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The Nation

Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday

I've received some sad news. The writer Ellen Willis, one of my heroes, died this morning of lung cancer, much too young (64). I will miss her lucid thinking about culture and politics, bracing scorn for sentimental obfuscation (whether from the right or the left), radical vision of a better society and gift for the art of writing.

Though Willis wholeheartedly participated in sixties counterculture, she wrote incisively about its foolishness. A policeman's daughter, she described demonstrators' cop-hating as "another pretense that white bohemians and radicals are as oppressed as ghetto blacks," and "fierce bohemian contempt for all those slobs who haven't seen the light."

A founding member of Redstockings, Willis was an articulate champion of seventies radical feminism, but wrote equally well about the pleasure-hating eighties, with its drug wars, censorship and the rise of the "right to life" movement. She was deeply committed to a vision of love between free people, and through that lens, the social control decade took on a fresh desolation. She was eloquent about the extent to which fear of the libido not only energized the evangelical far right but had permeated feminism. Writing about feminist anti-porn crusades, she urged women not to "accept a spurious moral superiority as a substitute for sexual pleasure, and curbs on men's sexual freedom as a substitute for real power." Yet she admitted that the sexual radicals like herself didn't have all the answers, and had "failed to put forth a convincing analysis of sexual violence, exploitation and alienation."

Writing during this period, she created an alter ego for herself -- and anyone else trying to live a passionate life in hostile times -- an alienated character called Ruby Tuesday, periodically adrift from a cohesive community or social movement, asserting deviant desires in a culture that pretends we all want the same things.

But despite Willis's sense of isolation and libertarian commitment to the individual -- both of which pervade her writing in every era -- she never lost sight of the importance of social movements: "The struggle for freedom, pleasure, transcendence is not just an individual matter. The social system that...as far as possible channels our desires, is antagonistic to that struggle; to change this requires collective effort."

Like her character Ruby Tuesday, who ends up seducing reporters who come to interview her, Willis was boldly optimistic about the transformative powers of desire, and the threateningly political implications of happiness. "The power of the ecstatic moment," she writes, "This is what freedom is like, this is what love could be, this is what happens when the boundaries are gone -- is precisely the power to reimagine the world, to reclaim a human identity that's neither victim nor oppressor."

Like many feminists of my generation, I revered Ellen Willis and have been deeply influenced by her writing. I didn't know her well as a person, however. Once at a party, I decided I had to talk to her, and tell her how much I admired her work. She seemed mortified, though not altogether displeased. After that, whenever we'd run into each other, she was pleasant enough, but always shy and awkward. I would often see her circling a party alone, apparently not finding anyone she was inclined to chat with, or any cluster she wanted to join. Still, I'm glad I got to tell her that I was a huge fan. I hope she enjoyed hearing that, at least a little bit.

(I should admit, I'm plagiarizing myself somewhat. I've written about Ellen Willis's work before, in a "What Are They Reading?" on the Nation's website, and in a review of her 1993 book No More Nice Girls, the first piece I ever wrote for the Nation, which ran in the magazine October 4 of that year.)

Hundreds of Communities Vote for Rapid Withdrawal

Political and media insiders were willing to admit, albeit cautiously, that Tuesday's election results -- in which Democrats took control of Congress, with explicitly anti-war candidates posting frequently unexpected wins in districts across the country -- represented a repudiation of the Bush administration's invasion and continued occupation of Iraq.

President Bush comfirmed the assessment when he welcomed the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Unfortunately, while the analysts finally acknowledged the deep and broad opposition to the war, they continued to question whether Americans really want to bring the troops home now. They were not willing to speak the truth that Siobhan Kolar, who helped organize an anti-war referendum campaign in Illinois, did when she declared: "The antiwar majority has spoken!"

The prospect of rapid withdrawal still scares the vast majority of what can loosely be referred to as "the political class" -- not because those who understand the seriousness of the troubles in Iraq think that withdrawal is a particularly bad option, but because they fear the American electorate might object to the abandonment of a mission that they have been told for more than three years is essential.

As they have since before the war began, most pundits and pols are underestimating the awareness and the maturity of the American people with regard to exit strategies. If only they would travel this country and actually talk to voters, they would run into people like Regina Miller, the mother of an Army captain serving his second tour in Iraq, who spoke to a reporter while waiting in line to vote in Baltimore. "I really don't think we're making a difference there, so we need a change. We need to pull out. That's their war," Miller said of the Iraqis. "That's a civil war."

That is not a naive or misinformed sentiment. That's realism, a realism that accepts that Iraq is a mess and that it will probably remain a mess for quite some time. It asks only the most basic question: Why should American troops remain bogged down in the middle of the mess?

Let's be clear: There will come a point at which the United States exits Iraq. That point will be preceded by chaos and followed by chaos. Keeping U.S. troops on the ground there only guarantees one thing: more funerals services for young U.S. soldiers in inner cities and small towns across America.

The great mass of voters are not fearful about exiting Iraq. They fear the funerals, and the wheelchairs, and the emotional trauma, and of the unmet needs at home and the continued war profiteering that go with a "stay-the-course" strategy. And they are ready to get out. National exit polling on Tuesday found a 55-37 landslide majority of Americans in favor of withdrawal.

When voters were given the opportunity to address the question directly, as was the case in more than 15O communities in Wisconsin, Illinois and Massachusetts that voted on "Bring the Troops Home" referendums, there left no doubt that they are ready to end this war. Big cities such as Chicago and Milwaukee joined smaller communities such as Geneva Township, Illinois, and Boscobel, Wisconsin, all voted for withdrawal. All ten referendums that were on the ballot in Wisconsin won -- and those results follow upon last spring's voting in the state, when another 24 communities voted for immediate withdrawal. All 11 referendums that were on the ballot in Illinois won. And the overwhelming majority of the 139 that were on the ballot in Massachusetts won. Rarely was the divide even close.

"I don't think the voters could make themselves any clearer," explained Steve Burns, the program coordinator with the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, which promoted the referendums in that state. "The voters get it -- they know that the best thing for the American people and the Iraqi people is for us to bring our troops home from their country. Now it's time for our government to listen."

Now, indeed.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

We Voted for Peace

End-the-war energy fueled the success of "Bring Our Troops Home" ballot initiatives in communities throughout Wisconsin, Illinois and Massachusetts on Tuesday.

In Wisconsin, voters supported the initiatives by a margin of more than two-to-one. In Illinois, even counties that were won by George Bush in 2004 voted to bring the troops home. And in Massachusetts, 36 legislative districts – representing 139 communities – voted on a resolution to "end the war in Iraq immediately and bring all United States military forces home." All 36 districts voted in the affirmative.

Not only did voters support explicit peace initiatives such as these, but they also came out in droves to vote for candidates who promised to bring our troops home.

"I don't think the voters could make themselves any clearer," said Steve Burns, Program Coordinator for the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice. "The voters get it – they know that the best thing for the American people and the Iraqi people is for us to bring our troops home from their country. Now it's time for our government to listen."

But getting our governent to listen will be no mean feat.

Tom Hayden suggests in a post today, "The Administration will continue the conflict into the 2008 election year…. The peace movement therefore needs to gear up for the 2008 elections, by establishing anti-war coalitions that no candidate can avoid in the primary states. The first four states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – have large peace-and-justice constituencies."

Despite the clear verdict on Tuesday – that democrats, independents and many republicans want this disastrous war to end --and end now – many would-be leaders in both parties will shrink from the challenge of ending the bloodletting.

When these would-be leaders stand down, we must continue to stand up for peace.

Tuesday's Stunners

Few people thought there would be a competitive race in Iowa's 2nd Congressional district, including myself--and I grew up there!

The local Congressman, Jim Leach, was an old-school liberal Republican who'd been in Congress since 1976 and opposed the war in Iraq. If anyone could withstand a Democratic wave, it would be Leach. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) took a poll a week before the election and found Leach comfortably ahead.

But his challenger, Dave Loebsack, an antiwar international relations professor at Cornell College in Cedar Rapids, blanketed Eastern Iowa with signs reading "Had Enough?" When the results came in, Loebsack won by 6,000 votes. Hawkeye Democrats also picked up an additional Congressional seats in the 1st District, both state Houses and the Governor's mansion.

Elsewhere in the Midwest, former Republican pharmaceutical exec Nancy Boyda knocked off GOP Rep. Jim Ryun in another shocker in Kansas. Nobody believed Ryun was in trouble until the DCCC launched an ad against him a week before the election. The surprise attack worked, with Boyda winning by 4 percent.

Other upsets came in states like New Hampshire, where two antiwar Democrats knocked off Republican incumbents, in Kentucky, where liberal newspaper publisher John Yarmurth bested Anne Northup and in Pennsylvania, where rising Republican star Melissa Hart lost by ten thousand votes to 38-year-old healthcare exec Jason Altmire in Pittsburgh.

President Bush got one thing right about the elections. The "prognosticators" aren't always right.

The Big Story

Maryland State Senator-elect Jamie Raskin won 99 percent of the vote today -- this after a brutal primary in which pundits declared his chances of winning were "impossible." His victory is cause for genuine celebration, hope, and expectations of great things to come. Raskin – a professor of Constitutional Law at American University as well as a valued Nation contributor – offered these reflections on a night of political change across the nation as seen through his own experience running for State Senate.


"When I first announced against a 32-year incumbent who was President Pro Tem of the Maryland State Senate and Chair of the Montgomery County delegation in the Senate, all of the pundits and politicos said victory was impossible. Now they're saying it was inevitable. But of course it was neither--it was just possible, but it became increasingly likely with the infusion of incredible progressive energy and imagination from dozens and dozens of really fired-up Democrats disenchanted with lethargic machine politics and our constant right-ward drift. When I announced my candidacy, I had the support of no elected official and the incumbent already had more than $200,00 in the bank. We won based on relentless door-knocking and a grassroots uprising focused on political substance and hunger for change.

The big story in my mind is how the huge blue tide bringing in Democratic victories all over the country has been powered by less-visible grassroots insurgencies and progressive challenges within the Democratic Party animated by horror at the War in Iraq and the catastrophe of Katrina and everything it represents. Maryland's most populous jurisdiction is my county, Montgomery, which is home to more Democratic voters than any other county. Before the great victories of Ben Cardin for U.S. Senate and Martin O'Malley for Governor came tonight, there was a big progressive upsurge in our county politics over the last year against machine Democrats who are heavily influenced by development interests. In the September primary, two fine progressive candidates, Duchy Tractenberg and Marc Elrich, defied all the odds and took two at-large County Council seats away from candidates bankrolled by the developers. The newly elected County Executive in Montgomery, Ike Leggett, is the first African-American ever elected to that office; he challenged the power of the developers and organized the neighborhoods. Similarly, in my race, all of the huge landlords and apartment owners took note of my pro bono work for tenants in Silver Spring and contributed furiously to my opponent. They placed her Orwellian-sized campaign signs, complete with a yearbook-like photo, in front of their buildings while the tenants put my campaign signs in their windows! That juxtaposition captured a lot about the dynamics of my election. My part of the County also propelled Valerie Ervin, a brilliant union organizer and school board member, to the Council--Valerie becomes the first African-American woman ever to serve on the Montgomery Council.

The point is that the stunning upsets scored by so many progressive candidates in Maryland--and some near-misses, like Donna Edwards' astonishing 48% showing in the primary against Congressman Albert Wynn in Prince George's and Montgomery Counties--unleashed the energy, hope and new political activism that we needed to beat the Republican money machine statewide. Had our insurgent candidacies never happened, it would have been much harder for O'Malley and Cardin to pick up the momentum they needed. We brought in hundreds of new activists and thousands of new voters. Many of these people are disenchanted by machine politics and traditional partisan appeals, and they are unhappy with Democratic surrender to the Bush agenda on issues from war to energy policy to bankruptcy reform etc. They are hungry for a radical break from status quo politics. The Democratic leadership is waking up to this fact. A great leader for the future is John Sarbanes, the new Congressman from the 3rd district, who ran on a tough anti-war and progressive change platform.

Negative politics lost almost everywhere. Time and again the more conservative candidates--either Republicans in the general or machine Democrats--resorted to nasty personal attacks to cover up for their lack of a positive program. Voters weren't buying it. In my race, the incumbent's demonstrably absurd negative mailings (which twisted my First Amendment work to falsely depict me as pro-life despite my 100% NARAL Pro-Choice rating and endorsement by the National Organization for Women!) backfired and infuriated progressives who were not about to indulge the smear of a constitutional lawyer for standing up for the Bill of Rights. It was very important that we pointed out to people that negative personal politics and false advertising are the very opposite of progressive politics. We seek to build people up and spread solidarity while negative politics works to tear people down and undermine social trust.

People are finally seeing the ways in which Republican hypocrisy and cruelty support one another. Their whole ideological system--promotion of international and domestic state violence, homophobic moralism and religious zealotry, corruption and piety, prostitution of government to big business--is on the verge of collapse. Politicians and lobbyists on their way to jail, right-wing preachers paying for the kind of sex they denounce, rampant profiteering, a disgraceful and chaotic war--they all add up to an obsolescent governing model.

What will we replace it with? If you use the micro-example of my insurgent State Senate campaign, we must use a central focus on defense of the rights of the people; seriousness about climate change as the framing catastrophe-in-waiting that forces us to invent new models of transportation, growth and housing; comprehensive environmental protection and energy alternatives; strategic emphasis on grassroots political education and mobilization of young people and children to get involved in public life at every level; a refusal to condescend and patronize people or to dumb down our politics in Bush's dumbed-down culture; a sweeping challenge to corporate financial dominance of our politics combined with strong support for small business and a passionate commitment to universal health care; and a determination to make politics fun, multicultural and engaging for people at every turn.

I will continue to be a professor of constitutional law at AU and will teach a course on Legislation in the spring. I hope to bring my students to Annapolis to work on bills.

Thanks to you and the Nation community for your solidarity and encouragement from day one.

Yours, Jamie Raskin

PS: There is very little time to read on the campaign trail but I always kept up with the Nation, which is a fountain of creative political ideas and practical hope. Having drunk from the fountain a lot during my campaign, I hope to put something back in over the next four years!

White Resentment in Michigan

By a large margin -- sixteen percentage points --Michigan voters have rejected some forms of affirmative action. State Proposal 2 forbids the use of race and gender preferences in university admissions as well as in government hiring and contracting. It was a victory for the angry white people behind the cleverly-named Michigan Civil Rights Initiative(MCRI), headed by Jennifer Gratz, who after being rejected from the University of Michigan in 1995, cried reverse discrimination and sued the school. The U.S. Supreme Court took her side, in part, striking down the racial preference programs at Michigan's undergraduate school of Literature, Science and the Arts (my alma mater, by the way), but in a related case, the court allowed the use of race in admissions to the UM Law School. Hence Jennifer Gratz's continued campaign. You may wonder why this doesn't backfire -- why Gratz doesn't come off as a whiny, sore loser who should get over her college rejections just as the rest of us have done. But the answer lies in the hostility that so many white people have to affirmative action. This really is a tough issue to organize around .

There has also been rampant fraud in the MCRI campaign. According to an opinion by federal judge Arthur Tarnow last August, after a suit brought by pro-affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary alleging dirty tricks in the petition drive, that "the evidence overwhelmingly favors a finding that the MCRI defendants engaged in voter fraud." Voters say they were told that the petition would defend affirmative action. That's shameful and the MCRI shouldn't be allowed to get away with it. But the huge margin of Proposal 2's victory shows that a whole lot of white Michiganders don't support affirmative action. I'm just guessing, but maybe quoting Malcolm X isn't the best way to convince them.

Tester Takes Montana; Dems Close In on Majority

Democrat Jon Tester has defeated Montana Republican Conrad Burns, winning the 50th Democratic seat in the Senate.

The Tester victory by a margin of more than 3,000 votes out of a little over 400,000 cast in Montana assures Democrats an even split in the 100-member Senate.

Will they get the 51st seat and a clear majority? Probably.

With Democrat Jim Webb holding a lead of more than 7,000 votes in Virginia over Republican incumbent George Allen, it looks increasingly likely that the seat there will go to the Democrats. Republicans are talking about demanding a recount, but Webb's lead appears to be sufficient to withstand any challenge.

The Tester win is especially impressive, as it comes in a state that not long ago was considered to be reliably red.

Democrats began their climb out of the political wilderness in Montana in 2000, when Democrat Brian Schweitzer mounted a populist challenge to Burns that came close to winning.

Schweitzer ran for and won the governorship in 2004, a year that saw Democrats make major advances in other statewide races and the contest for control of the legislature.

Tester, an organic farmer and state legislator, has been an ally of Schweitzer. But he was not the choice of Washington Democrats to make this year's Senate race. DC Democrats preferred a more centrist contender in the primary, but Tester prevailed by highlighting his antiwar stance, his ethics as opposed to those of Burns -- who was linked to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal -- and his flat-top haircut.

In the general election, Republicans tried to paint Tester as a standard-issue liberal. But it did not sell, in part because the Democrat campaigned as something of a libertarian in civil liberties issues. Accused of plotting to undermine the Patriot Act, Tester responded that he did not want to undermine the measure. Rather, he said, he hoped to repeal it.

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John Nichols' new book, THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure for Royalism is being published this month by The New Press. "With The Genius of Impeachment," writes David Swanson, co-founder of the AfterDowningStreet.org coalition, "John Nichols has produced a masterpiece that should be required reading in every high school and college in the United States." Studs Terkel says: "Never within my nonagenarian memory has the case for impeachment of Bush and his equally crooked confederates been so clearly and fervently offered as John Nichols has done in this book. They are after all our public SERVANTS who have rifled our savings, bled our young, and challenged our sanity. As Tom Paine said 200 years ago to another George, a royal tramp: 'Bugger off!' So should we say today. John Nichols has given us the history, the language and the arguments we will need to do so." The Genius of Impeachment can be found at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com

Blunt language and that flat-top haircut trumped the Republican attacks. And the voters of Montana painted a western state blue.

Mandate for Peace

As the midterm election approached, polls showed Iraq as the number one issue on voters' minds and the number one issue they expect the new Congress to quickly address.

"Despite all the attempts to spin Tuesday's election results as something else," John Nichols wrote in The Online Beat, "the single most important message to take away from the voting is this: The American people cast their ballots against the Bush administration's approach to the war in Iraq."

In response, national peace groups have launched a "Mandate for Peace" campaign to immediately follow the election. Organized by United for Peace and Justice, Iraq Veterans Against War, True Majority, Progressive Democrats of America, Peace Action, Goldstar Families for Peace, Network of Spiritual Progressives, CODEPINK, Iraqi Voices for Peace, Global Exchange, Pax Christi USA and others, the coalition intends to ramp up grassroots pressure on the new Congress to enact a speedy end to the occupation of Iraq.

The Mandate reads in part: "We urge you to represent the will of the peace-loving people of the United States by immediately passing legislation requiring the prompt removal of all US troops from Iraq and discontinuing funding for military purposes in Iraq except the safe withdrawal of all US forces."

Check out the group's new website, sign and circulate the petition, click here to tell your rep you expect him/her to work for peace, and see how else you can help hold Congress responsible to the majority of Americans who are saying the Iraq war needs to end.

Donald Rumsfeld Is Stepping Down

Who says elections don't change anything?

On the day after Democrats took control of the House of Representatives and, by all indications, the Senate, word comes that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is going to leave the position he has held since the Bush administration took office in 2001.

Just a week ago, Bush said he wanted Rumsfeld and the Vice President to serve out the last two years of the second term.

The voters said different.

They elected Democrats who made Rumsfeld the poster boy for many of the Administration's failures in Iraq. And those Republicans who survived in close races often joined Democrats in calling for Rumsfeld's resignation.

The question now is whether Rumsfeld's exit will mean anything. He carried out policies favored by President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Has the President decided simply to get rid of one man with a bad reputation, or is he thinking about changing course now that the American people have made clear their position?

The answer is likely to come in the confirmation hearings for the man Bush is proposing as a replacement for Rumsfeld: former CIA director Robert Gates. The Gates confirmation hearings should be the most significant that the Senate has held in a long time. The fact that Gates is a member of the bipartisan committee that is studying the Iraq War -- a committee headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former US Representative Lee Hamilton -- could make him a transition figure if the committee comes in with a recommendation of a policy shift.

But don't bet the farm on that happening quickly.

Bush defended his Iraq policies at an early-afternoon press conference. The President made conciliatory noises, but he indicated that, while "the elections have changed many things in Washington," he did not sound like he was preparing an exit strategy.

The Democrats, with their more recent experience of popular sentiment, ought to be doing so.