This essay, from the October 1, 1874, issue of The Nation, is a special selection from The Nation Digital Archive. If you want to read everything The Nation has ever published on the politics of the Justice Department, click here for information on how to acquire individual access to the Archive--an electronic database of every Nation article since 1865.
On January 20, hundreds of Republicans will descend on Washington, DC, wearing furs, boots and Stetsons, and partying like the Hollywood stars (they love to loathe) at festivities that will cost some $40 million to host--or $25 million more than the first pledge of US assistance to victims of the tsunami. These high-end Bush donors will be paying to play in our nation's capital.
Their high-flying parties come after a holiday season of little sacrifice for those in the top one percent. At a time when growing numbers of Americans cannot afford essentials like rent, health care and retirement security, the Bentley car dealership in Bethesda, Maryland, registered a 700 percent increase in sales last year. (One popular seller this season is the new Continental GT, which goes for $165K.)
A few days before the release of a report showing that New Yorkers needed to make $18.18 an hour (three times more than the federal minimum wage) to afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment, the media titan Rupert Murdoch agreed to pay $44 million for a Manhattan penthouse on Fifth Avenue. (That's $29 million more than the first pledge the Bush Administration offered to tsunami victims.)
Honest economists will tell you that the financial solvency of Social Security can be guaranteed well into the next century. So why does the President insist on adding private retirement accounts into the reform mix? Because their purpose is not to save Social Security but, like a Trojan horse, to destroy it. Personal accounts are part and parcel of Bush's domestic policy agenda: an assault on the very concept of The Public--its goods, services and trust.
Social Security, which provides a public good: the minimum financial security of retirees, is only the latest example. Faith-based initiatives were the privatization of government social welfare programs to religious institutions. Vouchers were the privatization of public education to religious schools. Drilling in the Artic National Preserve is the privatization of public lands for corporate profit. Even national security, the ultimate public good, has been partially privatized: "Security contractors" (mercenaries in the old parlance) were interrogating prisoners at Abu Ghraib, before the scandal broke.
Privatization shouldn't be confused with free enterprise. It is not capitalism; it is crony capitalism--the diversion of tax-dollars from the government to private individuals and institutions. Faith-based initiatives divert tax revenues to private religious institutions. Personal retirement accounts will divert a significant portion of payroll taxes to Wall Street in the form of management fees.
David Cobb, the Green Party presidential candidate who has devoted the past two months to the arduous task of pressing for a full review of the mess that Ohio officials made of the election in that state, called on Friday afternoon to proclaim a sort of victory. "I think we've finally got a movement going for election reform in this country," Cobb said.
To an extent, he's right.
At the grassroots level, there appears to be growing support for a count-every-vote, eliminate-every-opportunity-for-fraud standard that would radically alter the way in which the United States runs elections.
Reverend David Dyson has been doing God's work for decades. Pastor of the landmark Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Dyson worked with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, toiled as an organizer in the labor movement for years, and later co-founded the National Labor Committee in Support of Democracy and Human Rights in Central America, a group of 20 national unions working for peace and trade union rights in war-torn Central America.
Dyson argues that if we are going to build a progressive religious base, we need to organize at the congregational (grassroots) level instead of adopting a top-heavy, celebrity clergy model. He knows, as he told me, that "this is hard old-fashioned work...But if the work continues the way it is going, we will once again cede the field to the right...Sorry to be so ornery about this but as a pastor, and a former organizer, I feel rather passionate" about the changes progressives need to make.
His words are worth heeding.
The decision of US Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, to sign on to the objection raised Thursday by US Rep. John Conyers Jr. and other House Democrats to the counting of Ohio's electoral votes from the 2004 presidential election sent a powerful signal that at least some -- though certainly not most -- Washington Democrats are listening to the grassroots of the party.
The challenge to the Ohio count, while it was based on legitimate concerns about voter disenfranchisement before, during and after the November 2 election, never had a chance to block the ultimate assignment of that state's electoral votes to President Bush. After a short debate, Republican majorities in the House and Senate were always expected to dismiss any objections and assure that President Bush would have a second term. And they moved quickly on Thursday to do precisely that--with the support of most Democrats. The vote in the House was 267 to 31 to reject the challenge; in the Senate only Boxer voted in favor, with 74 other Senators voting against.
But the lodging of a formal objection, and the debates in the House and Senate that followed it, focused attention on the mess that Ohio officials made of the presidential election in that state -- and on the lingering questions about the extent to which the problems were intentionally created in order to make it harder for supporters of Democrat John Kerry, particularly those in predominantly minority, urban and low-income precincts, to cast their ballots on November 2.
This past March, on the closing day of an international literary conference held in Krakow, Poland, an elderly woman stood up before hundreds of scholars and admirers gathered to mark the 100th b