Political cross-dressing by the Democrats ended on January 25 in Washington when their erstwhile conservative patron, Alan Greenspan, abruptly jilted them. Under Bill Clinton's tutelage, the party of working people held the hem of the Federal Reserve chairman's dark robes and pretended to be fiscal conservatives, just like him. We must not cut taxes, they insisted piously, we must instead use the burgeoning federal surpluses to pay off the national debt. Greenspan would solemnly bless these expressions of Hooverite restraint.
Then he blew them off. The Fed chairman announced his support for George W. Bush's broad agenda of major tax cuts and, for good measure, the dismantling of Social Security as we know it. He is, as ever, an astute opportunist. During the Clinton years, Greenspan did his own turn at cross-dressing, making chummy with a Democratic President who followed his directions. Now that a new President from the Party of Money is in power, Greenspan returns to the one true faith--rescuing business and the wealthy from the clutches of government. His pronouncements will inspire a lobbying contest among the upscale interests to see who can extract the most boodle from the Treasury.
Democrats are feeling hurt and disoriented. They fully deserve their embarrassment. Their embrace of conservative fiscal orthodoxy seemed clever at the time--a stalling tactic to hold off more GOP tax cuts for the wealthy--but like so many of Clinton's too-cute tactics, it was always a dead-end strategy for liberals. An activist party committed to addressing major public problems was, in effect, promising to do little or nothing of significance while massive surpluses accumulated for the next ten or fifteen years. The GOP could say, and did: If the government is collecting so much extra tax revenue, why not give some of it back to the people? Alternatively, Democrats might have proposed a major down payment on healthcare and other neglected social problems. Instead, we got Al Gore's "lockbox"--much ridiculed because it was always a ridiculous gimmick. Bookkeepers, it turns out, do not make very compelling presidential candidates.
Now, as the economy weakens so quickly that the Fed has moved twice to lower interest rates, Democrats are scrambling to be pro-tax cuts and belatedly trying to figure out what that means. This is the minority party's first great post-Clinton opportunity to restore its progressive reputation and show that it still has some fight. We have suggestions. First, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate should draw a bright line of principled resistance to yet another regressive tax package (never mind that some in their ranks are already defecting). For two decades, Democrats have collaborated in the Republicans' hog-feeding splurges, joining in the bidding wars to reward contributors and favored interests. This time, even if the prospects look doubtful, the party must oppose the giveaways--estate tax repeal, another capital gains tax cut, the phony tax incentive for corporate R&D, and other goodies Republicans are putting on the table. If income tax rates are to be reduced, don't acquiesce again in the Reaganite sleight of hand that cuts the top and bottom rates across the board as though the wealthiest are getting equal treatment with the least fortunate.
The positive principle, in addition to providing emergency stimulus for the economy, should be: Heal the wounded, the people whose incomes and family conditions have been squeezed for a generation, even during boom times. That means delivering the bulk of tax relief, whether the package is $800 billion or twice that much, to those on the bottom half or bottom two-thirds of the income ladder. Don't try to do this with lots of fanciful conditions that pretend to target particular social problems--just send them the money, as promptly as possible. There are many different ways to accomplish this: For example, suspend a point or two on the payroll tax paid by workers (but not employers) for a specified period of one or two years; or enact a bigger child deduction, progressively larger for families at or below the median household income level; or simply cut the lower-bracket marginal rates (while leaving the top rate alone), with an immediate cut in withholding. The important thing is not to let the principle get lost in tricky details. The principle is: The Democratic Party fights on behalf of the working middle class and poor (even if it disappoints some of its major contributors in the process). When and if the vast public hears this message from Democrats, most of them will probably not believe it. Democrats will not persuade until they learn to make the fight for real.
As for the Federal Reserve, our advice to Alan Greenspan is: Butt out. Greenspan, remember, is the wizard who supposedly "saved" Social Security back in 1983 when his blue-ribbon commission initiated the massive payroll tax increases on working people. Now he wants to save it again by destroying it. If the central bank wishes to preserve its protected status "independent" of politics, the chairman had better confine his Republican ideological preachments to dinners at the club.
NAME THE PRESIDENT CONTEST
Face it: Just saying the words President Bush causes many of our readers to gag. Typical is Lois Phillips Hudson, who writes: "Though I might mumble them in a nightmare, never in any waking moment will the words 'President Bush' pass my lips." She suggests his title be "President," forever in quotes. Out of respect for Lois and millions like her, we are launching a Name the President Contest. Send us your suggestions for an appropriate title for George W. Bush. The last President to steal the office, Rutherford B. Hayes, was forever after known as "His Fraudulency" or "Old 8-7" (referring to the margin by which a special commission wedged him in). His example suggests other dishonorifics, e.g., "His Illegitimacy" or "Old 5-4." Jack Cousineau offers "pResident," in print, to denote that Bush merely happens to be the current White House occupant. (Bill Hoover, and Gar Smith, editor of Earth Island Journal--which is changing its style sheet--suggest just plain "Resident.") Send your suggestions to "In Fact," The Nation, 33 Irving Place, New York, NY 10003 or (email@example.com). The prize: a T-shirt displaying the Bush-as-Alfred E. Neuman Nation cover to the top five.
When Republicans, conservatives, even some right-of-center Democrats want to bait a liberal, they often hurl the phrase "McGovern Democrat" at him or her, as if that's the ultimate in political insults. But the original McGovern Democrat--former Senator George McGovern--has been embraced by the Bush Administration. In December McGovern, who was appointed by President Clinton to be US ambassador to the UN agencies for food and agriculture, submitted his resignation, as is customary for a political appointee. Once the Bushies moved in, Secretary of State Colin Powell phoned McGovern, whose new book--The Third Freedom: Ending Hunger in Our Time--calls for a US-led global initiative to eradicate hunger, and asked him to continue in the Rome-based post, where McGovern has been pressing for a global school lunch program that would cover 300 million children. (McGovern persuaded Clinton to allocate $300 million to kick off this project.) McGovern didn't lobby to stay on, but he's pleased he was asked. "I've brought Bob Dole into the school lunch idea," he told us. "Maybe that helped." Is he going soft on Republicans? "Well, I do have to be more kindly now." McGovern and the Republicans--now that's bipartisanship. What next? A job for Jesse Jackson?
STUDENTS TO NIKE: 'JUST DO IT'
Liza Featherstone writes: On January 9 more than 850 workers went on strike at Kukdong International Mexico, a Korean-owned factory in Atlixco that contracts with Nike to make sweatshirts bearing the logos of the universities of Michigan and Oregon and many other schools. Kukdong workers demanded that management recognize their union and reinstate employees who had been fired for organizing the work stoppage and other protests. This was the highest-profile test yet for the Worker Rights Consortium, the antisweatshop organization founded this past April by US students with labor and human rights activists. After interviewing some thirty workers in Atlixco, the WRC's investigative team reported "strong grounds for concern" that management had violated the child labor, physical abuse, minimum wage and freedom of association provisions in many universities' codes of conduct. Nike denounced the WRC investigation, claiming that the group is not "objective," but student agitation forced the sneaker giant to appoint a mediator, pressure the factory to rehire some of the workers and call for an independent monitor to investigate Kukdong. And also not to cut its ties to the factory afterward. Says Eric Brakken of United Students Against Sweatshops, "I think we've scared the fuck out of them."
Throughout the last campaign, while liberal Democrats warned that Bush was much more reactionary than he pretended to be, Naderites argued that Democrats were much less progressive than their rhetoric. From the evidence of the first days of the Bush Administration, it turns out both were right.
For all the dulcet compassion written into his inaugural address, Bush turned right even before entering the White House. His nomination of John Ashcroft as Attorney General showed contempt, not compassion, for the broad center of American politics. His environmental troika--Norton, Abraham and Whitman--are an affront even to Republican environmentalists. While professing her love for nature Norton preposterously invoked the California power crisis as a reason to start drilling in the Arctic wildlife preserve. The troika also threatened a review of the environmental regulations Clinton issued in his last weeks in power.
On his first day in office Bush targeted women's right to choose by reinstating the odious gag rule defunding any international organization that counsels women abroad on family planning and abortion. He also opened fire on women's rights at home, announcing that "it is my conviction that taxpayer funds should not be used to pay for abortions or advocate or actively promote abortions either here or abroad." He hailed those gathered at the annual national protest against Roe v. Wade, saying that "we share a great goal" in overturning the constitutional protection of a woman's right to seek an abortion. And Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson announced that he would review RU-486, which anti-choicers want banned, fearful that it will make abortion more accessible. So much for compassion.
Bush launched his push for an education plan that will demand lots of testing in exchange for a little new funding for beleaguered urban and rural schools. The $5 billion annual price tag for his education bill is mocked by the $68 billion annual tax cut he wants to give to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans--to say nothing of the tens of billions about to be thrown at the Pentagon. But Bush knows what he calls "my base." The lily-white, mink-draped crowd at his inauguration broke into loud applause only twice: when Bush promised to reduce taxes and when Chief Justice Rehnquist was introduced. So much for bipartisanship.
Yet, despite the stolen election, the wolf politics after a sheep's campaign and a furious and frightened constituency, many Democrats in the Senate seem content with getting rolled. Conservatives in the party didn't pause before trampling their leaders to embrace the tainted President. While Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle was urging his troops to hold off on any announcements about Ashcroft, the opportunistic Robert Torricelli and dubious Democrat Zell Miller of Georgia were hailing the Missouri tribune of the Confederacy as Attorney General. Despite a furious reaction by Democrats across the country, opponents like Ted Kennedy are struggling to summon even forty votes against a zealot whose career has been marked by his willingness to abuse his office for political gain. While Daschle was trying to get some agreement on a smaller tax-cut package from Democrats, Miller leapt in to co-sponsor the equivalent of the Bush plan with Texas Senator Phil Gramm.
Dick Cheney's former opponent, Joe Lieberman, didn't even thank African-Americans and the unions for their remarkable support this past fall before kicking them in the teeth in January. He joined nine other New Democrats in an unctuous letter to "President-Elect Bush" indicating their willingness to work with him on an education bill and urging him to make a top priority of the fight for "Fast Track trading authority" for "expansion of trade in the Americas." Lieberman et al. begged to meet with Bush as early as possible. So much for Democratic unity.
But the Democratic collaborators are likely misjudging the temper of the country. What the inaugural also revealed was the depth of voter anger nationwide. Demonstrators often outnumbered celebrators along the parade route. And from San Francisco to Kansas City to Tallahassee, citizens turned out to express their dismay at the installation of the illegitimate President. Bush seems committed to refighting old battles against choice, affirmative action and environmental and consumer protection, as well as to waging a new offensive in the continuing class warfare of the privileged against the poor. But citizens are showing that they are ready to resist. Some Democrats--Maxine Waters, Dennis Kucinich, Jan Schakowsky, Barney Frank, George Miller and others in the House, as well as Kennedy and Richard Durbin in the Senate--are already engaged. The day before Bush was sworn in, the Progressive Caucus led a daylong conference on political reform that featured a bold agenda and a promise to push for change at the state and national levels. In the coming fray, Democrats who decide to cozy up to the new Administration are likely to find themselves caught in the crossfire.
TAKING BACK DEMOCRACY On the day before the inaugural, voting rights activists from across the country gathered in Washington to plot a legislative and political crusade to reform the political system. "The Bush people, the Republicans, the Supreme Court--they do not yet fully understand the mistake they made when they decided to steal the election," declared Representative Cynthia McKinney of Georgia. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, including Senator Paul Wellstone and Representatives Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, Jan Schakowsky, Barbara Lee, Eleanor Holmes Norton and McKinney, joined academics and activists for seminars, workshops and discussions organized by the Institute for Policy Studies, the Progressive Challenge network, the Nation Institute and the Center for Voting and Democracy. The forum was the first of several planned to link grassroots activists with members of the 107th Congress who are pushing reform legislation on issues ranging from the healthcare crisis to the wealth gap. McKinney said the Florida election dispute and anticipated fights over Congressional redistricting created a rare opening for reform. "In 1965, civil rights activism that seemed undoable suddenly became doable after Bloody Sunday," she said. "After Florida 2000, voting reforms that seemed undoable suddenly seem doable. Voting rights is an issue--not just a civil rights issue, but an American issue."
NOT A FAVORITE SON The grilling of Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft by Senators Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden during the Senate Judiciary Committee's confirmation hearings benefited substantially from information provided by one of the nation's most ambitious grassroots organizations, Missouri Pro-Vote, a coalition of labor, pro-choice, gay and lesbian, and community activist groups. Soon after Ashcroft's nomination was announced, Pro-Vote officials began working with Pacifica's Democracy Now! radio program, the Institute for Public Accuracy and USAction--the national network of state-based progressive groups with which Pro-Vote is affiliated--to spread the word about Ashcroft's extremist views and his record of racial insensitivity. Much of the information had been gathered as part of a five-year monitoring project of the Pro-Vote-linked Missouri Citizen Education Fund. Pro-Vote's work to expand African-American voter registration in St. Louis last year--when Ashcroft was narrowly defeated for re-election to the Senate--was honored by the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists as part of that city's Martin Luther King Day festivities.
MOURNING BECOMES ELECTRIC "You can't always get what you want," crooned activist-musician Doug Hartnett, as his band the Oxymorons ripped into the Rolling Stones classic and a set of equally appropriate tunes for dissenters on the first night of the George W. Bush Administration. Rocking a crowd of more than 800 at the Americans for Democratic Action Counter-Inaugural Gala, Hartnett, who works by day as a lawyer for the whistleblowing Government Accountability Project, and the Oxymorons had no trouble filling the dance floor at Washington's Mayflower hotel with a multigenerational crowd that answered the call to "party liberally." Grand Old Partyers arriving to celebrate in another wing of the hotel did double takes when they encountered revelers like Baltimore's Sarah McClintock, whose green brocade gown was accented with gold glitter slogans that read, "Reject the Republicans" and "Jail to the Thief." "I wanted to make a fashion statement that no one would misinterpret," announced a grinning McClintock.
Linda Chavez's withdrawal as George W. Bush's nominee for Labor Secretary after mounting evidence that she violated the law by employing an illegal immigrant and then tried to hide the fact should embolden Democrats to mount vigorous challenges to Bush's other Cabinet nominees.
The most dangerous lesson that can be taken from the Chavez fiasco (see David Moberg, page 12) is the theory that Bush's Cabinet picks can be blocked only if they have failed to keep their personal affairs in order. Where does such a calculation leave a John Ashcroft, Bush's archconservative choice for Attorney General? By all accounts, Ashcroft behaved like a gentleman while a member of the exclusive club that is the US Senate. Even some progressive Democrats, like Russ Feingold and Paul Wellstone, have expressed personal regard for their former colleague and intimated that their experience could influence them to approve his nomination.
But the fact that Ashcroft or Gale Norton or Ann Veneman might be good company is not sufficient qualification for Senate approval. Policies ought to matter more than personalities. In the administration of a President who appears to lack interest in the details of governing, Cabinet secretaries will wield immense power and could vigorously push right-wing policies that the overwhelming majority of Americans oppose.
The Constitution does not require senators to rubber-stamp the Cabinet nominations of Presidents elected under normal circumstances, let alone those who are to be sworn in under a cloud of illegitimacy. Senators, especially Democratic senators who claim to stand in principled opposition to Bush's policies, have a responsibility to assure that positions of public trust are not filled by a wrecking crew bent on destroying government's ability to do good for any but the wealthiest Republicans. They must not shirk that responsibility.
The emerging fight over the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, which Senator John McCain has promised to bring up right after George W. Bush's installation as President, has little, if anything, to do with real reform. Rather, this is primarily an intraparty scrap over who will define the early days of Bush's term--Bush and Senate Republican leaders or the maverick McCain with Democrats in tow--and who will determine the new parameters of "bipartisanship." McCain needs sixty votes to stop the traditional filibuster by Republican leaders Trent Lott and Mitch McConnell, and with the turnover in the Senate, the Democratic gain of four seats and the conversion of Mississippi Republican Thad Cochran to the cause, McCain may now have them. But the Republicans may well try, with the witting or unwitting help of a few Democrats, to pass a toad and call it a prince.
The McCain-Feingold bill would do some worthwhile things. It would end the flow of unregulated soft money into national party coffers, codify the Supreme Court's Beck decision pertaining to the use of union dues for political purposes (which organized labor accepts, since it affects only a small number of nonunion members--those who pay dues for certain services and will be allowed to opt out of paying the portion spent on politics) and would possibly include a friendly provision offered by moderate Republicans to restrict how corporations and unions can spend money on political ads aired during the final months of election campaigns. Some Republicans may favor the bill because the Democratic Party is now almost even in the soft-money race. But nothing in it would end the money chase that keeps many good people from running for office; nor would it put a real dent in the process of influence-peddling that defines day-to-day life in Washington. Even at an estimated $457 million in 2000, soft money, the subject of so many New York Times editorials, amounted to only about 16 percent of the roughly $3 billion raised for this year's national auctions--ahem--elections. That's a big jump over the $265 million in soft money raised in 1996 but not much of a change compared with the $2.2 billion raised overall that year.
Feingold is a decent man who courageously called on his own party last summer at its Los Angeles convention to stop unilaterally the outrageous fundraising that goes on at those events. He understands the limits of his bill and is on record firmly supporting full public financing of campaigns, as is now done in Clean Elections states like Maine, Arizona, Vermont and (starting this spring) Massachusetts. McCain, on the other hand, is an excitable right-winger who has ridden the finance issue to unexpected stature. He's a far from reliable ally of reform groups, who are hungry to make some headway against the growing corruption of the electoral process by big money. And there lies the danger.
In order to pass a bill that Bush might sign, McCain has signaled that he may accept, in exchange for a soft-money ban, amendments that would allow an increase, possibly even a tripling, of the limits on hard money an individual may donate. Lots of incumbents--Democrats and Republicans alike--secretly like this devil's bargain, because they think it would make it easier to raise the hard dollars they so desperately need for their campaigns. They also argue, irrelevantly, that inflation has reduced the value of a $1,000 contribution, the limit set in 1974, to $300. The Supreme Court disposed of this argument a year ago, in Nixon v. Shrink, when it upheld even lower limits as a way to prevent electoral corruption, pointedly stating that "the dictates of the First Amendment are not mere functions of the Consumer Price Index."
An increase in the hard-money limits would certainly encourage "buy-partisanship"--the process by which wealthy donors buy one party and get the other free. Fewer than 121,000 people gave $1,000 or more to a winning federal candidate in the 2000 elections, less than 0.05 percent of the population. Tripling the amount they could give would further empower this narrow slice of America, which is disproportionately wealthy, white and male. It could also increase the gap between the business and labor contributions to a whopping billion dollars. Two leading reform groups, Public Campaign and US PIRG, are against any such trade-off, but others, like the business-driven Committee for Economic Development, are for it, with Common Cause somewhere in between. Labor and civil rights groups, their attention focused on Bush's Cabinet nominees, should take heed. The passage of a straightforward soft-money ban would be a good thing--and we'd like to see Congress look seriously at the Clean Election reforms taking root in the states. But this new Congress may try to pass a bad bill, call it reform and hope no one hears the protests.
Mandate or no, George W. Bush is forging ahead with Cabinet appointments, policy forums and talk of a "first 100 days." Bush and his team have assembled a Cabinet faster than any administration since Richard Nixon's, and before Bush takes the oath of office on January 20 they'll have laid the groundwork for passage of an agenda that closely resembles the worst-case scenario painted by Bush critics during the 2000 campaign.
Bush's appointments to the EPA, Interior and Energy look ready to lead a furious offensive against environmental regulation and common sense. His appointments to Labor and Justice promise an assault on choice, civil rights and worker rights. His heralded national security team looks resolutely backward to a cold war that isn't, and seems oblivious to the world as it is. No wonder the Reagan cinematic fantasy--Star Wars, missile defense--is paraded as an early priority.
Post-mortems and recriminations must now give way to action, beginning with a flood of e-mails, telegrams and letters of protest to the Capitol Hill offices not just of Republicans but of wavering Democrats who have the power to brake the Bush bandwagon. This is no time for bipartisan blather. "Those who are with the civil rights agenda must not choose collegiality over civil rights and social justice," says the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Democratic members of Congress need to know that they cannot expect the core of their party--women, minorities, workers--to turn out on Election Day only to have their interests abandoned the day after, and that those who surrender in this fight will not be forgotten and not be forgiven. We must make it clear that we are not prepared to refight the battles of the last decades on basic human rights. We are not prepared to surrender to another era of race-bait politics, or to send poor women back to the alleys for abortions, or to lay waste our environment in the interest of big oil.
The frontline troops of this movement are already mobilizing. Civil rights groups and others will take to the streets of Washington starting on January 15, Martin Luther King Day, and continuing through the Inauguration; they will raise necessary questions about the legitimacy of Bush's election and press for voting reforms that guarantee more representative results in the future. The AFL-CIO has pledged to oppose archconservative John Ashcroft's nomination for Attorney General, as have People for the American Way and the Black Leadership Forum (see comments on Ashcroft on pages 4 and 5). Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League have joined that challenge while also promising to oppose Health and Human Services Department nominee Tommy Thompson, who presided over a severe curtailment of access to reproductive rights as governor of Wisconsin.
But the real work must go on at the grassroots--starting now and continuing up to and including the 2002 elections. (For more information on protests and ways to get involved, go to Counter-Inaugural Calendar at www.thenation.com). It is only by exerting constant upward pressure that we can explode the myth of bipartisanship and prevent the Bush presidency from rolling over the will of the great majority of Americans.
Congress cannot salute Dr. King's dream and then go on to pass the dream-busting Bush agenda. Beginning with the Bush nominations, every lawmaker on Capitol Hill must be challenged to stand up, as Dr. King did, for justice.
Clinton's eleventh-hour signature on the International Criminal Court treaty was overdue, but at least it got the United States inside the door before the bell. It gives the American public an opportunity to debate this potential advance in international law. Clinton's timing was very smart: He boosted his "heir to Jimmy Carter" world-statesman role while insuring, as he says, that the United States can play a part in further discussions on rules of the court, its scope and procedures, though his signature is not binding on the country. After it attains sixty ratifications the extant treaty will go into effect. Bush's spokesman says the treaty is "flawed" and should not be submitted for ratification. Clinton's delay, which rose from a desire to appease the Pentagon and Senator Jesse Helms, was emblematic of an endemic flaw in his Administration's foreign policy--a reluctance to make the case to the American people for passage of the ICC, as well as other progressive causes like the landmine treaty, UN dues, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Contrast its failure to place its formidable persuasive powers behind those measures with its all-out drives to win approval of NAFTA and Chinese entry into the World Trade Organization.
FREE LEONARD PELTIER
American Indian activist Leonard Peltier has served twenty-four years in prison after being convicted of the murder of two FBI agents. Even the US prosecutor admits that Peltier's guilt can't be proved, in a case that relied on witness coercion, tainted ballistics tests and improper extradition procedures. Call the White House (202-456-1111) and urge Clinton to grant clemency; sign the petition campaign posted on the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee website at www.freepeltier.org.
LINDSAY: ONE LAST HURRAH
Doug Ireland writes: None of the obituaries on former New York City Mayor John Lindsay, who died December 19 at 79, captured the full meaning and flavor of his stunning 1969 re-election victory. A Republican when first anointed mayor by the voters in 1965, he was dumped by his party four years later, for being too pro-black and for criticizing then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Lindsay, the best friend African-Americans had ever had in City Hall and a fervent critic of America's war in Vietnam, won re-election in '69, thanks to an independent citizens' campaign organized by Bella Abzug (later elected a Congresswoman with Lindsay's strong support) and RFK adviser Ronnie Eldridge (now a City Councilwoman). The remarkable pro-Lindsay coalition that year brought together antiracist Democrats, blacks and Hispanics and the antiwar movement--Lindsay hammered "the hidden Vietnam war budget of New York City," showing how much the conflict was costing Big Apple residents specifically and urban America generally. Lindsay may not have been a whiz as administrator, but the touchstone of his mayoralty was that for the first time in the city's history, neighborhoods were listened to, their identities and grassroots organizations strengthened as a matter of city policy. No other former New York City mayor has ever died broke. Lindsay, a scrupulously honest chap, did.