There is much, much to be said of Norman Mailer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and world-class rabble-rouser who died Saturday at age 84.
But the pugilistic pensman would perhaps be most pleased to have it known that he went down swinging. The chronicler of our politics and protests in the 1960s with two of the era's definitional books--1968's Armies of the Night and Miami and the Siege of Chicago, did not rest on the laurels--and they were legion--earned for exposing the dark undersides of the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.
He went after George Bush with a fury, and a precision, that was born of his faith that all politicians--including 1969 New York City mayoral candidate Norman Mailer - had to be viewed skeptically. And, when found to be lacking, had to be dealt with using all tools available to a writer who had pocketed two Pulitzers, a National Book Award, a George Polk Award, a Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation and a global prominence rarely accorded the pushers of pens.
Mailer did not hesitate to suggest that Bush and his compatriots were setting up "a pre-fascistic atmosphere in America" and he saw the war in Iraq as an imperialistic endeavor destined--as all such attempts are--to diminish democracy at home.
"Iraq is the excuse for moving in an imperial direction," Mailer wrote on the eve of the conflict. "War with Iraq, as they originally conceived it, would be a quick, dramatic step that would enable them to control the Near East as a powerful base -- not least because of the oil there, as well as the water supplies from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers--to build a world empire."
Mailer recognized in the president's schoolboy militarism the most dangerous of instincts. So it was that, when Bush made his 2003 appearance in flight-suit drag before a sign declaring "Mission Accomplished" as part of the first--though certainly not the last--celebration of the fantasy of "victory" in Iraq, Mailer responded with a critique that remains the most damning assessment of a president who has known more than his share of damnation.
"Democracy, more than any other political system, depends on a modicum of honesty. Ultimately, it is much at the mercy of a leader who has never been embarrassed by himself," Mailer, who as a young Harvard graduate had served in the South Pacific during World War II, wrote of Bush at the close of a brilliant piece for The New York Review of Books. "What is to be said of a man who spent two years in the Air Force of the National Guard (as a way of not having to go to Vietnam) and proceeded--like many another spoiled and wealthy father's son--not to bother to show up for duty in his second year of service? Most of us have episodes in our youth that can cause us shame on reflection. It is a mark of maturation that we do not try to profit from our early lacks and vices but do our best to learn from them. Bush proceeded, however, to turn his declaration of the Iraqi campaign's end into a mighty fashion show. He chose--this overnight clone of Honest Abe--to arrive on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln on an S-3B Viking jet that came in with a dramatic tail-hook landing. The carrier was easily within helicopter range of San Diego but G.W. would not have been able to show himself in flight regalia, and so would not have been able to demonstrate how well he wore the uniform he had not honored. Jack Kennedy, a war hero, was always in civvies while he was commander in chief. So was General Eisenhower. George W. Bush, who might, if he had been entirely on his own, have made a world-class male model (since he never takes an awkward photograph), proceeded to tote the flight helmet and sport the flight suit. There he was for the photo-op looking like one more great guy among the great guys. Let us hope that our democracy will survive these nonstop foulings of the nest."
Mailer would continue protesting the foulings of the nest, on the streets of New York during the 2004 Republican National Coronation and with a pugilistic pen that pummeled the empire builders and their lesser stooges--asking pointedly in final years that paralleled Bush's "Patriot Acts" and an endless "war on terror": "What does it profit us if we gain extreme security and lose our democracy?"--until it was finally laid to rest on Saturday.
Congressional democrats, civil rights groups and now the New York Times frame The Employment Non-Discrimination Act as an example of the politics of the possible. But an almost-definite Presidential veto makes it look like a convoluted example.
An ENDA bill to protect employees from sexual orientation discrimination passed the House Wednesday, after Tammy Baldwin's amendment to include protections for transgendered employees was debated but not voted on.
Expect the Senate to also keep transgendered people in the rhetoric but not the legislation. A press release yesterday by Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy pointed out that, "Today it's perfectly legal in most states to fire an employee because of sexual orientation or gender identity." Kennedy declared that, "America stands for justice for all" and "Congress must make clear that when we say 'all' we mean all."
The Senator's solution? To "extend the protection of Title VII [of the 1964 Civil Rights Act] to those who are victimized because of their sexual orientation."
His strategy follows fellow Massachusetts liberal Barney Frank. A longtime champion of GLBT rights, Frank originally wrote House legislation that included transgendered people but took that provision out when Labor Committee Chairman George Miller told him freshmen Democrats from districts that voted for Bush would never support it. "I wish we had the votes to ban all discrimination," Frank said on the House floor Wednesday. "But I will not act on my wishes irresponsibly."
But the committee's compromise has not made Republicans any less aghast. Of course, they can't quite come out and say it's okay to fire someone because they're gay. Which, as Frank noted, is progress in its own way.
"I first filed a bill 35 years ago to say that you couldn't fire someone because he was gay or she was a lesbian, and at the time people were very straightforward in their opposition," Frank recounted to members of the House. "Times have changed: It is no longer fashionable to say that you ought to be able to discriminate against someone based on his or her sexual orientation, so now we get other arguments."
Indeed, Republicans acted like Congress was on the verge of passing the "Mandatory Gay Marriage and Frivolous Lawsuit Act of 2007." Pennsylvania's Joseph Pitts warned in House debate that ENDA is a devious "component in a larger strategy," a "building block to overturn traditional marriage law." And when not implying that ending workplace discrimination for gay and lesbian employees will wreak havoc on heterosexual marriages everywhere, Republicans reverted to hoary whining about "burdensome litigation."
"This is frankly a trail lawyers dream," moaned Buck McKeon of California, warning bill implementation will be a nightmare for the rest of us.
President Bush, who has benefited from GOP voter mobilization efforts around state amendments to ban gay marriage, is not surprisingly on the same page. A White House statement gives the legally dubious argument that ENDA would statutorily recognize state sanctioned same-sex marriages and thereby conflict with the Federal Defense of Marriage Act.
So with those obstacles in mind, New York Democrat Jarrod Nadler argued on the House floor that now was the time to make a "principled stand" and include transgendered people while waiting for a Democratic President to make a bill law.
Protections for transgendered employees is hardly a symbolic issue. A letter to Congress signed by the NAACP, several unions and the Human Rights Campaign, a leading GLBT advocacy group, asserted it was "beyond dispute" that transgendered employees "face far more pervasive and severe bias in the workplace and society as a whole."
But after first opposing "ENDA without gender" those groups now support it. Human Rights Campaign reasons that House passage was historic and that if a bill including transgendered people had been defeated it would have been harder to pass the next time.
It sounds like a politcally sensible strategy from politically sensible progressives. The problem is that its one thing to tell GLBT advocates to compromise and quite another to to tell the Republican Party.
Karl Rove ripped into liberal bloggers at a web politics conference this week, assailing the "angry kooks" on the "nutty fringe of political life" who have seized "inexpensive and easily accessible" platforms to upend public debate. Ever the strategist, Rove also emphasized that he is a "fan of many blogs." So how does he know which ones are good? Apparently blogs affiliated with the liberal netroots are the problem:
My point is not that liberals swear publicly more often than conservatives. That may be true, but that's not my point [...] It is that the netroots often argue from anger rather than reason, and too often, their object is personal release, not political persuasion.
Several people have pointed out the blatant hypocrisy here. Rove is famous for a political career built on the most vitriolic, angry and immoral approach to public affairs. He is an equal opportunity slander operative, smearing John Kerry and Ann Richards with the same intensity as he sabotaged conservative "allies" like John McCain and John DiIulio. But dealing with Rove, there's a political lesson here too.
Karl Rove poses with bloggers at Yahoo's "The Rise of Citizen 2.0" conference on Thursday. Photo credit: Clay Johnson.
Rove's attack fits with the Republicans' long-term strategy to discredit the netroots, marginalize bloggers and pressure Democratic politicians to avoid their own web activists. The idea is to blunt the obvious fundraising, organizing and energizing benefits of liberal web activism by isolating it from Democratic leadership and the progressive establishment in general. That is why Republicans aim to morph liberal Internet activism into a "scandal" whenever possible, from random blog comments to the MoveOn Petraus ad to the feigned outrage over John Edwards' campaign bloggers. In fact, the Edwards dust-up in February traces Rove's new attack quite closely. A Republican operative famous for unethical hardball (Bill Donahue) hypocritically attacks the "vitriol" of bloggers, focusing exclusively on liberals in order to pressure naive Democrats -- not improve public discourse. Then important people grow very "concerned" about an outbreak of "dirty politics" on the left. In February, the bloggers resigned from the campaign; this week, Rove is pushing a broader narrative for the media, not trying to actually get a specific person fired. (For more details, see the Nation comment I wrote about the incident at the time.)
But the real question is whether any Democrats (or reporters) will naively take another self-interested Republican attack at face value. Rove is simply attacking liberal bloggers because they are effective. Deep down, he might even admire their aggressive approach to politics. Ironically, that would be another thing he does not have in common with many Democratic leaders.
UPDATE: Washingtonian reports that during the conference Rove also IM'd with MoveOn.org Washington Director Tom Matzzie, whom he criticized during his remarks: "This is rove and I did take your name in vain [...] Have enjoyed listening to your calls!" It's not clear if Rove was joking about domestic surveillance, referring to MoveOn's political autocalls, or something else.
Michael Mukasey was confirmed late Thursday by the U.S. Senate to serve as the nation's 81st Attorney General. This means that, despite the fact refused to commit during the course of his confirmation hearings to abide by the Constitution or to hold the president accountable to the rule of law, the former federal judge will now serve as the country's chief law enforcement officer.
Mukasey's nomination was cinched when two Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, New York Senator Chuck Schumer and California Senator Dianne Feinstein, decided to accept the nominee's assurance that he would respect a law specifically banning the torture tactic of waterboarding. The assurance was meaningless, as Congress is unlikely to pass such a law and President Bush would veto it.
But, as bad as Schumer and Feinstein's votes may have been, at least they cast them when the Mukasey nomination came to the Senate floor.
That's better than can be said for New York Senator Hillary Clinton, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and Delaware Senator Joe Biden, the four members of the chamber who are seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Clinton, Obama, Dodd and Biden, all of whom had been critical of the Mukasey nomination, chose to keep campaigning rather than to honor their responsibility to approve or reject presidential appointments.
Running for president is, to be sure, a big deal. Candidates who happen to be members of the Congress probably cannot be expected to show up for every vote -- although Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul do a remarkably good job of it.
But the debate about who will be the Attorney General of the United States ought to merit a brief turn off the campaign trail.
As it was, Democrats could muster just 40 votes against Mukasey. A united front of Republicans, joined by the Democratic indefensibles Schumer, Feinstein, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Tom Carper of Delaware, Mary Landrieu or Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and the always-in-his-own-category Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
Had the Democratic presidential candidates bothered to show up, the Senate could have registered greater opposition to Mukasey than to any of the president's major Cabinet or Supreme Court nominees -- with at least 44 votes go against the president's pick. That would have sent a signal regarding the concerns raised not just on the torture issue but on the broader question of whether Mukasey will take any steps to reign in a lawless executive branch.
As it was, the new Attorney General was approved with less opposition than Democrats were able to muster for John Ashcroft (42 votes against) or Gonzales (36 votes against).
It is certainly true that votes against Mukasey would have been symbolic, as the nomination was going to be approved.
But in the tug of war between the executive and legislative branches, shows of strength are meaningful. It matters to send the right signal. Clinton, Obama, Dodd and Biden made it harder to send the right signal about the wrong pick for Attorney General. In so doing, they failed the Republic and the cause of Constitutional renewal that should be more important than any presidential campaign.
During the week of October 21, far-right wing operative and former communist agitator David Horowitz deployed his allies to college campuses America to spout crude anti-Muslim invective and hype the threat of more terror attacks on the United States. Horowitz called this event "Islamofascism Awareness Week." Among his stable of campus speakers were noted Islam experts Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity.
"Islamofascism Awareness Week" was, from the beginning, little more than a marathon fashion show for the paranoid style. But it was not until Horowitz muscled his way onto the campus of his alma mater, Columbia University, on October 26 that his event attained the commanding heights of reactionary hysteria.
Pacing the stage like a drunken circus clown impersonating some bygone demagogue, and standing beneath a massive image of a woman being shot in the head, Horowitz launched into a long, frenetic rant about his own persecution at the hands of a shadowy liberal conspiracy.
Though Horowitz devoted portions of his tirade to attacks on the Muslim Students Association, which he sought to paint as a front for virtually every Islamist group that strikes fear in the heart of his culturally deprived conservative peanut gallery, he seemed more comfortable lashing out at his perceived oppressors -- liberal professors, leftists, and the Democratic party -- than he did at any so-called "Islamofascists."
When I asked Horowitz about his weird comparison of his own father to 9/11 mastermind Mohammed Atta in his book, "The End of Time," his hysteria peaked. My question provoked him to link Jerry Falwell, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and "Jerry Springer and all his guests" together in a plot to bring social justice to the world "at the point of a gun."
Listening to Horowitz was like being trapped in a subway car with a raving derelict for an hour and a half. But unlike in the subway, where the transit police usually arrive to remove the derelict, the police came to Columbia to protect Horowitz from the non-existent security threat he had invoked in fundraising appeals for days leading up to his speech.
Horowitz's performance had to be seen to be believed. Luckily, despite being forbidden to film by the president of the Columbia University College Republicans, my co-producer, Thomas Shomaker, and I managed to smuggle a camera into Horowitz's speech and record it all.
Take a look at our latest video, "The Demons of David Horowitz."
Congress is, gradually, dealing with the consequences of a federal terrorist watchlist that in four years has swelled to 860,000 records. Today, New York Democrat Yvette Clark proposed the Fair, Secure and Timely Redress Act of 2007 that would provide a "one-stop shop" for U.S. citizens erroneously put on the burgeoning watchlist.
"There is now a single, comprehensive terrorist watch list," Clarke reasoned at a Capitol Hill press conference today. "So it only makes sense to have a comprehensive 'clear' list." The bill. expected to be co-sponsored by House Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, would require the Department of Homeland Security to develop a consolidated database of people who have been mistakenly put on the list.
Whether Clarke's legislation is the right solution, recent government reports make clear that she is not dealing with an isolated problem. A Justice Department Inspector General's report found that of the 99,000 instances where a citizen crossing the border or boarding a plane matched a name on the Terrorist Screening Center's watchlist, 43 percent were cases of mistaken identity.
Of these "false positives" 16,000 have formally asked to be removed from the list and DHS, in concert with the Departments of State and Justice, has adjudicated 7,400 cases. Deciding that someone is, in fact, not a terrorist or associated with a terrorist takes an average of 67 days. According to the Inspector General's report, the Department has yet to define a reasonable timeframe for dealing with these redresses.
Handling complaints, however, is only the tip of the iceberg in dealing with a database that has gotten out of hand. DHS accepted the inspector general's assertion that the screening center lacks a procedure to monitor the accuracy of watchlist records or the ability to review the database and subsequently remove names.
The Department also accepted criticism by a Government Accountability Office report that, "The government lacks an up-to-date strategy and implementation plan-supported by clearly defined leadership or governance stucture-for enhancing the effectiveness of terrorist screening, consistent with presidential directives." In other words, no one knows how to use the data.
But the question of whether government can ever create an effective database that doesn't cause civil liberties violations and severe headaches remains taboo. Kathleen Kraninger, Director of the Screening Coordination Office at DHS, concluded that the watchlist has been part of successfully preventing a post-9/11 terrorist attack and, well, you can't prove her wrong.
And at a hearing today, Indiana Republican Mark Souder grew visibly nervous when problems surrounding the watchlist were being discussed a little too in-depth. "Asking how we might get the watchlist fixed is something that maybe shouldn't be done in a public forum," Souder argued. "We might be giving tips."
Souder was referring to aiding terrorists but hopefully the hearing and companion legislation will be less nefariously used to clean up a spiraling bureaucratic mess.
In terms of economic consequences, the new trade agreement with Peru istrivial. In political terms, however, it delivers an ominous message.When faced with a choice between money and their own rank-and-file, theDemocratic leaders in the House will go with the money, even if itrequires them to pass legislation with Republican votes. Even if amajority of their own caucus is opposed. Even if it means handing theshrinking president, George W. Bush, a rare legislative victory.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled it off today at considerable costto her own reputation. How different are the new Dems in Congress? Notvery, it seems. That is a reasonable interpretation of events and theSpeaker is now stuck with the burden of disproving it.
Pelosi's lieutenants "whipped" the party caucus energetically and didbetter than expected--109 Dems voting for the Peru trade bill, 116 Demsagainst.
But Pelosi still winds up looking like the great triangulator, BillClinton, who managed to pass important trade measures like NAFTA only byrelying on Republican votes over his own party. Pelosi will come toregret the comparison, I suspect, because it suggests she is unreliableas a party leader, at least if you thought Democrats were going tochange things. On the Peru vote, she played big-money contributors andthe opposition party against her own troops. Clinton used to do thisbrilliantly with lots of soulful rhetoric extolling his own courage.Pelosi and team are not so adept.
Why would she depart from her usual form? After all, Pelosi normallywon't bring an issue to the House floor unless assured of overwhelmingconsensus among her members.
Her explanation: "I don't want this party to be viewed as an anti-tradeparty." That is the same simple-minded non sequitur the multinationalestablishment always invoke to scold Democrats. None of the Democraticdissenters are arguing for "no trade." They are trying to change therules of trade so US workers are not the first victims of newagreements. Pelosi argued that the Peru agreement includes an importantreform--stronger language in support of labor and environmentalstandards--and it does. But is there perhaps another reason why shepushed so hard against her own caucus?
Steven R.Weisman of the New York Times gently suggested one. "Democratsfrom the prosperous areas of the East and West Coast have becomeespecially responsive, many Democrats say, to the desire of Wall Streetand the high technology, health, pharmaceutical and entertainmentindustries to expand their sales overseas," Weisman wrote. "Theseindustries have also become major Democratic contributors."
She did it for the money. That is a more plausible explanation thaninsider arguments over the fine print in an inconsequential new tradebill. The big-money sectors are anxious to squelch the new critics ofglobalization in Democratic ranks before they can gain momentum inCongress. Looking toward financing the 2008 elections, Pelosi chose tostand with the money guys and dismiss the political backlash againstglobalization building across the country. She is probably bettingpeople aren't paying attention to such trivial matters.
But I wouldn't count on that. She is liable to lose her bet as economicconditions worsen for folks in coming months. People are likely to getmore anxious and angry than they already are. One thing Democrats shouldnot try to tell voters in '08 is they are the party of change. Mightyield more yawns and snickers than votes.
The economic grenades are going off. Just pick up today's newspapers. The subprime lending crisis is metastasizing; foreclosures on homes purchased with subprime mortgages are expected to reach two million by the end of next year, according to a new Congressional report; the dollar has sunk to a new low; China is threatening to stop investing in US assets and buy more Euros; oil is about to hit a $100 a barrel; the credit crunch is causing an unprecedented liquidity sqeeze; and consumer spending is expected to dip sharply. While one of the country's largest home lenders said last month it would help borrowers restructure %16 billion in mortgages, the financial pain and stress is rippling fast thoughout the economy and country. While we hear more about the impact of the credit crisis for Wall Street's big boys --as a few heads roll --don't lose sight of the impact on Main Street. Bold and big ideas are needed.
For now, Congressman Barney Frank is trying to push through legislation that extends moderate regulation to the subprime market. But he's facing a tough fight because money still rules in DC. Just as the richest of the rich, the hedge fund and private equity cowboys, have lubricated the lobbying troughs and candidates' warchests to avoid paying taxes at the same rate as a waitress or policeman, the mortgage industry is pouring in bucks to stave off even modest regulation of its often predatory practices.
If we reward the mortgage industry's lobbying, they will keep using the same kinds od deceptive practices to make a quick buck, no matter what the costs to home buyers and their communities. They know they can always lobby Washington to get them off the hook if things go badly--as they have. Just remember that while predatory lenders were driving low-income families to financial ruin, 10 of the country's biggest mortgage lenders were spending more than $185 million lobbying DC to let them get away with it. Sure, some of the borrowers used their house an as A.T.M.machine to finance personal consumption (but most used the money to help with soaring college tuitions and medical expenses) --and some argue these borrowers should face the consequences of their no-savings lifestyle. But the real victims of this subprime mortgage crisis are the millions of borrowers who followed the rules, whose only crime was taking out mortgages these lenders told them they could afford. Now they can't refinance or sell their homes because no one will lend to them or they can't sell in a housing market that is falling.
The effects are already metastasizing in the economy --with the worst effects of these loans not felt until 2008 or 2009. And with the housing turmoil most severe in some of the most hotly contested political battleground states--Florida--with one foreclosure filing for every 248 households in September, and Ohio, with one foreclosure for every 319 households, according to a survey by RealtyTrac, Inc, a California property-research company, Republicans could face real trouble because they control the White House and the GOP's presidential candidates have looked clueless and heartless when they deign to address the housing issue. In their first debate focused on the economy, for example, in Michigan --a state which ranked No. 4 in RealtyTrac's foreclosure rate survey-- not a single Republican raised housing concerns. Cutting taxes, they argued, would solve every economic problem.
Though bolder policies are needed, at least the Democratic candidates are seizing on the issue. John Edwards has called for a policy that prohibits many predatory-lending practices and would make it easier for homeowners to save their homes. Hillary Clinton issued a detailed policy paper on subprime lending that would impose restrictions on lenders. Barack Obama argues that we need to address the "root of these problems" and lays out how we could update mortgage rules for the 21st century--enacting the regulatory and disclosure laws the industry has lobbied so hard against in these last years. The implosion of the subprime lending industry, Obama argues, " is more than a temporary blip in our economic progress. It is a cancer that, given today's integrated financial markets threatens to spread with devastating impact to our economy as a whole, unless we act to contain it. " Containment, domestic-style.
Seventy-five years ago today, the American people rejected not just a president -- Herbert Hoover -- but a royalist vision of federal policymaking that had allowed tens of millions of citizens to suffer as the Great Depression swept across the land.
The election of November 8, 1932, is now generally accepted as one of the great realigning moments in U.S. politics, the point at which the country took the great leap forward from a past that favored limited federal and state involvement in economic affairs -- except where it came to securing the interests of the wealthy -- and embraced a more humane and democratic approach to governing.
To be sure, that approach has been under assault in recent decades. Yet, Social Security remains, as does the the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Fair Labor Standards Act and the minimum wage. Those of us with roots in small-town America still enjoy the benefits of Rural Electrification. And Americans of every region, race and religion retain at least a few of the liberties that were defined and protected by Roosevelt-nominated Supreme Court Justices William O. Douglas, Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter. There's still a Securities and Exchange Commission, which sometimes does its job, and a Federal Communications Commission, which could yet be redeemed by the appointment of a new chairman.
The agent of these reforms -- and the fundamental shift in the American experience they embodied -- was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Democrat who displaced Republican Hoover. But it is important to remember that Roosevelt, the most patrician of our nation's many patrician politicians, did not compete in the 1932 election as the radical reformer that he became. The Democratic platform of that year was a cautious document, dictated by fear itself rather than the boldness that would later be associated with Roosevelt.
What made Roosevelt so remarkable, and so radical?
The results that were tabulated 75 years ago this evening influenced FDR to evolve his policies in a direction that was more egalitarian and democratic -- his critics still use the term "socialistic," and they are not entirely wrong. It was that evolution that redefined not just American politics but America.
Roosevelt won a stunning victory in 1932. He secured 57.4 percent of the popular vote, as compared with just 39.7 percent for Hoover. The Democrat carried 42 states, most by wide margins, while the Republican won just 6.
But those numbers do not begin to tell the whole story of what happened on that distant November 8. Roosevelt's popular vote total of 22,821,277 was 52 percent higher than that received by Al Smith, the Democratic nominee in the election of four years earlier. The Roosevelt landslide was sufficient to create a coat-tail effect that dramatically increased a narrow Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and gave the party control of the Senate.
A total of 97 new Democrats were elected to the House, most of them young and left-leaning. Their numbers were augmented by five members of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party, who made no apologies for their radicalism. Thus, 73 percent of the seats in the House (313 out of 435) were held by members who had been elected on pledges to alter the economic equation to favor Main Street over Wall Street. Even some Republicans, especially from New York state and the upper Midwest, espoused a progressive vision that was to the left of what Roosevelt advocated while campaigning in 1932.
Nine Republican senators were defeated that year by the Democrats, who also won three open seats. This shifted control of the chamber from 48-47 Republican to 59-36 Democratic with one Farmer-Laborite. A half dozen "insurgent" Republican senators stood with Roosevelt or to his left on economic issues.
The congressional majorities would free Roosevelt to move steadily to the left, knowing that if he did not make the shift Congress would force his hand on a host of relief measures and related economic initiatives. And Roosevelt was inclined to move. It was not just the size of the Democratic landslide that influenced him. It was the clear evidence that many American voters were looking to the left of new president and his party for responses to the economic crisis.
On November 8, 1932, more than a million Americans -- almost three percent of the electorate -- cast ballots for presidential candidates who proposed far more radical changes than "a new deal." Socialist Norman Thomas won 884,885 votes, for a 230 percent improvement in his party's total. Communist William Z. Foster won 103,307 votes, for a 112 percent increase in his party's total -- and its best finish ever in a presidential race. And southern populist William Hope Harvey, who had helped manage Democratic populist William Jennings Bryan's 1896 presidential campaign, secured another 53,425 votes.
Roosevelt was conscious of the fact that, in a number of states outside the south, the combined vote for the Socialists and Communists edged toward 5 percent of the total. Shortly after the election, the president-elect met with Thomas, a former associate editor of The Nation, and Henry Rosner, a frequent contributor to The magazine who had authored the Socialist Party's detailed 1932 platform and who would go on to be a key aide of New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
The new president did not adopt the whole of the Socialist platform. But, as historian Paul Berman observed, "President Franklin D. Roosevelt lifted ideas from the likes of Norman Thomas and proclaimed liberal democratic goals for everyone around the world..." FDR's borrowing of ideas about Social Security, unemployment compensation, jobs programs and agricultural assistance from the Socialists was sufficient to pull voters who had rejected the Democrats in 1932 into the New Deal Coalition that would sweep the congressional elections of 1934 and reelect the president with 61 percent of the popular vote and 523 of 531 electoral votes in 1936 -- the largest Electoral College win in the history of two-party politics.
As for Norman Thomas, he ran again in 1936, conducting what Time magazine would refer to as "a more civilized and enlightened campaign than any other candidate." But he amassed only 187,910 votes, for 0.4 percent of the total.
Thomas would joke that, "Roosevelt did not carry out the Socialist platform, unless he carried it out on a stretcher." That was a slightly bitter variation on the old Socialist's acknowledgment that FDR had read the results of the 1932 election right.
That process began 75 years ago this evening, when Franklin Roosevelt recognized that, while Americans had chosen him as their president, they signaled their intention that America should turn left.
This weekend marks the San Francisco Green Festival, the largest eco-affair in the United States. Started six years ago as an annual weekend event in the Bay Area, the Green Festival has since grown into an enormously popular multi-tiered nationwide extravaganza. In 2008, the GF will hit Seattle, Chicago and Washington, DC before its yearly November appointment in SF.
Staged by Global Exchange and Co-Op America and co-sponsored by The Nation, among scores of other publications, media outfits, non-profits and NGOs, the GF offers one of the best forums for exploring what's next on the horizon for renewable energy, the climate change fight, green parenting, organic foods, the struggle against environmental racism and much more.
It's also a great place to buy gifts, chow down on free samples of organic chocolate and get buzzed on Yerba Mate and fair-trade coffee! A massive green fair more than anything, the GF draws tens of thousands of attendees who swamp hundreds of exhibitors hawking the latest in hemp fashion, non-toxic toys, eco-tourist offers, green building supplies, socially responsible investment options and vegan cuisine. And despite the emphasis on buying things, the festival always manages to present talks and lectures by major progressive figures on a variety of topical subjects. This weekend's GF features talks by Amy Goodman, Medea Benjamin, and The Nation's inimitable John Nichols.
The Nation will be at booth #510 throughout the Festival. Meet Nation writers and staffers and pick up free copies of the magazine and other swag! And don't miss Nichols' talk on Sunday, November 11, at noon on the main stage. He'll be making the case for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. Click here for a full schedule and to buy tickets. The show takes place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, November 9, 10 and 11 at the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center. And if you can't make it to San Francisco, check out the GF website for info on webcasts and on future Fests in other cities.
Finally, watch this YouTube video for a brief history of the Green Festival.