John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.
Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers.
Nichols is a frequent guest on radio and television programs as a commentator on politics and media issues. He was featured in Robert Greenwald's documentary, "Outfoxed," and in the documentaries Joan Sekler's "Unprecedented," Matt Kohn's "Call It Democracy" and Robert Pappas's "Orwell Rolls in his Grave." The keynote speaker at the 2004 Congress of the International Federation of Journalists in Athens, Nichols has been a featured presenter at conventions, conferences and public forums on media issues sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Consumers International, the Future of Music Coalition, the AFL-CIO, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Newspaper Guild [CWA] and dozens of other organizations.
Nichols is the author of The Genius of Impeachment (The New Press); a critically acclaimed analysis of the Florida recount fight of 2000, Jews for Buchanan (The New Press); and a best-selling biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, Dick: The Man Who is President (The New Press), which has recently been published in French and Arabic. He edited Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books), of which historian Howard Zinn said: "At exactly the time when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems, and songs from throughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country."
With Robert W. McChesney, Nichols has co-authored the books It's the Media, Stupid! (Seven Stories), Our Media, Not Theirs (Seven Stories), Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy (The New Press), The Death and Life of American Journalism (Nation Books) and, most recently, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street (Nation Books). McChesney and Nichols are the co-founders of Free Press, the nation's media-reform network, which organized the 2003 and 2005 National Conferences on Media Reform.
Of Nichols, author Gore Vidal says: "Of all the giant slayers now afoot in the great American desert, John Nichols’s sword is the sharpest."
AGAINST FORGETTING George W. Bush's inauguration went less smoothly than the GOP would have liked, as thousands of activists filled the streets of Washington to protest Bush's disputed election "victory." NAACP chapters from as far away as Detroit dispatched busloads of activists for a demonstration that surrounded the Supreme Court building. Protests organized by the National Organization for Women, the National Action Network and other groups made dissent the order of the day, though a huge police presence blocked several marches and prevented the use of giant puppets and other tools of post-Seattle protest. The Kensington Welfare Rights Union built a tent city, "Bushville USA," on the lawn of the Health and Human Services Department, only to see it dismantled within minutes and its 200 occupants removed by security officials. Alexis Baden-Meyer, an organizer of the DC-based Arts in Action Working Group, said police restrictions violated freedom of expression. But the protests were still heard--and seen. The most high-profile challenge came along the inaugural parade route, where protesters took over bleachers reserved for Bush supporters and jeered "Jail to the Thief" as the Bush motorcade raced by.... Dozens of protests occurred elsewhere on January 20; NAACP president Kweisi Mfume told 1,000 people at an electoral reform rally in Tallahassee, "While the eyes of the nation are on Washington and on this inauguration, we've come back to Florida to say that we remember and we must not ever forget."
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.
John Nichols's e-mail is email@example.com.
The fierce farm crisis that is ravaging rural America garnered scant attention during the 2000 presidential campaign, so it came as no surprise that President-elect George W. Bush's nominaton of Ann Veneman for the post of Agriculture Secretary received far less attention than those of several others. Yet, because of the broad authority she would be handed and because of her extreme politics, Veneman merits every bit as much scrutiny as that directed at Bush's more high-profile appointments. Veneman's track record leaves little doubt that if confirmed she will use her position as head of a powerful agency with 100,000 employees, an $82 billion budget and responsibility for implementing federal farm policy, protecting food safety and defending public lands, to advance what farm activist Mark Ritchie describes as "strictly pro-agribusiness, pro-pesticide company, pro-pharmaceutical company positions."
As a key member of the Reagan and Bush farm teams, as former California Governor Pete Wilson's Food and Agriculture Department director, as an agribusiness lawyer and as a member of the national steering committee of Farmers and Ranchers for Bush, Veneman has rarely missed an opportunity to advance the interests of food-production and -processing conglomerates, to encourage policies that lead to the displacement of family farms by huge factory farms, to open public lands for mineral extraction and timbering, to support genetic modification of food and to defend biotech experimentation with agriculture. Indeed, Veneman served on the board of Calgene, the corporation that in 1994 launched the first genetically engineered food, and she declared last year that "we simply will not be able to feed the world without biotechnology."
With Veneman's encouragement, California developed an increasingly conglomerated, big-farm, chemically enhanced version of food production that Iowa Farmers Union president John Whitaker describes as "an entirely different face of agriculture" from that practiced or desired by most working farmers. "I don't want to see that face transferred to Iowa," says Whitaker. But with Veneman at the reins of the USDA as Congress prepares to rewrite the dismally flawed Freedom to Farm Act, the transfer would likely be unavoidable.
Veneman would not merely be hustling to deliver for Bush's corporate contributors on domestic farm policy and public-land-use issues; she'd also be working for them on the international stage. A militant free-trader, Veneman helped negotiate the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (which led to the World Trade Organization) and NAFTA. Even as family farmers were marching in Seattle to protest WTO interference with agricultural supports and food-safety standards, Veneman was there to tell the WTO to be more aggressive in removing so-called technical barriers to trade. So determined is Veneman to advance the free-trade agenda that Bush transition-team aides briefly considered her as a candidate for the position of US Trade Representative.
Veneman "seems to be coming in with the notion that her job is to be as extreme as possible in parroting the agribusiness line," says Ritchie, president of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. "The problem is that that line is completely out of sync with what farmers want, what consumers want and what we know to be scientifically, ecologically and economically right."
The danger: He might sell the idea, and his agenda, with the help of a few Democrats.
BEYOND SEATTLE The one-year anniversary of the "Battle in Seattle" saw embattled World Trade Organization chief Michael Moore peddling the argument that the WTO had weathered the storm of protest that derailed its "millennium round" session in Seattle. But the word from the streets was that the resistance continues. At least 2,000 people joined anniversary demonstrations in Seattle, where a day of peaceful protest--including a march that saw Sea Turtles dancing with Santa Claus and the Lesbian Avengers--gave way to a tense evening in which Seattle police fired pepper spray and pellets at crowds of demonstrators before arresting 140.... Many anniversary celebrations featured a pair of documentaries on the Seattle protests: This Is What Democracy Looks Like, with footage from more than 100 Independent Media Center activists, narration by Susan Sarandon and music from Rage Against the Machine; and Shaya Mercer's Trade Off, which won best documentary honors at the 2000 Seattle International Film Festival and has been selected for inclusion in the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. A Washington, DC, reception honoring Trade Off drew together Public Citizen, the United Steelworkers of America and other key players in the "Seattle Coalition," which was badly shaken by this fall's split between backers of Democrat Al Gore and Green Ralph Nader. "I'm glad to see the Seattle Coalition is still together," said Teamsters president James Hoffa. Notably absent from the sponsor list for the event, however, were the AFL-CIO and the Sierra Club, which released a joint statement recognizing the anniversary and announcing plans to hold town meetings on globalization.
NORTHERN EXPOSURE Canada got an introduction to American-style right-wing politics with the candidacy of Alliance Party chief Stockwell Day in the country's November 27 parliamentary elections. But after a strong start, Day, a flashy populist whose antiabortion, antigay and antigovernment views earned him the title "Canada's Jesse Helms," fell far short of his US contemporaries, with the Alliance winning only sixty-six parliamentary seats to 172 for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's Liberal Party. Activists who weren't necessarily pro-Chrétien mobilized across Canada to stop Day, while Day's plan to allow citizens to force national referendums on issues like abortion led Canada's satirical television news program This Hour Has 22 Minutes to launch a petition demanding a national referendum on the question of whether Day should change his first name to Doris.... Canada's New Democratic Party, a democratic socialist group, won 8.5 percent of the vote. But the party, which moved toward the political center prior to the election, lost six seats, provoking calls from top backers for a leftward shift. "We have a crisis, and it's going to require the rebirth of a democratic socialist left party," says Buzz Hargrove, president of the powerful Canadian Auto Workers union.
COMING OUT GREEN After the November 7 election, not many Democrats were embracing the Green Party banner. But San Francisco Board of Supervisors candidate Matt Gonzalez has done just that, announcing his decision in the midst of an intense campaign leading up to a December 12 runoff election. Gonzalez, who ran a strong race for district attorney last year, said he was angered by Democratic candidates' refusal to debate Greens running at the state and national levels, and he expressed his distaste for the support by top Democrats of the death penalty and anti-gay marriage rules. "Many in my campaign urged me not to change parties or at least to wait until I had won the election,'' explains Gonzalez, who as a result of his announcement drew rebukes from local Democrats and saw a fundraiser that had been scheduled on his behalf canceled. "But why should I? What kind of impression would I be making on voters when I'm asking them to trust me if I can't even be honest about my party affiliation?'' Gonzalez has the support of tenant groups, local unions (which announced their support after his party switch), the Bay Guardian newspaper and Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano. He's running as part of a loose-knit slate of candidates challenging the pro-business policies of Mayor Willie Brown.
BACK TO THE BADLANDS In the bleak midwinter of 1981-82, Bruce Springsteen read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and reflected on hard times in Ronald Reagan's land of plenty. Retreating to a rented house with only a tape deck and a guitar, Springsteen recorded Nebraska, an album critic Patrick Humphries called "as compelling and poignant a comment on the Reagan years as any in print or on film.'' Said Springsteen, "A bunch of people wrote about it as a response to the Reagan era, and it obviously had that connection.'' Now, with another Republican poised to assume the presidency, Chrissie Hynde, Ben Harper, Ani DiFranco, Johnny Cash and other artists have contributed tracks to Badlands: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska (Sub Pop), sales of which aid Doctors Without Borders. Dar Williams's gender-twirling take on "Highway Patrolman" is brilliant, as is her new solo album, The Green World, which includes a moving tribute to Daniel and Philip Berrigan.
John Nichols's e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
THIS YEAR IN CINCINNATI After anti-World Trade Organization activists filled the streets of Seattle last November, one of the prime movers in corporate globalization schemes offered a curt dismissal of the protests. "I don't believe those [activists] in Seattle represented somebody with a legitimate stake," said Peter Sutherland, former co-chairman of the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue. A privately funded vehicle through which CEOs from corporations such as Boeing, IBM, Time Warner, Proctor & Gamble and Ford influence trade policies set by governments in Europe and the United States as well as the WTO, the TABD has been in the forefront of efforts to eliminate barriers to trade based on human rights, labor rights and environmental concerns. The group is a big proponent of "harmonization" schemes, which force countries with tough regulations to water those standards down to parallel the rules of weak regulators. Such is its influence that US Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce Timothy Hauser has said, "Virtually every market-opening move undertaken by the U.S. in the last couple of years has been suggested by the TABD." But when the group meets in Cincinnati November 16-18 to "enhance economic globalization," activists from around the world plan to remind Sutherland and the top business and government officials expected to attend that the people in the streets do indeed have a stake in trade decisions. Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, a prime mover in the Seattle protests, has been working with local labor unions and church groups to organize a November 16 teach-in on the group. The local Coalition for a Humane Economy is planning a major protest on the 17th, with support from the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. And the Cincinnati Direct Action Collective is pulling together puppeteers, dance troupes and affinity groups for street theater, including a parade of corporate pig puppets representing visiting CEOs. "The TABD is used to meeting in the dark," says Global Trade Watch's Mike Dolan. "They aren't going to know what hit them."
RESPONSIBLE WEALTH Singer/actor Cher isn't interested in George W. Bush's proposed tax cut. "I'm one of the 1 percent that George W. Bush wants to give the money to. What I say is: 'Keep it, W.--it's just not worth it,'" said Cher, one of a number of wealthy celebrities who publicized their views during the presidential campaign. Sharing that view was Chicago Hope actress Christine Lahti, who declared, "Education needs it. I don't need it." Those messages delighted the three-year-old group Responsible Wealth, a national network of business executives, investors and affluent Americans who actively oppose public policies that favor the rich over working Americans. Members of the group were present at the White House when President Clinton vetoed a Republican-sponsored repeal of the estate tax. Said Responsible Wealth co-director Mike Lapham, an heir to an upstate New York paper-mill fortune, "Something is wrong when we can't fully fund Head Start, but we can give descendants of the wealthy an added head start."
EXIT INTERVIEW In an effort to spike turnout in traditionally Democratic constituencies, President Clinton made Election Day phone calls to radio stations in urban areas across the country. Most of the calls were perfunctory get-out-the-vote appeals. But that wasn't the case at Pacifica Radio's WBAI in New York, where Clinton found himself on the line with Amy Goodman, the host of Pacifica's Democracy Now! news show, and Gonzalo Aburto, host of WBAI's La Nueva Alternativa. In a freewheeling thirty-minute interview, Goodman and Aburto peppered Clinton with questions about the morality of his support for the death penalty, sanctions against Iraq and executive clemency for Native American activist Leonard Peltier. In his first public comment on the Peltier matter, Clinton said he was reviewing requests that he grant executive clemency to Peltier, who is serving a life sentence for murder. Clinton also said that "there's just not a shred of evidence" that the two parties are bought by corporate campaign contributions, and he rejected criticism of his Administration's free-trade policies, saying, "Two-thirds of the American people support [NAFTA]."
BANK BOYCOTT The international campaign to force reform of the World Bank by getting public agencies to boycott the international lending agency's bonds won a major boost when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously this fall to stop buying the bonds. The movement has also won endorsements from unions (the Communications Workers of America and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America), religious groups and human rights groups. Dennis Brutus, the veteran antiapartheid activist, has taken a lead in linking the bond boycott to the divestment movement of the 1980s. "We need to break the power of the World Bank over developing countries, as the divestment movement helped break the power of the apartheid regime over South Africa," he says.
John Nichols's e-mail address is email@example.com.
It wasn't exactly a reversal of 1994, but in this year's Senate races Democrats erased much of the Republican majority that was established in that year of Grand Old Party hegemony. Democrats picked up at least five and perhaps six Republican-held seats, while losing just two. In several cases, the shifts were dramatic, replacing staunch conservatives with far more progressive legislators.
For example, Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton, a liberal department store heir, displaced Republican incumbent Rod Grams, a conservative hundred-percenter famous for dismissing Senator Paul Wellstone's attempt to lodge a criticism of Chinese human rights abuses as "demagoguery." Missouri Republican John Ashcroft, perhaps the Senate's most outspoken advocate of the Christian-right agenda, will be replaced by Jean Carnahan, the widow of liberal Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan (although the threat of a legal challenge remains). Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, a House member whose strong labor record won her passionate support from the powerful United Auto Workers union, beat Republican incumbent Spencer Abraham, a former aide to Dan Quayle who frequently zeroed out on labor's voting-record ratings. One immediate change could come in the area of campaign finance reform: Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin says he now believes there will be sufficient support in the Senate to get the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill passed. "The question now is whether we'll have a Democratic President, who will sign the bill, or a Republican, who will veto it," says Feingold.
Perhaps the biggest Senate disappointment of the night was the 51-to-48 loss of Brian Schweitzer, a Montana rancher who used his campaign to dramatize the high cost of drugs for seniors and in the final weeks closed the gap on antienvironment, antilabor incumbent Conrad Burns.
There was even more disappointment in the results in the House, where an expensive two-year Democratic drive to win the seven Republican seats needed to take back the House failed. While Clinton impeachment manager Jim Rogan went down in California, and Arkansas's Jay Dickey may have been beaten in part because of his support for removing the state's number-one homeboy, most targeted Republican incumbents withstood the challenge. At least one Democrat with a good record, Connecticut's Sam Gejdenson--a consistent liberal with a strong international affairs bent--was ousted, and several progressive newcomers, including California's Gerrie Schipske and Montana's Nancy Keenan, have been beaten. But Illinois's Lane Evans beat back a meanspirited Republican challenge, and new California Representative Mike Honda won with strong backing from labor, as did New York's Steve Israel, who won the Long Island seat vacated by Republican Rick Lazio--the man First Lady Hillary Clinton bested in the nation's highest-profile Senate contest.
At the state level, the nastiest fight was in Vermont. There, in a campaign that turned into a referendum on the question of whether gay and lesbian couples should be allowed the rights of heterosexual couples, Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who signed the state's groundbreaking yet controversial "civil union" law, won a decisive victory in his campaign for a fifth term as governor. Vermont Progressive Party gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina surprised observers by racking up 10 percent of the vote and helping elect several Progressive Party candidates to legislative seats.
North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp, the state's progressive populist attorney general, lost a race for the governorship. But Delaware Lieutenant Governor Ruth Ann Minner, who dropped out of high school at 16 to work on the family farm and returned to school after being widowed at age 32, was elected governor. Her win means there will now be five women governors--the highest number in history.
A key result of the elections at the state level will be their impact on redistricting, which will shape Congress for years to come. Democrats now control forty-nine state legislative houses of a total of ninety-eight, while Republicans control forty-five. Four legislative chambers are evenly tied. Democrats won control of the Colorado Senate and the Washington Statehouse Tuesday. But they lost the Vermont House, with thirteen incumbents being swept from office. "It was all the civil-union fight," says Kevin Mack of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. "Howard Dean won up there, but a lot of good Democrats lost on the issue."
Ralph really ran. Against the record of his own faux campaign of 1996, against the expectations even of friends who said he lacked the candidate gene and against the calculations of Democratic strategists who were forced to go from dismissing him to clumsily attacking the Green monster, Ralph Nader mounted a presidential campaign that in the closing days of the election defied the pundits' tendency to consign most third party candidacies to endgame obscurity.
As political players began counting down the hours to voting day, Nader was thrust into the national spotlight by media that had long disregarded his candidacy. The man who had been prevented even from attending three dismal debates between Al Gore and George W. Bush found himself portrayed by a New York Times editorial as the "wrecking-ball" of the postdebate campaign. There was Nader, just days before an election to which he was supposed to have been an asterisk, staring ABC newsman Sam Donaldson in the eye and asking, "Do you think Gore is entitled to any votes? Do you think Bush is entitled? Am I entitled to any votes? We have to earn them. If Gore cannot beat the bumbling Texas governor with that horrific record, what good is he?"
Conscious of the Nader threat in states that had been securely married to the Democrats as far back as 1988 but began swinging in 2000, mainstream environmental and abortion rights groups diverted late-campaign energy and resources to scaring Oregon, Washington, Minnesota and Wisconsin Nader supporters into stopping Bush by abandoning the Green for the Gore. But the a-vote-for-Nader-is-a-vote-for-Bush drive ended up buying Nader millions of dollars' worth of free media attention. And what voters saw was a Nader far removed from the stiff scold who launched his Green bid last winter. After watching Nader joust with news anchors desperately seeking to get him to abandon his critique of both parties and declare some hidden sympathy for the Democrat, conservative commentator George Will was heard asking when it was that Nader evolved into so able a candidate.
Nader's focused, fact-based, unapologetic appearances were no surprise to hundreds of thousands of students, renegade trade unionists, angry family farmers, environmentalists, organic-food activists, campaign finance reformers, dissident Democrats and leaderless Perotistas who packed Nader's "superrallies" from Oakland to Minneapolis to New York City. Those modern-day hootenannies raised some of the more than $5 million with which Nader's campaign hired staff in virtually every state, developed a network of 900 campus coordinators, bought a few television ads and papered every coffee shop bulletin board from San Francisco to Boston with Green literature. For their contributions, those who rallied were treated to inspired performances by Nader backers Patti Smith and Eddie Vedder, crowd-rousing appeals from Jim Hightower and Michael Moore, arguments for a split from the Democratic Party by such progressive icons as Cornel West and Barbara Ehrenreich, and Nader addresses that bore less and less resemblance to college lectures and more and more to the populist orations of William Jennings Bryan and Robert La Follette.
On a Friday night in Iowa City, just days before the election, Nader arrived to find the University of Iowa Memorial Union overflowing with more than 2,000 cheering supporters. "The two parties have morphed together into one corporate party with two heads wearing different makeup," the candidate declared. The line was dutifully picked up by the Iowa City papers, which, like most local media, lavished front-page coverage on the man drawing some the biggest political crowds of the year. Unfazed by criticism from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and comedian Al Franken, who had appeared in town that day at a hastily scheduled Democratic rally, Nader said, "These frightened progressives say I'm undermining my own legacy of reform. What they don't know is that the Democratic Party has already done it."
Nader was introduced by one of the most prominent Democrats in Iowa, former FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson, who explained, "I have worked for the election of Democratic Presidents since Harry Truman in 1948. I have received three presidential appointments from two Democratic Presidents. I have run for Congress from Iowa as a Democrat. I have served the Democratic Party at every level from local precinct chair to a Democratic National Committee task force. So it's not easy for me, this endorsement of a Green Party candidate. But the corporate corruption that engulfs both major parties has now reached the stage when we cannot afford to wait any longer."
But where does such a leap take Nader backers? If their candidate polls 5 percent or more of the national vote, the Green Party will receive at least $7 million in federal campaign funds. As Election Day approached, however, even some in the Nader camp worried that 5 percent earned at the price of a Gore loss might lead to a damning of the Greens that would make party-building difficult, if not impossible. In the final weeks of the campaign, Nader's closest advisers debated whether to tailor their schedule to states where the race was not close--such as New York, where Gore is a prohibitive favorite--or to return to swing states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, where a strong Nader could undermine Gore. Pleas from swing-state Nader backers tipped the decision in favor of the go-for-broke strategy--even as vote-trading schemes like www.nadertrader.org promised Nader fans who agreed to trade Gore votes in states like Oregon and Washington for Nader votes in New York and Texas that they could get the best of both worlds: President Gore and 5 percent for the Greens.
But a good many Nader voters were disinclined to become election day-traders. Their enthusiasm had less to do with party-building than with raising a banner of protest and, perhaps, of faith in a vision of democratic participation. In the crucial swing state of Wisconsin, the village of Belleville took a pre-election break for its UFO Parade, an annual commemoration of a supposed Halloween visit by aliens some years back. Bush and Gore backers were no-shows. But there, between the Brownies and the Belleville Dairy Queen, were forty Nader supporters, almost all of them from nearby farm towns. They carried a banner reading ralph nader is out of this world and handed out packets of seeds with a reminder to "plant a seed for democracy on November 7."
Grandmothers grabbed the seeds, children cheered "Nader!" And Dr. Cynthia Haq, the local physician, clapped as they passed. Torn between Gore and Nader, she said, "I know we're supposed to be worried about Bush, and I am worried. But it makes me feel good to see the Nader people. There's something that feels right about voting for what you believe, as opposed to voting against what you fear. I think that's why a lot of people are sticking with Nader--no matter what."
ROUGHED JUSTICE Ohio Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick's re-election campaign would have been a quiet waltz to a third six-year term were it not for the fact that the veteran jurist has stepped on powerful toes. Resnick, the second woman to serve on the state's highest bench, has frequently led a 4-to-3 court majority in writing decisions defending the rights of workers and consumers, taking on corporate abuses--particularly those of insurance companies--and forcing the state to develop fairer school-funding formulas. For her temerity, Resnick is taking a battering from corporate groups, which are expected to spend as much as $7 million to bring her down. The executive director of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce recently sent out an anti-Resnick fundraising letter asking for contributions of up to $10,000 to "turn the tide of anti-business decisions." Resnick is only the latest target of a national effort to cleanse state-court benches of jurists who defend the rights of consumers to sue corporate wrongdoers; similar attacks have toppled progressive judges in Alabama, Texas and a number of other states. In Ohio, the AFL-CIO, the Democrats and women's rights, civil rights, consumer and trial-lawyer groups have fought back with a pro-Resnick campaign that has turned her race against a Republican-backed lower court judge into the state's fiercest contest. Resnick says she's fighting hard to defend "impartial, independent justice." But, as her foes gear up for a final wave of attack ads designed to question the much-honored jurist's personal integrity, she says, "I would never want to see another judge go through what I'm going to have to go through."
INDIAN POWER Once prevented by law from participating in elections, and long discouraged by racism and isolation from casting ballots, Native Americans have been slow to flex their political muscle. As a result, even in states such as New Mexico, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Montana, where Indians make up a substantial portion of the population, their electoral influence has been limited. This year, however, it could rise, particularly in Montana, where the Honor the Earth Tour brought the Indigo Girls, Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt and other artists to "Get Out the Indian Vote" rallies organized in conjunction with the group Native Action on the Northern Cheyenne, Blackfeet and Flathead reservations. At concerts in several Montana cities, Native Action registered hundreds of new voters. Other stops on the tour, a project of the Indigenous Women's Network, the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Indigo Girls, featured Jackson Browne, David Crosby and the blues group Indigenous. Tour revenues help fund fights against the slaughter of buffalo and the use of Indian lands for storage of nuclear waste. "We are working to change the balance of power in which Native environmental struggles take place, and to tip the scales in favor of justice," says Honor the Earth program director Winona LaDuke, an Anishinaabe Indian who is the Green Party vice-presidential candidate.
OPENING THE DEBATES While the Green Party's Ralph Nader wasn't allowed to participate in the three national presidential debates, some candidates in high-profile state elections have been more successful. In West Virginia, Mountain Party gubernatorial candidate Denise Giardina dispatched a supporter dressed as a chicken to shadow Democrat Bob Wise, who had refused to participate in debates that included Giardina, an award-winning novelist who is sounding social and economic justice themes in her campaign. Wise backed down and Giardina, in several appearances, earned high marks for forcing a dialogue that the major-party candidates had avoided on environmentally destructive coal-mining techniques.... Vermont Progressive Party gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina, a regular in debates with centrist Democrat Howard Dean and right-wing Republican Ruth Dwyer, earned kudos from the Rutland Herald, which said, "It seemed sometimes Pollina was expressing Dean's views better than Dean was."... In California, Green US Senate candidate Medea Benjamin debated maverick Republican Tom Campbell in Oakland and Los Angeles while Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein begged off. Benjamin says, "The fact that Dianne Feinstein refuses to participate because she is ahead in the polls is an indication of just what is so wrong with the American political system."
ON THE TRAIL Musician Ani DiFranco, a high-profile Nader backer, enthusiastically urges support for him in states such as New York, where Democrat Al Gore is ahead. In an open letter to fans, however, she warns that "there's just one little hitch" in swing states where the presidential race is close: "a Green Party vote really does mean that Bush comes one vote closer to winning."... San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who promised after he lost a 1999 mayoral bid that "I'm not going away," is backing a slate of progressive supervisor candidates, including Native American rights crusader Aaron Peskin, AIDS activist Eileen Hansen and tenants' rights campaigner Marie Harrison.
THE NOVEMBER 7 ELECTION is not merely about ending six years of GOP dominance but also about assuring that the next Congress is pulled in a more enlightened direction. Starting early this year, The Nation began tracking races around the country, keeping an eye on contests where progressive incumbents are battling to keep their seats and identifying the next generation of leaders on economic and social justice issues. The Nation adopted author and activist Michael Harrington's "left wing of the possible" standard--looking for candidates who combine a chance of winning with a commitment to use the victory to fight for real change. None of the contenders profiled in this year's "Nation Dozen" list--which represents only a fraction of the progressive candidates running as Democrats, Greens or independents--are assured victory; indeed, several had to overcome daunting odds just to earn a place on the November ballot. But they have put themselves in contention with strong support from groups like the AFL-CIO, NARAL, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, Peace Action PAC, the Human Rights Campaign Fund and the National Committee for an Effective Congress. A decade ago, Minnesota professor Paul Wellstone beat an entrenched Republican US senator and went on to serve as a mentor to other progressives, including several of this year's Nation Dozen. Says Wellstone: "Progressives have got to get serious about these Congressional races around the country. We need to recognize that it matters a great deal when we elect members who understand human rights and economic justice issues; that those members will have the power to raise issues, to shift the direction of the Democratic Party and to build coalitions that can actually prevail." With that thought in mind, here is the "Nation Dozen." With support from Nation readers and other progressives, they have the potential not only to win but to change the way Washington does business.
ED FLANAGAN, Vermont, US Senate
When Ed Flanagan won the Democratic nomination for the seat held by Republican Jim Jeffords, the incumbent warned that Flanagan's progressive populist style would not go over well in the tradition-bound Senate. "He makes a lot of noise, shakes things up, and that's the last thing we need down in Washington," said Jeffords, who is best known for singing in a barbershop quartet with Trent Lott. Jeffords is right about Flanagan; he would shake things up. A former intern to liberal Republican Senator George Aiken and a four-term state auditor, Flanagan condemns "the military-industrial complex that does not have America's defense interests in mind, but is simply out to make the big bucks," and he asks how the Senate can justify a failure to implement living-wage legislation "in the context of an economy that is so rich but has concentrated so much wealth with so few people and so few huge multinational corporations." The odds against Flanagan are long, in part because he is an openly gay man running in a state where conservatives are stirring a backlash against Vermont's just-implemented civil union law. But he is betting that the state that sends Bernie Sanders to the House is, indeed, prepared to shake up the Senate (www.flanagan2000.org).
NANCY KEENAN, Montana, House, At-Large
To understand where Nancy Keenan is coming from, you need to know the story of the Smelterman's Day Picnic that used to be held every August 8 in Anaconda, Montana. Keenan, the daughter of a boilermaker, would line up with the other kids at the picnic to receive a silver dollar from the copper-smelting company that gave the town its name. "As you stepped forward, the management representative would look you straight in the eye and press that shiny silver dollar firmly in your hand. The message couldn't have been clearer: You knew who owned you," Keenan recalled in a speech to the state AFL-CIO. "But the company was wrong. They might have owned our sweat, they might have owned our labor, but because we were members of a union family, they could not own our souls." Keenan, who is seeking to be a voice for hard-pressed factory and farm families in a state where annual incomes are among the lowest in the nation, got into politics to battle for corporate responsibility: After Atlantic Richfield shuttered the Anaconda smelter in 1980, she was elected to the legislature and helped pass a plant-closing notification law. Now, the three-term state superintendent of public instruction is running for Congress against a right-wing opponent on a platform that includes pledges to fight for labor-law reform, vigorous enforcement of antitrust laws against agribusiness monopolies and guarantees that farmers and workers "are not sacrificed at the altar of international trade relations." She says politics beats her old job--shoveling ore and wrangling buckets of boiling copper. "You wore an asbestos suit and counted on your workmate to beat out the flames when you occasionally caught on fire," recalls Keenan, who promises to fight to toughen workplace safety regulations (www.nancykeenan.com).
BRIAN SCHWEITZER, Montana, US Senate
Long before Al Gore and the Democratic National Committee read polls that told them prescription drug prices were a potent political issue, Brian Schweitzer, a peppermint farmer with no political experience, began loading senior citizens onto buses and driving them over the border to buy cheap drugs in Canada. The first-time candidate's political instincts proved so good, and so threatening to troglodyte conservative incumbent Conrad Burns, that a faked-up "citizens' group" funded by drug manufacturers began blanketing the state with anti-Schweitzer commercials. Schweitzer took the attacks as a badge of honor, while the Billings Gazette joked that anti-Schweitzer forces would have a hard time convincing Montana voters to fear him as a candidate "coming to strip us of our God-given right to be shafted by the pharmaceutical industry." After Burns voted against a proposal to place a moratorium on agribusiness mergers that harm Montana farmers, Schweitzer detailed Burns's $198,608 in contributions from agribusiness lobbyists. When he is not banging away at corporations, Schweitzer works to heal rifts between unions and environmentalists that Burns and other Western conservatives have fanned in order to divide progressive voters in states with depressed economies and threatened natural areas. "The debate over the past ten years has been jobs versus the environment," says Schweitzer. "The results are in, and it's clear that we're losing both" (www.brianschweitzer.com).
LANE EVANS, Illinois, District 17
Congress has no truer heir to the prairie populist tradition of the Midwest Progressive, Farmer-Labor and Non-Partisan League movements than Illinois's Lane Evans. In nine terms as the representative from a farm-and-factory district that hugs the Mississippi River, Evans has been one of the few members who consistently earn top ratings from the AFL-CIO and progressive groups. In a district where Republicans remain a powerful political force and where business groups pump thousands of dollars into the campaigns of his Republican challengers, Evans talks tough about corporate crime, wages lonely battles on behalf of family farmers and helps lead the fight against Wall Street's free-trade agenda. This year the GOP has made Evans a top target. The Congressman is suffering from Parkinson's disease, and while he is fully capable of performing his Congressional duties--which would include chairing the powerful Veterans' Affairs Committee if Democrats retake the House--his weakened condition has been the target of whispering campaigns and none-too-subtle jabs from Republican backers of his opponent, a former TV anchorman (www.laneevans.com, www.house.gov.evans).
ELEANOR JORDAN, Kentucky, District 3
With Eleanor Jordan in Congress, the House of Representatives would be a lot more representative. An African-American woman old enough to remember segregation days in the border state of Kentucky, a onetime teenage single parent who understands the challenge of meeting childcare and health bills, a neighborhood activist who got mad enough about legislative neglect to run for and win a seat in the General Assembly, she has lived the issues that most members of Congress only debate. Jordan, who directed a childcare center before her election, has emerged as one of the Kentucky House's most effective advocates for programs that aid children and working moms--winning a high-profile battle to prevent the gutting of the Kentucky childcare policy council. Now, Jordan is challenging incumbent Anne Northup, a conservative Republican who came to the House as a Newt Gingrich protégée and who has established one of the most reliably reactionary records in Congress. Jordan proudly identifies herself as an "outspoken advocate for women, working families, minorities, the poor and children." She says she's not proud of all the earlier choices she made in her life. "But they were choices I had to live with, and people get the benefit of your experience only if you tell them" (www.jordanforcongress.com).
BETTY McCOLLUM, Minnesota, District 4
Even before she won the Democratic Farmer Labor Party nod in a hard-fought, four-way primary to fill an open St. Paul-area seat, Betty McCollum had lined up support from the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and other green groups that usually withhold endorsements until after nominations are settled. It wasn't that her foes were so bad but rather that McCollum was so good. She was a leader in the fight to secure funding for one of the first urban wetlands restoration projects in the country. And as a member of the Environmental Policy and Environmental Finance committees of the Minnesota House, she earned a national reputation for developing and advancing innovative legislation to combat air and water pollution, destruction of natural habitats, urban sprawl and environmental racism. McCollum, who continued to work as a clerk at a St. Paul department store during her years as a legislator, is outspoken in her support of living-wage initiatives, organizing rights for unions and protections for working women. Normally, her labor, feminist and environmentalist backing would be enough to secure victory in this liberal district. But McCollum faces a tough race against a former Democratic prosecutor running as the candidate of Governor Jesse Ventura's Independence Party and a well-funded conservative Republican state senator (www.mccollumforcongress.org).
MARYANNE CONNELLY, New Jersey, District 7
Abortion is supposed to be too "dangerous" an issue for candidates in close Congressional races to touch--especially Democratic candidates seeking to grab suburban seats previously held by conservative Republicans. But Maryanne Connelly is breaking the political rules, putting her support for abortion rights front and center in her campaign to win the New Jersey seat being vacated by Republican Senate candidate Bob Franks. "I believe every woman should have the right to choose.... It's no place for the government to be involved," says Connelly. Her tough talk did not endear her to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which endorsed her primary opponent, a more pliant pol backed by powerful political machines in the region. But Connelly's emphasis on women's rights, gun control and campaign finance reform gave her the edge in the primary. In her general-election campaign against a conservative Republican, Connelly continues to eschew compromise. A former police commissioner in her hometown of Fanwood, she is fiercely critical of the NRA, promising to fight to require that all handgun owners--"just like all automobile owners"--must register their guns, have a photo license and pass a safety test (www.connellyforcongress.com).
GERRIE SCHIPSKE, California, District 38
Gerrie Schipske wasn't supposed to be the Democratic nominee against moderate Republican incumbent Steve Horn for a Long Beach-area House seat. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee insiders had groomed a young, not particularly political teacher--whose chief qualification appeared to be the fact that she had been featured on national television programs as an innovative educator--for the race to reclaim the historically Democratic seat. But Schipske, a nurse practioner, lawyer and healthcare policy consultant to the Service Employees International Union, won a primary upset with backing from labor and the district's large gay and lesbian community. Allies including Congressman Barney Frank have worked with labor and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund to keep Schipske, who is openly lesbian, even with Horn in fundraising. She is in an uphill fight, but, says Frank, "She's serious, she's progressive, she's got a chance to be elected, and if she wins she will immediately be a leader in Congress on healthcare issues" (www.schipske4congress.org).
SUSAN BASS LEVIN, New Jersey, District 3
Susan Bass Levin, a first-time Congressional candidate who has served four terms as mayor of Cherry Hill, doesn't try to be all things to all voters. When the House voted to cut $32 million from the Clinton Administration's civil rights enforcement budget, she angrily condemned the move as an affront not just to minorities but to women, noting that "working families already lose more than $4,000 a year on average because women do not receive equal pay." The founder of a statewide fundraising network to elect pro-choice Democratic women, Levin has thrown a scare into GOP incumbent Jim Saxton. A relative moderate, Saxton for years cultivated links with labor--so much so that after he voted with labor against granting China permanent normal trade status, the state AFL-CIO executive board recommended that unions remain neutral in the Saxton-Levin race. Not a fan of neutrality, Levin sought a roll-call of unions. She won the endorsement by a 4-to-1 ratio, capitalizing on her years of work with local unions to promote pay equity, minimum-wage increases and expansion of worker health and safety programs. "I'm an activist," says Levin. "That's why I signed on to being an elected official" (www.levinforcongress.org).
MIKE KELLEHER, Illinois, District 15
If first-time candidate Mike Kelleher wins an upset victory in his race for an open Congressional seat, it will be on the strength of a paper clip. His better-known and better-funded opponent, Tim Johnson, is a veteran GOP legislator who should be coasting to victory in a rural district with a long history of sending conservative Republicans to Congress. But Johnson got caught using a paper clip to hold in place the button that recorded his legislative votes, making it possible to appear to be present when he was absent. Kelleher, an Illinois State University professor originally regarded as a sacrificial lamb, has juxtaposed Johnson's slacker service against the work ethic of the farmers, factory hands and smalltown shopkeepers who form the core of the district's electorate. Kelleher is airing commercials that feature a construction worker trying to paper-clip shut his lunchbox, and he's launched a www/timspaperclip.com website. He backs up his populist appeal with attacks on HMOs, drug companies and paper-clip pushing Republicans (www.kelleher2000.com).
DAVID WU, Oregon, District 1
Few members of Congress were better positioned to stamp their return ticket to the House with a single vote than David Wu. The first-term Democrat from Oregon represents an international-trade-reliant West Coast district where the politically powerful business community was chomping at the bit to capitalize on "free trade" with China. But Wu, the first person of full Chinese ancestry ever elected to Congress, chose his commitment to international human rights over the easy route to re-election; he voted against the permanent normal trade relations bill, which brought to an end annual Congressional review of China's human rights record. Wu was one of only a handful of West Coast Democrats to do so. Retribution was swift. High-tech corporations in his Portland-area district--a region known as the Silicon Forest--began pouring money into the campaign of Wu's challenger, right-wing Republican State Senator Charles Starr. Wu is standing firm, telling reporters, "If the voters of Oregon decide to send me home for [the PNTR vote], I'll have to live with that. But I'd rather turn my back on the office than turn my back on my principles" (www.wuforcongress.com, http://www.house.gov/wu).
MARYELLEN O'SHAUGHNESSY, Ohio, District 12
In a Columbus district where a quarter of the population is African-American, City Councilor Maryellen O'Shaughnessy is working to build a multiracial coalition by positioning herself as a contender who won't lose sight of the need to strengthen the federal commitment to education, healthcare and senior programs. "I know how hard it is to make ends meet," says O'Shaughnessy, who put herself through college working night jobs and in recent years struggled to care for her ill mother. Running in a GOP-leaning district against a state representative who has received maximum backing from retiring conservative icon John Kasich and national Republicans, O'Shaughnessy has driven her opponent to distraction by expressing a mother's horror at his legislative votes against programs designed to protect low-income children from lead poisoning. "This woman deserves to win," says Representative John Conyers, who campaigned in Columbus for O'Shaughnessy. And, he adds, "I'm convinced that if she wins, Democrats retake the House" (www.meos2000.org).
CENTERING GORE "They chose to close
ranks instead of opening up dialogue," California State Senator Tom
Hayden said after the Democratic Platform Comm