It may be anecdotal but three stories in last week's newspapers offer a sharp sense of the growing ambivalence military veterans and families feel toward this Administration. The once rock-solid GOP military voting bloc could become a domestic casualty for Bush. And, as the New York Times reports, with a large number of military personnel living in battleground states like Florida, West Virginia and New Mexico, even small changes in military voting patterns could be decisive in November.
With the occupation into its first year, casualties rising daily and no coherent exit plan in sight, Samie Drown--who voted for Bush in 2000 and has a husband in the Army's 101st Airborne Division--told the New York Times that her view of the Administration has completely changed. "My husband is a soldier and his job is to fight for freedom. But after so many months and so many deaths, no one has shown us any weapons of mass destruction or given us an explanation." A mother of four young kids, she continued: "So a lot of military wives are now asking: 'Why? Why did we go to Iraq? The Administration talked a strong story, but a lot of us are kicking our butts about how we voted last time around. Now we're leaning the other way."
"I don't know why President Bush don't let our children come home," Wilson said. "He would rather see our kids slaughtered. Who's he to say we're sticking it out? This is not our fight. It never was.
"He's busy trying to get himself re-elected and got all our babies over there risking life and limb," Wilson said. "It's wrong, wrong, and somebody needs to let him know it. So many people have lost their kids."
Samie Drown and Rhonda Wilson must be keeping Karl Rove wide awake in the wee hours of the night.
On the same base as Drown's husband in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Brittany Wood, 19, whose stepfather has spent most of the past 18 months in Iraq, says she was a Bush supporter a year ago but she plans to vote for Kerry this November.
"I was glad we were doing this because we need to help other countries fight for freedom, but now lots of people feel there's been a cover-up and it is a lie and we were not told the real reasons for being in Iraq," Ms. Wood says. ""That is making a lot of soldiers and their families think about voting. And for the first time they're thinking about voting Democratic." (A recent CBS News survey found that forty to forty-eight percent of people from "military families" would vote for Kerry.)
And buried in Sunday's Washington Post report on the small ANSWER-organized antiwar demonstration in DC on Saturday was a telling interview with a veteran on holiday who happened upon the demo unexpectedly. "What they're [the protestors] saying is correct," said T.J. Myers--who had recently returned from a year's stint in Iraq after leaving the Army after a seven year hitch. "It's all about money." Myers, who lives in Fort Benning, Georgia and was in Washington on vacation, said "It's my first time in DC, and I have never seen so many homeless people in my life and right near the White House. How can we send [billions] to another country when we have so many people in trouble here?"
Myers's sentiments are shared by groups like Military Families Speak Out, which together with http://www.unitedforpeace.org ">United for Peace and Justice, organized a press conference and walk to the White House on April 14 to deliver the message that it's time to end the occupation.
All this is showing that military families and personnel may be this election's newest swing voters. They certainly aren't Republican stalwarts anymore.
At last night's press conference, President Bush was asked if he could name his biggest mistake in office. At first he said, "I'm sure something will pop into my head here." But then he couldn't name a single miscue. As he concluded: "I don't want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I'm confident I have. I just haven't--you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one."
A few Bush errors did pop into my head, as I'm sure they did yours. And the folks at the Center for American Progress, sensing a good opportunity to help the anti-Bush cause while having some fun, have unveiled a new online poll. They were able to think of five big Bush mistakes and are asking the public to vote on which one they consider the most egregious. Click
As Anthony Shadid detailed in the Washington Post today, the US Marine siege of Fallujah has produced a powerful backlash in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq. Hospitals report as many as 600 Iraqi civilians have been killed by US troops so far, while media accounts this morning suggest an escalation of violence with US F-15 jet fighters firing cannons at unidentified targets in the city. And the http://www.thenation.com doc.mhtml?i=20040426&s=jamail">siege of Fallujah is only the most blatant example of an Iraqi policy in almost complete chaos.
The fierce fighting and lack of a coherent exit plan are also helping galvanize a new community of antiwar activists: military families. At 12:00 noon on Wednesday, April 14, at least fifteen people from among this community, as well as several Vietnam Vets, will participate in a press conference in Washington, DC, organized by United for Peace and Justice.
Speakers will explain why US troops should be withdrawn from Iraq and will call on people nationwide to contact their Congressional representatives to implore them to take action to end the occupation. (Tell them it might also be a winning electoral issue in November.) This week while Congress is still in recess and most members are home is a good time to make your voice heard. Click here to get in touch your elected reps.
UFP recommends trying to schedule an appointment with your representatives or their staffers in the next few days--either on behalf of a group or organization or as a concerned citizen. If that fails, flood them with calls and faxes and consider organizing a vigil in front of their offices to demand that they make time to speak with their constituents on matters of life and death.
Following Wednesday's press conference, the delegation will walk to the White House to deliver the message that it's time to end the war, end the occupation and bring the troops home. One flower for each of the US dead and thousands of petals for the nameless Iraqis who have been killed will be left at the steps of the White House. Hundreds of letters from military families around the country, all calling for an end to the senseless deaths, will also be left for the President.
Tonight also presents another good way to keep the pressure on the White House. This evening, for just the third time during his presidency, George W. Bush will hold a live press conference. Let him know what you think about what he says. Call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 or the White House switchboard at 202-456-1414. And call your local talk-radio show and tell them what you think too. (Click here for contact info for media in your area.) They might not want to hear us but it can't hurt to call.
Did you know that voter turnout in states with ballot initiatives is much higher in general elections? This year each additional initiative on the ballot could correspond to an increase in turnout of roughly three to five percent?Â
Yet, although initiatives possess the power to draw voters to the ballot booths, their significance is often overshadowed by the sexier and louder parade of election activity created by candidate races. But initiatives shouldn't be flippantly tossed aside this year by candidates and political operatives alike--they certainly haven't been by rightwing organizations that understand the power and potential of ballot measures. Just take a look at my Top Ten list of hot initiatives for the year.
Top Ten Ballot Initiatives in 2004
1. Minimum wage increases in Florida and Nevada.
2. Anti-gay marriage bills in Missouri, Georgia, Utah and Mississippi.
3. Lottery funding for public education in Nevada and Oklahoma.
4. Conservation and open space battles in Arizona and Utah.
5. Ban on nuclear waste dumping in Washington.
6. Defense of Clean Elections in Arizona.
7. Tobacco tax for prescription drugs and health care in Colorado.
8. Defense of affirmative action in Michigan.
9. Progressive tax reform in Colorado.
10. Defense of healthcare insurance in California.
(Caveat: This is a constantly changing environment and although the campaigns mentioned in the list are highly likely to qualify, the initiative landscape won't be fully clear until August.)
And for the larger argument about why progressives need to start looking at 2004 initiatives as opportunities, check out the smart op-ed below by Kristina Wilfore, Executive Director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.
The Political Opportunity of Ballot Initiatives by Kristina Wilfore
Today, initiatives are abounding in battleground states - largely in order to mobilize a conservative or progressive base, drive wedges into an opposing partisan coalition, and generate contributions to campaigns through what is increasingly considered a soft money loophole in a post BCRA world.
Tort restrictions, the denial of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, and immigration, are expected to be the hottest issues of the day and will frame the political rhetoric of a variety of campaigns throughout the country. Furthermore, several contentious tax-related ballot measures have been filed as part of a coordinated strategy among groups like Center for a Sound Economy and Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform to shrink government and put Democratic candidates on the hot seat in Maine, Nevada and Washington.
But before progressives wring their hands in anticipation of doom and gloom at the ballot box, let's not forget the political opportunity that lies before us. Whether on defense or offense, ballot initiatives create an opening to define what we stand for and make the other side look as repugnant as they truly are. But this can only be achieved if the organizations and individuals on the left that constitute the fabric of voter engagement vehicles for 2004 start to acknowledge these initiatives, drive resources to them, and develop a viable strategy for victory.
The long-term political effect of even socially divisive wedge issues hasn't been all bad for progressives. After the passage of Proposition 187, the 1994 anti-immigrant initiative spearheaded by Governor Pete Wilson, Latino voters in subsequent elections become politically energized and increasingly hostile to Republican candidates. Measures modeled after Proposition 187 have been filed in Arizona, Nevada and Colorado for 2004. After Proposition 209, the 1996 measure to eliminate affirmative action in California, Republican candidate Dan Lungren received only 20 percent of the Hispanic vote, which at that time accounted for 14 percent of the state's electorate. That same year, Bill Clinton won 73 percent of the Hispanic vote against Bob Dole, who championed an English-only ballot measure. This climate persisted into the 2000 election when Al Gore received 71 percent of the Hispanic vote against George W. Bush, despite the fact that Bush, speaking Spanish, campaigned heavily to win over Hispanic voters.
On the flip side, turnout in Washington state in 1998 increased by as much as four percentage points thanks to the presence of a minimum wage initiative. This increase was even more pronounced among those with poor or inconsistent voting histories. That year, Democrats unexpectedly won 50 percent of the contests for the state House of Representatives and the state Senate switched to a Democratic majority. This is part of the reason why progressive activists in Florida and Nevada are sponsoring minimum wage ballot initiatives of their own. Both measures are being used for the dual purpose of identifying and registering disenfranchised voters and to embed progressive economic policies in the state law. Just imagine, Democratic candidates could have a positive, pro-active economic message to run on in these states rather than defining their fiscal agenda by being against the Bush tax cut.
There is a lot at stake for Democrats in this year's elections. In addition to possessing the power to take back the White House and other hotly contested positions where Republicans currently maintain tenuous control, a slew of state-based issues will hinge on the results of these ballot initiatives. Let's hope the political organizations that have the lion's share of election resources this year don't look at ballot initiatives as a burden, but rather as an opportunity.
This is no time for petty feuds over doctrinal purity, but for organized resistance to the Occupation.
Condoleezza Rice's amen corner on the right was going to hail her Thursday appearance before the 9/11 commission as a stunning success no matter what she said. And so they did, with President Bush declaring that she had done "a terrific job," Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Shelby describing her as "very candid" and radio personality Gordon Liddy announcing, "a star is born."
But that was just spin. On Thursday, a star flamed out. Permanently.
Despite the praise from her president and the Republican establishment that since the 1980s has been grooming her as a candidate for national office, Rice's appearance dealt her political ambitions a fatal blow.
Grover Norquist, the right's premier political organizer, once told
me that the most significant difference between liberal journalists
and conservative journalists is that the former are jou
South Dakota has a proud populist tradition. In the late 19th-century, the state's farmers faced plummeting wheat prices and mounting piles of debt at the hands of large Eastern banks. But they responded by forming agrarian alliances to prop up prices, pooling their resources for bulk purchasing and becoming politically active in the People's Party--AKA, the populists.
Now more than a century later, there is a new populist on the block--and her name is Stephanie Herseth. A 33-year-old lawyer, teacher and South Dakota native, Herseth is running in the June 1 special election to fill former Congressman (and convicted felon) Bill Janklow's seat. (She came very close to beating him in 2000.) Raised on her family's fourth-generation farm and ranch 35 miles from Aberdeen, Herseth represents the best of South Dakota's progressive populist traditions.
Her grandfather served as South Dakota's governor from 1959-1961. But it was her grandmother who was the first one to run for public office. As superintendent of schools in Brown County in the 1930s, she helped put her nieces through college, and was elected Secretary of State in the 1970s after her husband died. Herseth's father also spent 20 years in the state legislature.
Herseth, however, might be the most skilled politician in her illustrious clan. Smart and poised, she exudes hope about the state's future and refuses to sling mud at her GOP opponents--which is part of the reason why, according to last week's Zogby Poll, Herseth enjoys a 16-point lead over State Senator http://legis.state.sd.us/sessions/2002/mbrdt149.htm ">Larry Diedrich, her main Republican rival.
The stakes are extraordinarily high. Herseth is pro-choice, and South Dakota, which has never elected a woman to Congress, needs her voice on this issue now more than ever. Last February, South Dakota's rightwing legislature passed a draconian bill banning virtually all abortion procedures even in cases of rape and incest. The governor finally vetoed the bill on technical grounds but the issue remains a controversial flashpoint in the state. One newspaper reporter even described Herseth as "untested, unmarried, no children, for abortion." Emily's List, NARAL and Planned Parenthood have responded by raising contributions and visibility for Herseth's campaign.
A skillful tactician, Herseth seems to be pushing the right buttons. In 2002, she ran a campaign against Janklow in which she encouraged South Dakota's youth to live and work in the state. After a narrow defeat, Herseth, true to her word, remained in South Dakota. She launched the South Dakota Farmers Union Foundation, which promotes agrarian prosperity and educates youth in rural communities. She taught politics at South Dakota's colleges, too.
Most importantly, Herseth has broad appeal in rural South Dakota. In 2002, she criticized agribusiness monopolies for damaging South Dakota's economy. Today, she supports fair trade, defends family farmers and advocates for affordable health care for rural America. She fights for military families on issues like veterans' benefits and better equipment for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a recent interview for the Emily's List newsletter, Herseth also promised to reach out to "Native American voters and increase turnout among younger women. They will be a core of my support in June and November."
As John Nichols noted in an November 4, 2002 Nation piece, Herseth "will provide her party with a desperately needed model for reaching voters in states where it cannot afford to be uncompetitive." And a Herseth victory this June 1st will demonstrate that progressives can win rural districts--and in Tom Daschle's state, where he faces a fierce re-election battle against Rep. John Thune this November.
When Herseth defeats Larry Diedrich this June, she will weaken Tom DeLay's iron grip on the anti-women, Republican-run House of Representatives. If you want to kindle a populist prairie fire, go to www.HersethforCongress.org and make a donation today.
When asked why the United States should not invade Iraq and overthrow
Saddam Hussein, a prescient critic said, "Once you've got Baghdad,
it's not clear what you do with it.
Our nation's two-decade spree of building prisons and sentencing even nonviolent criminals to long spells inside them has produced a staggering number of incarcerated people in America--more than