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"The light has shown that the Democratic Party is alive and well and united,"Louisiana U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu shouted over the weekend, as she celebratedher victory in the last Senate contest of 2002.
Well? No, but perhaps better diagnosed.
United? Get real.
Louisiana's unique election laws require that, if no contender in acongressional race wins 50 percent in initial voting, the two top vote gettersmust face one another in a runoff election. When Landrieu won just 46 percent ofthe vote on November 5, forcing her into a runoff with Republican Suzanne HaikTerrell, Republican strategists declared that an already battered DemocraticParty would lose another southern Senate seat.
It didn't turn out that way. Landrieu prevailed by a 52-48 margin, and inanother runoff election Democrat Rodney Alexander appears to have narrowly won aUS House seat that had previously been held by a conservative Republican.
Indeed, if November 5 was the worst day of the year for the Democrats, December7may well have been the best.
Of course, nothing has really changed. Republicans will still control theSenate by a margin of 51-49 (Independent Jim Jeffords, I-Vermont, caucuses with48 Democrats). And even if Alexander prevails in an expected recount, the Housewill still be solidly Republican.
But when the results of Louisiana's runoff elections were delivered Saturdaynight, Democrats gained a significant psychological victory. President Bush,Vice President Cheney and just about everyone else who has ever clipped on aWhite House pass showed up in Louisiana to stump for
Terrell. "You had anational parade of Republican all-stars coming into Louisiana for Terrell, ledby Bush himself," recalled veteran Louisiana political commentator Silas LeeIII. But the presidential coattails that supposedly pulled so many Republicansinto Congress in November proved to be slippery in December.
But a couple of wins in Louisiana do not a partisan comebeck make. Democratsstill have a tremendous amount of regrouping to do if they want to be seriousplayers in the presidential and congressional politics of 2004. There are stillthose in the party who push a Republican-lite line on economic issues -- anapproach that, had she adopted it in the runoff, would have guaranteedLandrieu's defeat.
Democrats who are interested in unlocking the secret to their party's future --if there is to be one -- would do well to study the race that led to Saturday's win for Landrieu.
How did Landrieu prevail? She started by firing the Washington-based campaignconsultants who had her bragging during the pre-November 5 campaign about votingwith the Republican president over 70 percent of the time. As oneAfrican-American minister in Louisiana explained, Landrieu's campaign actuallydepressed the Democratic vote becuase sincere Democrats have a hard timefiguring out why they should vote for someone who boasts about backing theRepublican president.
After she fired the consultants, Landrieu made a dramatic shift in her message.Instead of claiming to be 70 percent pro-Bush, she highlighted her differenceswith the president and Republicans in Congress -- especially on bread-and-buttereconomic issues. While Terrell did everything she could to wrap herself in theGOP label, Landrieu ripped the White House for secretly negotiating a trade dealthat would undercut Louisiana sugarcane growers. Sure Terrells is a goodRepublican soldier, Landrieu said, but the Democratic senator and her backersasked: "Do you want a label or a leader? Do you want a rubber stamp or a senator?"
"In the primary, Mary Landrieu ran as a friend of Bush. In the runoff, she hadto distance herself from him," says Lee, who noted that Landrieu's switch to amore skeptical stance regarding Bush administartion policies seems to havehelped her draw more African-American and white working-class voters to thepolls. That effort was aided tremendously when, apparently with a push fromformer President Bill Clinton, state Sen. Cleo Fields, a popularAfrican-American leader who has been at odds with Landrieu since she undercuthis 1995 gubernatorial campaign, endorsed the senator in a show of party unity.
Mary Landrieu was no progressive before December 5, and she is no progressivenow. But by putting some distance between herself and Bush, by reaching out tocore Democratic constituencies, and by focusing in on local economic issues, sheoffered an alternative not just to Terrell but to the Bush administration andRepublican policies.
"Many Democrats who ran close to Bush lost in November -- in Georgia, inMissouri and in other states," says Lee. "Landrieu gained an advantage bydistinguishing herself from the president."
For Democrats, that's a healthy lesson. Running scared and then running tooclose to the Bush administration in November cost opposition party candidatesdearly. Running in December on the argument that it is right to say "no" to Bushwhen he's wrong, especially on economics, paid off for the party -- or at leastfor one of its most embattled senators.
If President Bush had set out to undermine the credibility of the commission charged with probing the intelligence and security flaws that allowed the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to succeed, he would have begun by naming as the chair someone with a track record of secrecy, double-dealing and bartering himself off to the highest bidder.
And so the president, who has resisted the investigation for more than a year, did just that.
With the selection of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to head the 10-member commission, Bush has signaled that he is more interested in covering for the intelligence establishment – and the administration's allies in corrupt oil-producing nations such as Saudi Arabia -- than in getting to the truth.
Even by the relatively low standards that one must apply when dealing with former Nixon administration insiders, Kissinger is a reprehensible figure. As Britain's Guardian newspaper put it: "This man is regarded by many outside the US as a war criminal."
Guardian writer Julian Borger summed up a rather common reaction to the Kissinger selection in a column titled "Henry's Revenge," which opened with the observation that: "Those Europeans who were aware that the old cold warrior was still alive could be forgiven for assuming he was in a cell somewhere awaiting war crimes charges, or living the life of a fugitive, never sleeping in the same bed twice lest human rights investigators track him down."
It is not just a European reaction. In the US Christopher Hitchens' fine book "The Trial of Henry Kissinger" -- which details the former Nixon and Ford adminsitration aide's responsibility for mass killings of civilians, genocide and coups -- remains a best-selling title.
"The Bush administration did not want an objective inquiry into the disastrous intelligence failures," Hitchens said after Kissinger's selection was announced, "and having an inquiry chaired by Henry Kissinger is the next best thing."
Kissinger's role in perpetuating the war in Vietnam, as well as the illegal attacks on Cambodia and Laos during the Nixon years is well documented. So too is his involvement with the murderous coup that overthrew the elected government of Chilean President Salvador Allende and installed the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
Kissinger was, as well, involved in the dirty dealing that encouraged Indonesia's military to invade East Timor and oppress the people of that island nation for a quarter century. And, as chair of the National Bipartisan Commission on Central America (1983-84), Kissinger helped the Reagan administration provide cover for the illegal war in Central America.
More recently, Kissinger has been a paid apologist for the Chinese government and a consistent defender of dictatorships around the world. While Kissinger refuses to release the names of his clients -- and client states, it is widely believed that, in addition to his Chinese paymasters, Kissinger is collecting hefty sums of money from interests in the Persian Gulf. National Security Archive founder Scott Anderson, a former staff member of Senate Watergate Committee, is of the view that Kissinger's sordid past -- and compromised present -- will make it impossible for him to lead a credible investigation.
"He has so many clients whose interests are so completely tied up in the results of this investigation," Armstrong says of Kissinger. "The minute you start talking about clerics in Saudi Arabia, it's in no way in the interests of his clients for the whole truth to be told."
About the best that can be said of the selection of Kissinger is this: At 79, he may be inclined to try and finally do something useful for America and the world – in hopes of earning a measure of redemption for an ill-spent life. But no one who cared to find out what really led up to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington would gamble an investigation so important as this on so remote a prospect.
Back in the days when the United States government was overtly and covertly assisting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the most extreme Muslim fundamentalists in Afghanistan, US Navy Rear Admiral John Poindexter was in the thick of it.
Serving as the Reagan administration's national security adviser, Poindexter helped devise the secret Iran-Contra networks that the White House used to illegally sell arms to the fundamentalist dictators of Iran and then schemed to divert the ill-gotten gain to the Nicaraguan rebels who sought to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.
Poindexter's violations of the public trust were so extreme that in the late 1980s his story came to serve as an internationally recognized example of what happens when government officials begin to operate outside the legal and moral boundaries of civil society.
Poindexter beat several of his felony convictions (a jury convicted him in 1990 on five felony counts of misleading Congress and making false statements, only to have an appeals court overturn the verdict not because Poindexter was innocent but because Congress had given him immunity in return for his testimony). But few people associated with the scandal-plagued Reagan administration were more discredited than Poindexter. And nothing the retired admiral has done in the past 15 years has restored the faith of rational Americans - or international observers - in this troubled man's sullied integrity.
Except, of course, within the Bush Administration.
With the election of George W. Bush, Poindexter returned to Washington's good graces. Now, with a Congressional seal of approval that was tucked into the Homeland Security bill, he is developing the Total Information Awareness program within a new federal operation, the Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (SARPA). The TIA project, which Poindexter devised, is an ambitious plan to use new software and computer-generated data collection that -in the words of the New York Times - seeks to "use the vast networking powers of the computer to 'mine' huge amounts of information about people."
Under the aegis of the Pentagon, the TIA initiative is ostensibly being designed to help federal agencies identify and locate "potential" terrorists. In reality, the TIA initiative could result in shadowy federal agencies having unprecedented access to the private communications of Americans. Indeed, according to the Times, if Poindexter's plans come to fruition, "all the transactions of everyday life - credit card purchases, travel and telephone records, even Internet traffic like e-mail - would be grist for the electronic mill."
Phil Kent, president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, refers to the initiative as "the most sweeping threat to civil liberties since Japanese-American internment."
The federal government has a responsibility to take legitimate steps to protect Americans from terrorists and terrorism. But that responsibility must be balanced with another responsibility to respect the privacy of law-abiding Americans and to preserve the civil liberties that underpin our freedom.
There is nothing legitimate - or necessary - about creating the sort of massive, secret surveillance network that the TIA has the potential to become. If Poindexter's latest scheme is fully realized, terrorist plotters won't be the only ones posing threats to the security of average Americans. The most persistent threat may well come from reckless players within their own government - one of whom, John Poindexter, has a track record of lawlessness.
That's something that responsible players in Congress ought to be concerned with.
The US Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution will be chaired until January by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis. Feingold, whose courageous opposition to the Patriot Act was based on his concerns about threats posed to civil liberties in general and privacy rights in particular, should use the last weeks of his chairmanship to examine, challenge and steps to place a check upon Poindexter's TIA project. Poindexter and others associated with the Bush administration are still seeking additional legislative authority to undermine privacy rights -- in particular, amendment of the Privacy Act of 1974 -- and the debate over these moves can open the way for an examination of the sorry state of civil liberties in the age of the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Department. Feingold and other senators who raise these issues will find they have unexpected allies among conservative Republicans -- an important factor, since Republicans will soon control all the key committees in the House and Senate. Conservative columnist William Safire has referred to Poindexter's current project as "a sweeping theft of privacy rights." Outgoing US Representative Bob Barr, R-Georgia, has been outspoken in his condemnation of the sections of the Homeland Security legislation that authorize the collection of public and private data into the Pentagon's "centralized grand database," saying: "You would think the Pentagon planning a system to peek at personal data would get a little more attention. It's outrageous, it really is outrageous."
If members of Congress had been more aggressive with Poindexter in the 1980s, the rule of law might well have been respected and many lives would have been saved in Central America. Now, with Poindexter threatening civil liberties at home, Congress again has an opportunity - and a duty - to remind this man that the United States has a Constitution and that it guarantees Americans a right to privacy.
When the Clinton-Gore administration attempted to reform the nation's approach to financing health care in 1993 and 1994, the one proposal that administration aides always rejected was a single-payer health care system. Even when more Democratic members of the House endorsed a single-payer plan sponsored by US Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, than any other proposal, the administration rejected attempts to cut costs and guarantee quality service for all with a fully government-funded system.
When Al Gore ran for president in 2000, he maintained his opposition to single-payer proposals. Such was Gore's opposition to investing in fundamental health care reforms that he went so far as to criticize costs associated with a plan, advanced by his Democratic primary challenger, Bill Bradley, to take modest steps toward universal coverage.
Now, however, as Gore edges toward another presidential campaign, he is singing a different tune. Wednesday night in New York, as he began a national book tour that many see as an attempt to raise his profile in advance of the 2004 contest, Gore announced that he had "reluctantly come to the conclusion" that the only way to respond to what he described as an "impending crisis" in health care is a "single-payer national health insurance plan" for all Americans.
Gore didn't explain whether that plan would mirror the Canadian system, various European models, or the proposals currently being advanced by members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, led by McDermott and Representative Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin. Indeed, all Gore aides would say is that his newfound commitment to fundamental health care reform is part of the former vice president's new "speak from the heart and let the chips fall where they may" approach.
Despite his stated reluctance to enthusiastically embrace the single-payer model, Gore's move does position him closer to the mainstream of the Democratic Party primary and caucus voters who will decide the 2004 nomination. As Baldwin has noted, it was her outspoken support for single-payer that distinguished her from two more cautious Democratic opponents in the hard-fought 1998 Democratic primary that ultimately sent her to Congress. A commitment to support the single-payer model, says Baldwin, "is a sign for a lot of voters who are serious about these issues that you are really are committed to work for the health care reforms that are needed."
"From the standpoint of commitments, this race is over," House Whip Nancy Pelosi said Friday, as the California Democrat announced that a majority of her colleagues had committed to support her candidacy to replace House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Missouri.
Gephardt revealed Thursday that he would step down from the minority leader position, after Democrats lost their fourth consecutive attempt to retake control of the House in elections two days earlier. That announcement set in place a fast-paced campaign to replace the veteran leader, with a vote by the caucus set for next Thursday.
Initially, it was expected that Pelosi, who argues that Democrats must be more aggressive in challenging the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans, would face House Democratic Caucus chair Martin Frost, D-Texas. But Frost blew up his candidacy with a Thursday press conference in which he attacked Pelosi and seemed to suggest that he wanted to temper the party's message in a way that raised genuine concern among House Democrats. "It sounded like Martin was saying we wanted to make the Democratic message even fuzzier," said one senior Democrat. "After we just finished a campaign where we suffered terribly because we were so unfocused, everyone agrees that we have to sharpen the message, not weaken it."
Frost faced an uphill battle to begin with: Pelosi had already obtained public commitments of support from 111 of her colleagues -- a majority of the caucus members who would vote in the leadership race. The reaction among House members to Frost's press conference made it clear he was not going to break Pelosi backers loose. Thus, on Friday, Frost announced that, "It is clear to me that Nancy Pelosi has the votes of a majority of the caucus."
Frost took the additional step of endorsing Pelosi. "Nancy Pelosi is a talented and capable party leader," Frost wrote in a letter to his colleagues. "I intend to support her for Democratic leader in next week's election, and I will work with her to do everything I can to return Democrats to control of the House of Representatives."
That message undercut the prospects of a late-starting challenge to Pelosi from Tennessee Representative Harold Ford, Jr. Ford's candidacy is generally seen as an attempt by the 32-year-old congressman to raise his profile in the House, rather than a serious bid for the top leadership position. But that has not stopped him from attempting to turn the contest into an ideological duel.
Ford, one of the more conservative members of the Democratic caucus, has been aggressive in his criticism of Pelosi. The Californian, he suggests, it too liberal and too prone toward "obstructionist opposition." In a press conference Friday, he bragged about his ability to work closely with Republicans.
Ford has done a lot of that. He is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, the most conservative organized faction of House Democrats. By contrast, Pelosi has been associated with the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Where Pelosi joined the majority of House Democrats in opposing a Congressional resolution authorizing President Bush to attack Iraq, Ford was an outspoken supporter of the measure. Where Pelosi has sided with labor, environmental and consumer groups -- as well as the overwhelming majority of House Democrats -- to oppose the corporate free trade agenda, Ford has regularly sided with the Bush administration on trade issues.
Referring to his cooperation with Republicans, Ford said Friday, "I think I'm better at doing that than Nancy."
For her part, Pelosi argued at a press conference later in the afternoon that she was willing to look for common ground with Republicans. But, she added, "Where (Democrats) do not have that common ground, we must stand our ground."
The collapse of Richard Gephardt's leadership of the House Democratic Caucus did not occur on November 5, when the party lost seats in an election where history and economic trends suggested that it should have gained them. That result was simply a confirmation of the crisis that had been evident for more than a year. From the first days of George W. Bush's selected-not-elected presidency, it was clear that Gephardt was unprepared to serve as the leader of Congressional opposition to a Republican president. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he simply stopped trying. That doomed Democratic chances of taking over the House in 2002, as Gephardt failed to define an opposition agenda and took positions out of sync with his own caucus.
That was never more evident than on October 10 when, after Gephardt helped craft the resolution authorizing Bush to launch a unilateral attack on Iraq, the majority of House Democrats voted against the plan. In surprising result, 126 House Democrats opposed it with only 81 joining their leader Gephardt in supporting it.
Among the Democrats who opposed the resolution was House Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who won the caucus' Number 2 leadership position last year. Pelosi, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, argued -- as did Senate Intelligence Committee chair Bob Graham, D-Florida -- that the Bush administration had failed to make a case for its position. "I have seen no evidence or intelligence that suggests that Iraq indeed poses an imminent threat to our nation," she said, in one of the most powerful indictments of the resolution. "If the Administration has that information, they have not shared it with the Congress."
Pelosi's stance placed her in direct opposition not just to the Bush administration but to Gephardt. And it stirred immediate discussion among House Democrats about what it might be like to be a genuine opposition party. An aggressive progressive, Pelosi has long argued that Democrats need to clearly distinguish themselves from Republicans on domestic and international issues. Now, she can point to Tuesday's election results -- in which Democrats who opposed the Bush agenda on taxes and war ran better than those who compromised with the administration -- as confirmation of her view.
With Gephardt stepping down as minority leader, Pelosi is running hard to replace him. She is not starting from scratch. Speculation about Gephardt's departure -- in order to focus on a 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination -- was rampant in the House even before the election, and Pelosi has been quietly organizing support. But she was not alone in that endeavor. Another prominent House Democrat, Caucus chair Martin Frost, D-Texas, has been running just as hard as Pelosi. On Thursday, a third candidate, Harold Ford, Jr., a 33-year-old centrist from Tennessee, entered the contest with a promise of "a clean break from the ways of the past."
With Gephardt's announcement that he is stepping aside, the contest for the top Democratic leadership post in the House went into high gear. Democrats are set to choose a replacement for the minority leader on November 14. Pelosi is generally seen as the frontrunner, while Frost is expected to be her most serious competitor for the spot. Ford, a close ally of former Vice President Al Gore who is attempting to position himself as a youthful alternative is not expected to prevail -- but his run will do nothing to harm his status as one of the party's rising stars.
Pelosi is reported to have collected commitments from 110 House Democrats to support her candidacy. That would be more than enough to secure the position in a House that, depending on final results from Tuesday, will include 204 Democratic representatives and five delegates from US territories and the District of Columbia.
Commitments of this sort are no guarantee of support in the closed caucus vote, however, and Pelosi's backers do not intend to coast through the next several days. They know they will be involved in a serious internal campaign against Frost, one of the ablest strategists in the House.
It would be a mistake to see the Pelosi-Frost fight purely as a left-right struggle. Pelosi is one of the most progressive members of the House, with a voting record that frequently displays 100 percent support for the positions advanced by organized labor, environmental and consumer groups. But Frost, despite his Texas roots, is no southern conservative. He too has earned his share of 100 percent AFL-CIO ratings over the years. Pelosi has support from some conservative Democrats, who see her as an able fund raiser and an effective spokesperson for the caucus. Frost has liberal supporters who respect the leadership role he's played in coordinating congressional campaigns over the years.
That said, there are clear distinctions. Where Pelosi was a leading foe of the Iraq resolution, Frost supported it. Pelosi has in recent years been an outspoken critic of the corporate free-trade agenda, while Frost has a mixed record that includes a vote to permanently normalize trade relations with China. (That vote by Frost so angered local United Auto Workers members that, in 2000, they removed desks that had been donated for use in the congressman's campaign office. He has since been more supportive of labor's position on trade issues.)
For his part, Ford stands well to the right of both Pelosi and Frist. He voted for the Iraq resolution, regularly supports the corporate free-trade agenda and has a long record of cosy relations with the conservative Democratic Leadership Council. In short, he stands to the right of where Gephardt positioned himself.
While Pelosi and Frost both have more liberal records than Ford, Frost is clearly attempting to position himself to the right in the leadership contest. That was obvious as Frost and Pelosi staked out their visions for how House Democrats should present themselves in the next Congress. "I think that (Pelosi's) politics are to the left, and I think that the party, to be successful, must speak to the broad center of the country," said Frost. The day after Tuesday's vote, Frost's spokesman Tom Eisenhauer was even blunter, telling reporters, "The country moved to the right yesterday. And House Democrats won't win the majority by moving further to the left."
Pelosi, for her part, is arguing that Democrats need to distinguish themselves from Republicans. "To win back the House in 2004," she says, "we need a unified party that will draw clear distinctions between our vision of the future and that espoused by the Republicans."
Conservative Republicans will take charge of the US Senate as a result of Tuesday's voting. But the nation's newest senator, at least for the time being, is not singing from the right-wing songbook on questions of war and peace.
The man chosen to temporarily occupy Paul Wellstone's seat in the Senate says that he will echo the late Minnesota senator's opposition to the Bush administration's approach to war with Iraq.
Dean Barkley, the nation's newest senator, was sworn in as Minnesota's interim senator after Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura appointed him to hold the seat that has been vacant since Wellstone died in a plane crash October 25. Barkley will not be a senator for long.
State and federal officials are still debating whether Barkley will be a short-term senator or a very short-term senator. Minnesota law seems to require that Republican Norm Coleman, who on Tuesday narrowly defeated Democrat Walter Mondale be sworn in as soon as he is certified as the winner of the contest in mid-November. However, Senate rules are read by some as suggesting that Barkley should be allowed to serve through early January, when new senators traditionally take their places.
No matter how long his tenure turns out to be, however, Barkley promises to be a feisty independent in the tradition of Ventura, whose 1998 gubernatorial campaign he organized. Barkley was a founder of Minnesota's Reform Party, which evolved into the Independence Party with which he and Ventura are both affiliated.
The new senator describes himself as a social liberal and a fiscal conservative, but that shorthand does not begin to describe the complex player who has made a career trying to upset the two-party system in Minnesota. Barkley first earned a measure of national attention as a prominent backer of Ross Perot's 1992 Reform Party presidential bid, and a Reform Party candidate for the House and the Senate in 1992, 1994 and 1996. (Barkley's 1994 Senate bid secured 5.4 percent of the vote, winning "major party" status for the Reformers under Minnesota election law. That designation assured Ventura a place in the 1998 gubernatorial debates and access to public financing for that year's campaign.)
Barkley's political roots run much deeper, however -- all the way back to the politics of protest in the early 1970s. Raised in Wright County, in the same rural Minnesota region that former Vice President Hubert Humphrey was from, Barkley grew up to be a Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party precinct coordinator. But in the early 1970s, he broke with the state's "Humphrey Democrats" to organize Wright County for George McGovern's antiwar presidential candidacy.
While Barkley moved to the center on many economic issues -- a journey that took him out of the DFL by the early 1990s -- he remains dubious about military adventurism abroad. Speaking on Minnesota Public Radio after he was selected to fill the Senate seat, Barkley said he shared Wellstone's opposition to granting President Bush a blank check to wage war with Iraq.
Barkley also noted that he greatly respected Wellstone's independent streak -- despite the fact that he had challenged the DFL Senator's 1996 reelection bid -- and recalled that they had worked closely on campaign finance and government ethics issues. The new senator said he would keep Wellstone's staff in place.
Does that mean that, despite his Independence Party membership, Barkley will caucus with Senate Democrats? Not necessarily. Despite calls from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, Barkley said, "I don't really care which party controls the US Senate."
The Minnesotan said he would try to work closely with the Senate's other independent member, Vermont's Jim Jeffords, who talked at length with Barkley on Monday. Jeffords joined Wellstone and 21 other senators in voting against the Iraq war resolution last month.
Barkley's mentor in Washington will be former US Senator Lowell Weicker. He says he'll be staying at Weicker's Virginia home throughout his short tenure in the Senate.
Weicker, it should be recalled, served in Washington as a liberal Republican from Connecticut until he lost his seat in a campaign that saw Democrat Joe Lieberman run to his right. Weicker later left the party and was elected governor of Connecticut as an independent, third-party candidate. An old ally of Jeffords, Weicker has been a frequent critic of conservative policies advanced by the Senate Republican leadership and the Bush administration.
Mark Twain was no fan of war, which he described as "a wanton waste of projectiles," and he nurtured a healthy disdain for anyone who suggested that patriotism was best displayed through enthusiastic support for military adventures abroad. The phrase "our country, right or wrong" was, he argued, "an insult to the nation."
But Twain's deepest disgust was reserved for politicians who played on fear and uncertainty to promote the interests of what would come to be called the military-industrial complex. Describing how Americans were frequently goaded into war by their leaders, Twain recalled: "Statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."
Twain, a longtime leader of the old Anti-Imperialist League, uttered those words a century ago. But for opponents of George W. Bush's election year efforts to justify war with Iraq, they ring truer than most of what has been said by Republican or Democratic candidates in Tuesday's congressional contests.
So much truer, in fact, that some antiwar activists have decided to vote for Twain.
Never mind that the author of "The Innocents Abroad," "Tom Sawyer," "Huckleberry Finn" and "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" has been dead since 1910, nor even that "Mark Twain" is merely the pen name for the prolific Samuel Clemens. Voters in western Wisconsin will be casting ballots Tuesday for Mark Twain for Congress.
The Twain campaign was started in the old Mississippi River town of LaCrosse, where activists with the La Crosse Coalition for Peace and Justice were upset with US Representative Ron Kind, a Democrat who voted in October for the House resolution authorizing George W. Bush to wage a unilateral war against Iraq. Kind, a co-chair of the New Democrat Network, the congressional arm of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council, was the only one of five Democrats in Wisconsin's House delegation to vote in favor of the resolution. In fact, a pair of Wisconsin Democrats, Senator Russ Feingold and Representative Tammy Baldwin, were among the most outspoken congressional foes of the resolution. Baldwin was one of the chief organizers of opposition forces before the House vote on the Iraq resolution, which saw a majority of House Democrats oppose the president's position.
But Kind voted with a minority of House Democrats to give the president what Constitutional scholars have described as "unprecedented" war-making powers. Kind has said that, while he shares many of the reservations expressed by his constituents in regard to launching a war against Iraq, he thinks Congressional support for the president's position could cause Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to be more cooperative – thus making it possible to avoid war.
Kind's explanation has not gone down well with all his constituents in a sprawling district where antiwar demonstrations and meetings have been held in a number of communities. But Kind's foes in this fall's contest did not exactly wow peace activists. Republican Bill Arndt is a pro-Bush, pro-war conservative, while Libertarian Jeff Zastrow offers little in the way of a progressive alternative to Kind. "We didn't see any competition for Kind, and we wanted to let him know we are disappointed in him," explained Daniel Poler, a Coalition for Peace and Justice member.
So the peace activists decided to launch a write-in campaign for Mark Twain. "It's a protest against the government and candidates, Kind in particular, for not listening to those of us against a war in Iraq," declared Poler. In the local newspaper, he explained the simple logic of the campaign: "A write-in vote for ‘Mark Twain' will send a message to our representatives that we are very disappointed that our voices were not heard."
In a sense, Twain was a natural choice. The author visited towns on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi, and wrote of them in his classic book, Life on the Mississippi. He even praised LaCrosse's "stately red brick buildings," a fact frequently mentioned in a city where the downtown is still made up of stately red brick buildings. Besides, Poler explained, in a city that prides itself on its river heritage, "(Twain's) name is easy to remember."
Kind is not exactly sweating the challenge. The congressman is confident that he will best the author and all other comers. And for good reason. LaCrosse is a reliably Democratic city, and Kind, a three-term incumbent, is popular in the surrounding rural counties that make up Wisconsin's Third Congressional District. Yet, the region has a long history of peace activism, going back to the days when it was a hotbed of support for former US Senator Robert M. La Follette and the Wisconsin Progressives who opposed World War I.
After the House vote on Iraq, a local activist paid $1,800 for space on a prominently placed billboard, which now reads, "No War with Iraq. Ron Kind Should Resign." And the LaCrosse Peace and Justice Coalition has organized a number of antiwar demonstrations, including one at a downtown park on November 2, where the Twain candidacy was promoted. Write-in campaigns rarely yield big tallies on election day. But the Twain campaign seems to be connecting with some voters; a pre-election letter to the editor from LaCrosse resident John Schaldach criticized Kind's vote on the Iraq resolution and noted that, "A friend e-mailed me today about a grassroots campaign to write in Mark Twain for the 3rd congressional district in protest of Ron Kind's vote on the resolution. In that (Kind) is facing extremely weak opposition, this seems like a safe year to register a protest vote."
Thus, Schaldach concluded, "On Nov. 5, I will vote Mark Twain."
Despite Schaldach's commitment, the Twain campaign remains an uphill effort. That's probably for the best, as the author never showed much interest in winning a place in the US Capitol. It was Twain who observed that: "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress."
In a state that prides itself on letting corporations off easy – especially local firms such as the DuPont chemical conglomerate – candidates for the position of Delaware Attorney General do not typically talk about throwing corporate criminals in jail. But Vivian Houghton is not a typical candidate for the top law enforcement job in Delaware – or, for that matter, most states.
A politically savvy lawyer with a long track record of high-profile involvement in Delaware debates on issues of concern to organized labor, women and minorities, Houghton has shaken up the contest for Attorney General this year by mounting a sophisticated Green Party campaign that pulls no punches. "If a worker commits a felony, she or he is jailed. Yet the state routinely makes companies, whose environmental violations contribute to Delaware's high cancer rate, pay token fines," says Houghton, who is running against Republican incumbent Attorney General M. Jane Brady and former U.S. Attorney Carl Schnee, a Democrat, in the most hotly contested statewide race on Tuesday's Delaware ballot. "As Attorney General," Houghton promises, "I will possess the toughness to cancel a company's corporate charter if the company either commits a gross violation of its charter or repeatedly violates state regulations."
It is rare to hear talk of pulling corporate charters coming from politicians in Delaware, a state that maintains deliberately weak regulations and enforcement practices in order to encourage corporations and banking institutions to incorporate there. (For instance, Enron chartered 685 subsidiaries in Delaware.) It is rarer still to hear talk about corporations contributing to high cancer rates in a state where the DuPont chemical conglomerate retains immense business and political power.
But Houghton is not easily intimidated. After all, she knows her way around Delaware politics. A veteran of dozens of issue-based campaigns for equal rights for women, civil rights and labor causes, she has helped run dozens of Democratic campaigns over the years, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1988 campaign in the state. She quit the Democrats in 2000 and joined the Greens in time for Ralph Nader's presidential campaign of that year. "The Green Party represents what I idealized the Democratic Party to be," says Houghton, citing the Green platform's commitment to economic and social justice. Houghton was also attracted by the party's anti-corporate stance. "Why should corporate criminals be left to wine and dine each other in the Hotel du Pont's Green Room when in the same city someone can be photographed and fingerprinted by the police for just standing on a street corner?" Houghton asks.
Houghton's promise to take on corporate crime in what is often referred to as "the corporate state" has drawn enthusiastic support from Nader, who campaigned with Houghton in Wilmington last month. Comparing Delaware's lax approach to regulating corporations with Nevada's approach to gambling, Nader said, "Delaware is known as the ‘corporate Reno' of America," he said, adding that, "The biggest corporations in the world charter in one of the smallest states." A Green Attorney General in Delaware, Nader said, could become one of the most important crusaders in the nation for corporate accountability.
Whether Delaware will get a Green Attorney General is another question. While Delaware daily newspapers refer to the race as a three-way contest, Houghton is being outspent 10-1 by her foes. Yet, according to Green Party national co-chair Ben Manski, "Vivian Houghton has clearly established herself as a credible and viable alternative to the candidates of the establishment parties in a state where a lot of voters are looking for an alternative."
Houghton is one of 540 Green Party candidates – almost double the number that ran in 2000 – seeking positions up and down the ballots of states across the country in Tuesday's election. Most of this year's Green candidates are focusing on the local races where the party has done best in past elections. (Of the 157 Greens now holding public office, the overwhelming majority have been elected to local positions on city councils, county boards, schools boards and commissions.) But a number of candidates seeking statewide and national positions this year are being taken seriously. On Friday, Rev. Jackson endorsed AnnDrea Benson, the Green Party candidate for the 5th Congressional district in northwest Pennsylvania. Benson, who is running against Republican U.S. Rep. Phil English in a contest that features no Democrat, has also collected endorsements from the United Electrical Workers, the United Steelworkers, the Boilermakers and other union groups.
It is still uncommon for unions to back Green candidates in contests featuring Democrats, but Delaware's Houghton has collected endorsements from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the United Auto Workers union, which represents 7,000 workers in the state. For union voters, Houghton has distinguished herself from the Democratic and Republican contenders with a pledge to aggressively go after companies that receive tax breaks, land grants and other incentives for job creation in the state and then fail to follow through on their commitments. "When a company downsizes or relocates, workers lose their jobs, period, but the companies, on the other hand, often find ways to circumvent their job-creation promises," argues Houghton, who has been telling union members: "Politics today is almost entirely corporate driven. Let's change this. Let's work in coalition to put more justice into the criminal justice system."
This is how one homestate newspaper editorial described the U.S. Senate candidate: "...he suffers from multiple sclerosis, which makes it difficult for him to walk long distances. Nonetheless, he maintains a cheerful, laid-back demeanor -- the prototypical 'happy warrior.'" The same editorial discussed how the candidate represented "the kind of progressive politics that appeal to a broad spectrum" of voters, noting that, "He has consistently championed green issues such as salmon (protection), renewable energy and a ban on offshore oil drilling. He's pro-choice. He supports assisted suicide. He opposed the Iraq resolution and backs the Patients' Bill of Rights. He is a staunch defender of gay and lesbian rights. He has the blessing of local labor."
The newspaper is not located in Minnesota and the "happy warrior" candidate with a touch of MS and a penchant for progressive politics is not the late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone.
Rather, the editorial in question is an endorsement of Oregon U.S. Senate candidate Bill Bradbury, which appeared in Portland's popular Willamette Week newspaper two days before Wellstone died in a Minnesota plane crash. As in Wellstone's first Senate race, a 1990 challenge to Minnesota Republican Senator Rudy Boschwitz, Bradbury is not being given much chance to upset Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith. Yet, just as Wellstone did in 1990, Bradbury is using a combination of edgy progressive politics, grassroots organizing and good humor to get his challenge on the radar.
Bradbury, a friend of Wellstone's, is getting a boost from anti-war activists in Oregon and across the country.
Last-minute contributions from thousands of opponents of the Bush administration's approach to Iraq have given Bradbury, Oregon's elected Secretary of State, extra money for a final television advertising push. The Democratic challenger has used the money well, closing out his campaign with a much-discussed television commercial that features the candidate picking up an huge white megaphone and asking: "Is Gordon Smith listening to Oregon?"
That ad highlights stark policy differences between the two candidates on hot-button issues such as abortion rights. But the surprise element is Bradbury's criticism of Smith for supporting President Bush's demand for blank-check authority to launch a unilateral attack on Iraq. Democratic strategists in Washington -- as well as Democrat leaders in the House and Senate -- have told Democratic candidates to steer clear of the war issue in order to avoid being accused of disloyalty to the president. But Bradbury is having none of it. In his advertisement, in debates and at campaign stops across Oregon, he has argued that Smith's vote in favor of the Congressional resolution on Iraq was out of synch with the sentiments of mainstream Oregonians.
Noting that Oregon's other senator, Democrat Ron Wyden, as well as four of the state's five representatives in the U.S. House, Democrats Earl Bluemenauer, David Wu, Pete DeFazio and Darlene Hooley, voted against Iraq resolution, Bradbury is talking up the state's tradition of questioning U.S. military adventurism abroad. Recalling two of the state's most highly regarded former senators, Democrat Wayne Morse and Republican Mark Hatfield -- both of whom were passionate critics of the Vietnam War -- Bradbury says, "Our greatest leaders, like Senators Wayne Morse and Mark Hatfield, have recognized the importance of asking hard questions. I am dismayed that, in the rush toward war against Iraq, our President and his advisers have failed to address vital questions about this enterprise."
Bradbury's decision to make Smith's vote on the Iraq issue is rare this year. While a number of Green Party candidates have raised the issue in their uphill House and Senate campaigns, only a few Democrats and renegade Republicans have done so. What evidence there is from the campaign trail suggests that the war question plays differently than Bush administration aides and Washington pundits anticipated, however. Wellstone clearly advanced in the polls after taking a very public stance in opposition to the resolution -- indeed, on the day the senator died, a full-page advertisement appeared in Minnesota newspapers highlighting his anti-war stance as a positive with the state's voters. (Notably, when Walter Mondale accepted the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party nomination for Wellstone's seat, the former vice president devoted much of his speech to the fact that he shares Wellstone's position on Iraq.) In Iowa, Republican Jim Leach has been using his vote against the resolution to make the case that he puts Iowa values ahead of his party affiliation.
Will Bradbury's anti-war message play to his advantage in the Oregon race? The last poll put him down 19 points, so Bradbury has a lot of ground to make up before November 5. But he is getting plenty of positive publicity, newspaper endorsements and public support -- from former President Bill Clinton, among others -- in the final days. He also continues to get contributions via the MoveOn.org website, which has been encouraging foes of the Bush administration's approach to Iraq to contribute to members of the Senate and House who voted against the congressional resolution, and to candidates such as Bradbury who have indicated that they would have opposed the resolution. Of more than $250,000 in contributions to the Bradbury campaign in the week before October 30, $150,000 were online donations linked to the MoveOn.org PAC's "Regime Change Begins At Home" campaign.