has pushed through much of the right-wing agenda–and it has proved bankrupt once again.
Pre-emptive war and an arrogant unilateralism produced the debacle in Iraq, which has left America more isolated, more reviled and more vulnerable. Pre-emptive top-bracket tax cuts have run up record deficits as far as the eye can see, while generating the worst jobs record of any President since the Great Depression. Bush’s policies have worsened our Gilded Age inequality, while working Americans find it harder to afford healthcare, college, retirement security or even to keep up with the rising cost of food and gas. Privatization and deregulation contributed to the worst corporate scandals since the 1920s, symbolized by the collapse of Enron, one of Bush’s leading contributors in the 2000 race. Corporate looting reached new shamelessness in Iraq, led by Dick Cheney’s Halliburton.
The Administration’s assault on workers has helped to hike corporate profits to their highest portion of GDP since the 1920s. The rollback of environmental regulation has enhanced the threat of global warming, which even Pentagon planners now suggest is more destabilizing than terrorism. And the Bush White House has encouraged the religious right’s jihad against family planning, reproductive rights, even evolution. In the midst of an AIDS pandemic, this Administration continues to enforce its gag order muzzling doctors from providing common-sense information that can save lives. In stem-cell research and elsewhere, it has crippled science to cater to the evangelical right. In its assault on affirmative action and judicial nominations, it practices a race-baiting politics of division, wholly at odds with the diversity that is America’s strength.
2. The Democratic Contrast
Across the country, progressives are rightfully muttering about the uncertain trumpet represented by John Kerry. Since winning the nomination, Kerry has surrounded himself with former Clinton policy advisers, reaching out to the money wing of the party, represented by the Democratic Leadership Council. He’s tempered the populist language on corporations and trade that helped him fend off the Howard Dean challenge. Kerry had to be pushed to open his Wonder Bread campaign staff to minorities. And he has seemed content to practice rope-a-dope politics, letting Bush self-destruct without offering a clear choice or challenge.