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It is not often that this column pays tribute to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But the man who in 1994 played a pivotal role in putting the Republican Party in control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years -- and in developing the strategies that have kept the GOP in control -- has a sharp political mind. And he used it this week to analyze the unexpectedly strong showing of Democrat Paul Hackett in a special election to fill the southern Ohio U.S. House seat vacated by U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman.
Hackett won 48.3 percent of the vote in a district where no Democrat had ever gotten more than 28 percent against Portman. In the most Republican House district in the state of Ohio, the Democrat, a Marine veteran of the Iraq war, lost by barely 3,000 votes. And he did that after a campaign in which he said the U.S. should not have invaded the Iraq in the first place and condemned the administration's approach to the occupation. Unlike more cautious Democrats, Hackett was unapologetic about calling President Bush an "SOB" whose actions endangered Americans, and about referring to members of the administration as "chickenhawks."
Of course,most Republicans and their media allies were quick to dismiss the significance of Hackett's showing -- despite the fact that it was the best finish for a Democrat in the district since the Watergate election of 1974. The rules of spin these days are such that reality is rarely allowed to intrude on discussions of politics.
But Gingrich decided to ditch the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee's talking points and recognize the significance of Hackett's near win. Speaking to the Washington Post on the day after the Ohio vote, the former Speaker of the House said, "It should serve as a wake-up call to Republicans. Clearly, there's a pretty strong signal for Republicans thinking about 2006 that they need to do some very serious planning and not just assume that everything is going to be automatically okay."
With a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll showing that President Bush's overall approval rating has fallen to 42 percent, with 55 percent disapproving -- and 50 percent of Americans surveyed saying the nation's top Republican is not honest -- the evidence that the GOP has a potential problem extends well beyond the results from one special election in Ohio.
But the Ohio vote telescoped the significance of concern about the Iraq imbroglio as a factor in the governing party's declining fortunes -- a point confirmed by the new poll's finding that only 38 percent of Americans now approve of Bush's handling of the occupation.
Gingrich acknowledges this reality, saying that, ''There is more energy today on the anti-Iraq, anti-gas price, anti-changing Social Security, and I think anti-Washington (side of the debate). I think the combination of those four are all redounding to weaken Republicans and help Democrats... I don't think this is time to panic, but I think it's time to think. If we don't think now, then next September, people will panic when it's too late."
Gingrich's warning is a wise one for Republicans, and you can bet that it will be taken seriously by at least some leaders of a party that has mastered the art of maintaining power. As such, the real question is this: Will Democrats be smart enough to recognize that Gingrich is right when he speaks about the energy being on the anti-Iraq side?
So far, indications are not encouraging. An analysis of the strong showing by Hackett distributed to Democratic House after the election by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee failed to make any mention of the significance of Iraq as an issue.
Vice President Dick Cheney, who predicted on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that Americans would be "greeted as liberators," has in recent weeks been peddling a new line of spin.
If Cheney was not in charge of U.S. foreign policy, he could be dismissed as a ranting lunatic. But, because of his title, and because the former Secretary of Defense is the dominant player in the Bush administration when it comes to military policy, Cheney has to be taken seriously -- as seriously, that is, as his bizarro worldview permits.
Unfortunately, the primary reason to take Cheney seriously is the fact that Americans and Iraqis are dying because of the policies he has promoted. And, of course, because those same policies are emptying the U.S. Treasury into the quagmire that is Iraq.
So it is appropriate to try and hold Cheney accountable.
And it is not difficult to do so.
Here is what Cheney said during a June 20, 2005, interview on CNN's Larry King Live:
Hailing what he described as "major progress" in Iraq, Cheney said, "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."
Here is what the Associated Press reported from Iraq on August 3, 2005, less than two months after Cheney asserted that the insurgency was fading away:
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Fourteen U.S. Marines and a civilianinterpreter were killed Wednesday in western Iraq, theU.S. command said.
The Marines, assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2ndMarine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force(Forward), were killed in action early Wednesday whentheir vehicle was hit by an improvised explosivedevice, the military said. One Marine was also woundedin the attack.
The Associated Press report goes on to note that:
The latest losses come on the heels of the deaths ofseven U.S. Marines in combat two days ago in thevolatile Euphrates Valley of western Iraq. TheAmerican deaths come as the Bush administration istalking about handing more security responsibility tothe Iraqis and drawing down forces next year.
At least 39 American service members have been killedin Iraq since July 24 - all but two in combat. Inaddition, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said that sincethe beginning of April, more than 2,700 Iraqis - abouthalf of them civilians - had been killed ininsurgency-related incidents.
It looks as if the last throes that Cheney was discussing with Larry King have turned out to be death throes for the young American men and women who are serving in Iraq, as well as for the Iraqi people.
Any attempt to address Cheney's rhetorical excesses brings to mind the words of a young veteran from another misguided and unnecessary war.
"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam?" young John Kerry asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
Cheney has come up with a contemporary answer for that question.How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Iraq? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?
For Cheney, that's simple: Just keep telling the young men and women who are marching to their deaths that they will be greeted as liberators and that the enemy is so weak that it is in its "last throes."
In other words, just keep spinning a slurry of fantasy and lies into U.S. policy.
John Nichols' book on Cheney, Dick: The Man Who Is President, was published by The New Press. Former White House counsel John Dean, the author of Worse Than Watergate, says, "This page-turner closes the case: Cheney is our de facto president." Arianna Huffington, the author of Fanatics and Fools, calls Dick, "The first full portrait of The Most Powerful Number Two in History, a scary and appalling picture. Cheney is revealed as the poster child for crony capitalism (think Halliburton's no bid, cost-plus Iraq contracts) and crony democracy (think Scalia and duck-hunting)."
Dick: The Man Who Is President is available from independent bookstores nationwide and at www.amazon.com*****************************************************************
"Two months ago, the special election race in the 2nd Congressional District, which stretches across seven southern Ohio counties, was expected to be a low-key affair, a near-automatic win for whichever republican candidate emerged from the June 14 GOP primary," the local newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, noted on Tuesday. "After all, the previous congressman, Republican Rob Portman, routinely won the district with more than 70 percent of the vote."
In fact, Portman, who was plucked from the southern-Ohio district by President Bush to serve as the US Trade Representative, won all of his seven campaigns for the seat with more than 72 percent of the vote. The district had been so radically gerrymandered by Republican governors and legislators that it was all-but-unimaginable that a Democrat could ever be competitive there.
But, in Tuesday night, Democrat Paul Hackett almost did just that. Hackett's near-win came after a remarkable campaign in which he blunted Republican efforts to exploit national security issues and provided food for thought for Democrats as they prepare for 2006 Congressional races nationwide.
Republican Jean Schmidt, a feverish foe of reproductive rights who used her links to religious right activists to beat more mainstream Republicans and secure the party's nomination for the open seat, was leading Hackett, a smart, telegenic Iraq War veteran who criticized the Bush administration for leading the country into the war and then mishandling it, by an unexpectedly thin margin of just 3,573 votes. Unofficial returns gave Schmidt 59,095 votes (51.7 percent) to 55,091 votes (48.3 percent) for Hackett.
Remarkably, in a district that favored George W. Bush over John Kerry by almost a 2-1 margin in 2004, Hackett won four of seven counties and only narrowly lost the most populous county, Hamilton. Only an overwhelming vote for Schmidt from her home county, Clermont, secured the district for the Republican.
Hackett might well have pulled the ultimate upset had he not been "swiftboated" by Republican operatives and right-wing talk radio hosts in the final days of the campaign. Even nationally-syndicated hosts such as Rush Limbaugh devoted time to attacking Hackett's military record, patriotism and sincerity.
Despite the battering from right-wing media, and despite being overwhelmingly outspent, Hackett achieved the best Democratic showing in the region since the Watergate election of 1974. Indeed, on Wednesday morning, the Enquirer referred to the Democrat's showing as "nothing short of astounding."
This was not a simple Democratic surge. Hackett, a lawyer and former local elected official who entered the race at the last minute, proved to be a masterful candidate. But that does not mean that there are no lessons to be learned from this near upset.For one thing, Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean's "50 state strategy" -- which argues that Democrats should compete hard in contests that had previously been ceded to the Democrats -- makes a lot of sense when the opposition party can find smart, edgy candidates who are willing to break political rules.Hackett was just such a candidate.
The Marine Reserve major who volunteered to serve in Iraq did not hesitate to trumpet his military, but he was also blunt about his feelings regarding the commander-in-chief. Calling the president the greatest threat to the safety and security of Americans, Hackett said of Bush during the campaign: "I've said that I don't like the son-of-a-bitch that lives in the White House but I'd put my life on the line for him."
In a sense, that's exactly what Hackett did, re-enlisting in the Marines in 2004 and then serving in the high-profile fight for the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.In a pre-election interview with USA Today shortly before the election, Hackett rebuked Bush for his swaggering 2003 declaration regarding the Iraqi insurgents that: "There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on."
"That's the most incredibly stupid comment I've ever heard a president of the United States make," Hackett told the interviewer. "He cheered on the enemy."Hackett also referred to Republican supporters of the war who had not served in the military as "chickenhawks."
Serious Democratic candidates have rarely been so blunt regarding the president's shoot-from-the-lip management style. But Hackett's willingness to take Bush on, as well as his own compelling story, played well in the special-election contest.No, not well enough to win.
But certainly well enough to position Hackett for a run against Schmidt in 2006 -- and certainly enough to encourage other Democratic contenders to take the gloves off. It is true that not every challenger will have the military credentials that Hackett brought to the Ohio contest. It should be noted, however, that a number of veterans are expected to run for the House in 2006 as Democrats, including another Marine, David Ashe, who came close to winning an open Virginia seat in 2004.
When the United States sought to be a true world leader, as opposed to a petulant global bully, this country's seat at the United Nations was occupied by great men and women. Consider just some of the amazing figures who have served as U.S. ambassadors to the international body: former Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., two-time presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, former Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton, former civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman Andrew Young, academics and public intellectuals Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Jean Kirkpatrick, Madeine Albright and Richard Holbrooke, former State Department aide and New Mexico Congressman Bill Richardson, former Missouri Senator John Danforth.
These ambassdors came from different parties and from different ideological backgrounds, they had different styles and different goals, but they had one thing in common: They served with the broad support of official Washington and the American people. When they spoke, they spoke for America. And they did so in a tradition of U.S. regard for the mission of the UN, which was perhaps best expressed by an American who served for three decades as a key player in the world council, Ralph Bunche. "The United Nations," said Bunche, "is our one great hope for a peaceful and free world."
To make that hope real, U.S. ambassadors had to be both strong and pragmatic advocates for the best interests of their own country and visionaries who recognized that all United Nations member states merited at least a measure of diplomatic regard. As Adlai Stevenson, who capped a brilliant career in American politics by representing his country at the UN during some of the hottest years of the Cold War, explained, "The whole basis of the United Nations is the right of all nations--great or small--to have weight, to have a vote, to be attended to, to be a part of the twentieth century."
Needless to say, John Bolton has never expressed any sentiment regarding international affairs or the United Nations so well or wisely as Stevenson. Bolton is a hack politician, a career retainer of the Bush family who is famous for nothing so much as his disrespect for the diplomacy and international cooperation in general, and for the United Nations in particular.
So creepy has been Bolton's partisanship -- he was a prime player in moves to shut down the recount of Florida votes following the disputed 2000 presidential election -- and so crude has been his behavior that thoughtful Republicans such as Ohio Senator George Voinovich determined that the nominee would not be an appropriate representative of the United States.But President Bush has forced Bolton on the U.S. and the UN, making a recess appointment that places his controversial nominee in the same position once occupied by Lodge, Stevenson and Moynihan.
Bolton will serve differently than his predecessors. For one thing, he is neither the intellectual nor the emotional equal of those who came before him. For another, he will be seen as a representative only of the Bush White House -- not of the United States or its people.
At a time when the United States should be a full and active participant in the United Nations, it will instead be marginalized force -- an embarrassed land represented by one its most embarrassing sons.
U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat who as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been a leading advocate for bipartisan approaches to foreign policy, spoke well for America -- and for this country's shattered tradition of respect for the UN -- when he said on the day of the recess appointment: "Mr. Bolton is fundamentally unsuited for the job, and his record reveals a truly disturbing intolerance of dissent. Mr. Bolton did not win the support of a majority of members of the Foreign Relations Committee, and the Senate refused to make a final decision on this nomination pending review of documents that the Administration declined to provide in blatant disregard for the Senate's constitutional rights and responsibilities. But despite all of the warning signs and all of the red flags, the President has taken this extraordinary step to send a polarizing figure with tattered credibility to represent us at the United Nations. At a time when we need to be doing our very best to mend frayed relationships, encourage real burden-sharing, and nurture a rock-solid international coalition to fight terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the American people deserve better than John Bolton."
John Nichols's new book is Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books). Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com
Even his supporters acknowledged that former U.S. Rep. Christopher Cox was a controversial nominee to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission. A former corporate lawyer who had collected millions of dollars from business interests, wealthy CEOS and some of the country's most prominent stock-market manipulators during eight campaigns for the House, Cox arrived with precisely the wrong resume for the head of an agency that is supposed to regulate the corporate sector and Wall Street. As such, his nomination represented a presidential poke in the eye to workers seeking protection of their pensions, small investors worried about being defrauded and consumers.
Of course, conservative Republicans in the Senate were enthused about Cox's nomination. After all, the California Republican was a key player on the supply-side economic team, someone who had in the House sponsored legislation designed to make it harder for shareholders to sue corporations that engage in scandalous practices. He has, as well, been one of the Congress's most ardent defenders of "creative bookkeeping" by the nation's top corporations -- supporting schemes such as the one that allowed corporations that pay employees with stock options to avoid reporting those payments as expenses against their bottom lines.
But how could responsible Republican, Democratic and independent members of the Senate ever approve an SEC nominee who, when he was a securities lawyer in the 1980s, worked for First Pension Corp., a company that was accused by the government of bilking investors, that was sued by the SEC for fraudulent activity and that saw its founder plead guilty to charges of felony wrongdoing? How could any member of the Senate who was not completely in the pocket of the securities industry vote for a nominee who the watchdog group Public Citizen described as "a defender of corporate interests whose legislative record indicates he would not protect investors if he were confirmed"?
The answer to that question is: without so much a blink of the eye.
The Cox nomination sailed through the Senate Banking Committee in late July after the nominee promised to be "vigilant."
Then, as the Senate raced to finish business before the August recess, Cox was approved by a voice vote to take charge of what is supposed to one of the nation's premier regulatory agencies.
No one, not one Democrat, not one maverick Republican, not one honest conservative who cared enough about capitalism to stand up for small investors, bothered to ask for the recorded vote that might have at least told the fox he was being watched as he entered the henhouse.
If the United States had a Senate that actually took its advice and consent duties seriously, or if, and of course this is a very big "if," the country actually had an opposition party, a serious debate over the Cox nomination would have provided a golden opportunity to discuss the influence of money on not just politics but policy.
In the 70-year history of the SEC, Cox is the first member of Congress to be nominated to head the regulatory agency.As such, he is the first SEC chair who will find himself in the position of regulating companies that donated substantial amounts of money to his campaigns.
In 2004, Cox easily defeated a Democratic challenger, John L. Graham, who raised a sum total of $40 dollars for his campaign.Cox raised $1,120,427 and spent $1,038,914. The Republican collected $461,968 from business-linked political action committees for the campaign. Donors from the financial-services and insurance industries were the most generous to Cox, writing checks for a hefty $180,025. Lawyers and lobbyists, many of them tied to the financial-services industry, chipped in another $79,094.
That's a lot of money to take from folks who Cox now promises to vigilantly monitor and regulate. But the 2004 reports only give a small indication of the extent to which Cox relied on industries that are regulated by the SEC to finance his campaigns. During the course of his Congressional career, the new SEC chair collected $1,256,891 from the financial services and insurance industries -- with $632,289 coming from political action committees and $624,602 from individual donors. Cox got another $439,350 from lawyers and lobbyists.
The donors got what they paid for. According to Public Citizen, "On major legislation of interest to investors in recent years – the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and retirement investment protection matters – Cox cast only one vote out of 22 – 4.5 percent (of all votes cast) – in support of investors."
That should have caused the Senate pause.
Instead, Cox was approved without debate and without a recorded vote.
In a statement opposing the Cox nomination, Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said, "The United States cannot afford to have an SEC chairman who doesn't put investors first. Given the recent corporate crime wave and the enormous financial losses that so many Americans have sustained because of corporate misdeeds, it is essential that the SEC be headed by someone who will look out for the average investor."
Claybrook was, of course, correct. But the way in which the Cox nomination was so casually approved points to an even more important observation: The United States cannot afford to have a Senate that doesn't put investors first. Given the recent corporate crime wave and the enormous financial losses that so many Americans have sustained because of corporate misdeeds, it is essential that the Senate be made up of members who will look out for the average investor.
At this point, the Senate is suffering from a severe, make that complete, shortage of such members.
The Central American Free Trade Agreement, which was such a high priority for the Bush administration that the president personally lobbied Congressional Republicans on the issue Wednesday, passed the House by two votes.
Those two votes came from members who can best be described as "Bush Democrats."
The final vote on CAFTA was 217-215 in favor of the deal, the closest margin possible -- as a tie vote would have prevented approval.
Of the 217 supporters of the bill, 202 were Republicans and 15 were Democrats.
Of the 215 opponents of the bill, 187 were Democrats, 27 were Republicans and one was an independent, Vermont's Bernie Sanders.
The Republicans who split with the president withstood immense pressure from the White House and corporate lobbyists in order to take a stand with the organized labor, environmental, farm and international human rights groups that opposed the agreement. They were so courageous and so consistent in their determination to block the president's agenda that, during the floor debate, Representative Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat who led opposition to CAFTA, specifically praised Republicans such as Idaho's Butch Otter and North Carolina's Walter Jones for their efforts.
On the other hand, the Democrats who supported Bush's agenda faced little or no pressure from the White House. Nor did they show anything akin to courage or consistency. They simply voted with the White House because, either they agree with the president's misguided approach to global trade or they thought they could trade their votes for big contributions from the corporate interests that see the NAFTA/CAFTA model of free trade as an opportunity to improve business bottom lines at the expense of workers, the environment and communities in the U.S. and Latin America.
Let's give the Bush Democrats the benefit of the doubt and accept that they actually support the corporate model for trade that Bush backs. This puts them at odds with mainstream Democrats on what can only be described as the most fundamental of economic issues -- as trade deals get into the core questions of whether American workers will have jobs, whether communities can maintain their industrial bases, whether government has the power to protect the environment, and whether the U.S. government will be a willing co-conspirator in the exploitation of men, women and children in developing countries.
So, unless they are crooks who trade their votes for campaign checks, the Bush Democrats are supporters of a corporate agenda that Representative Robert Menendez -- a New Jersey Democrat who has a long history of involvement with Latin American affairs -- explained during the CAFTA debate would harm U.S. workers and farmers while plunging Central American countries deeper into poverty and causing more Latin Americans to migrate to the U.S.
At the least, this suggests that the Bush Democrats -- Melissa Bean of Illinois, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, Henry Cuellar of Texas, Norm Dicks of Washington, Ruben Hinojosa of Texas, William Jefferson of Louisiana, Jim Matheson of Utah, Gregory Meeks of New York, Dennis Moore of Kansas, Jim Moran of Virginia, Solomon Ortiz of Texas, Ike Skelton of Missouri, Vic Snyder of Arkansas, John Tanner of Tennessee, and Edolphus Towns of New York -- are on the wrong side of history, and of humanity.
But does this one vote, necessarily, make them Bush Democrats?
Let's look at where they lined up on other economic issues that matter to the Bush White House?
When the so-called "bankruptcy reform" bill came up earlier this year, the White House and Wall Street favored a "yes" vote to make it harder for working Americans who get hit with a medical emergency or some other form of crisis to get back on their feet financially. Twelve of the pro-CAFTA Democrats -- Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Hinojosa, Jefferson, Matheson, Meeks, Moore, Moran, Ortiz, Skelton and Tanner -- voted with the White House.
On the so-called "tort-reform" legislation that passed the House earlier this year, and which will make it dramatically harder for individuals who are wronged by corporations to hold them accountable, nine of pro-CAFTA Democrats voted with the White House and Wall Street: Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Hinojosa, Matheson, Meeks, Moore, Moran and Tanner.
But what about other issues that are top White House priorities, such as the war in Iraq.
Of the pro-CAFTA Democrats, six backed the 2002 resolution authorizing Bush to go to war in Iraq: Dicks, Jefferson, Matheson, Moore, Skelton and Tanner, while another four were either not serving in the House or did not vote: Bean, Cooper, Cuellar and Ortiz.
When the House voted on California Democrat Lynn Woolsey's May, 2005 amendment that sought to begin taking steps to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, only Hinojosa, Jefferson, Meeks, Moran and Towns voted in favor of seeking an exit strategy. (On the question of whether to hand the Bush administration another $82 billion for the war, only Meeks and Towns voted for holding the White House accountable with regards to the war.)
So where does this leave us:
On fundamental economic issues, Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Hinojosa, Matheson, Meeks, Moore, Moran and Tanner are consistent Bush Democrats.
On a broader array of issues, Hinojosa, Meeks and Moran move off the list.
But it is safe to say that, whether the issue is peace or prosperity, Bean, Cooper, Cuellar, Matheson, Moore and Tanner take the side of a White House that has consistently been at odds with both those goals.
Progressives in the labor, environmental, human rights, consumer and peace movements will have to decide where to draw the line -- either by withdrawing active support or by aggressively promoting Democratic primary or third-party general election challenges -- with regards to the Bush Democrats. Some will decide, as key unions already have, to withhold backing of the 15 House Democrats who backed CAFTA.
Others will focus their anger on the nine who, using measures suggested by activist and writer David Sirota, are the most consistent backers of Bush's corporations-first economic agenda.
It is notable that, of the six members who are with Bush when it comes to the economy and the war, Bean, Matheson and Moore come from swing districts where they are likely to be extremely vulnerable in the fall of 2006. Cooper, Cuellar and Tanner come from more decidedly Democratic districts where they might well be more vulnerable to Democratic primary challenges.
Of the rest of the pro-CAFTA 15, Dicks, Hinojosa, Jefferson, Meeks, Moran, Ortiz, Skelton, Snyder and Towns come from districts that trend Democratic -- although Skelton's Missouri district and Snyder's Arkansas district, could be swing turf.
By most measures, however, Dicks, Hinojosa, Jefferson, Meeks, Moran, Ortiz and Towns represent districts where an economic populist challenge in a Democrat primary could be significant.
The safe bet is that, in the next Congress, most of these members will still be present. But if even one or two Bush Democrats fall, either because of their CAFTA vote or because of a broader pattern of backing the White House on economic and foreign affairs issues, the president will have to look deeper into his own Republican caucus for support. He won't be able to rely on the Bush Democrats, as was the case with CAFTA.
Let's be clear: Any member of Congress who votes for the Central American Free Trade Agreement has signaled their disregard for labor, environmental, farm, consumer and human rights groups that have spent the better part of a year actively opposing the Bush administration's attempt to create trade policies that favor only the interests of multinational corporations.
That goes for Republicans, for independents and, especially, for Democrats.
The Democratic party has relied heavily on labor support to win and hold competitive seats in the House, and its Democratic representatives cannot hide behind the excuses of White House pressure or political necessity that Republicans employ.
Yet, as a House vote on CAFTA approaches this week, at least six Democrats have announced their support for the deal and as many as a dozen others could still end up supporting it. With broad opposition from textile-state Republicans to the trade deal, Democratic unity against CAFTA can kill the deal. But if just a handful of Democrats side with the Bush agenda on trade, the deal could win approval by a narrow margin.
One of the Democrats who has endorsed CAFTA is Illinois Representative Melissa Bean, who last year took the seat of Republican veteran Phil Crane.
Bean could come to regret her decision. She won her 2004 race with strong support from unions, which contributed $235,000 to the effort. And she will been courting labor support for her reelection bid in 2006, when she will face a strong GOP challenge in a traditionally Republican district. Bean's fund-raising efforts have been assisted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) -- headed by Illinois Representative Rahm Emanuel, a militant advocate for the North American Free Trade Agreement when he served as an aide to then-President Bill Clinton. The DCCC has designated her as one of its so-called "Frontline" candidates. The "Frontline" initiative seeks to fill the campaign coffers of the ten House incumbents who are likely to face the toughest challenges from Republicans next year.
This week, however, leaders of some of the largest unions in the country have indicated that they will not be backing Frontline candidates who vote for CAFTA, and they are urging the DCCC to drop Frontline efforts for members who support the deal. Bean is identified by name in the letter, along with Representatives Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Dennis Moore, D-Kansas, both of whom have voted for free-trade pacts in the past and are seen as potential CAFTA backers.
The letter, which was sent to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Emanuel and other House Democratic leaders, declares that, "We recognize that the party and House Democrats are not homogeneous, that every member has a right to vote his or her conscience on all issues, including CAFTA. But this letter is to make it clear that we find it both objectionable and unacceptable that Leadership and the DCCC are pushing the Federation and individual affiliates to support vulnerable incumbents -- the so-called 'Frontline Candidates,' and some of these members are poised to desert labor on this core issue."
"This week," the letter continues, "three of those members who benefited from labor's substantial support, Melissa Bean, Jim Matheson and Dennis Moore, are either undecided on how they will vote on CAFTA or are leaning in the direction of supporting it. We expect that House Democratic Leadership will convey very strongly to all wavering Democrats, and particularly to Frontline Candidates, that voting for CAFTA against our strong, clear, and loud objections, would signal to the labor movement that those Frontline Candidates do not want our support."
In case there was any confusion about the letter's message, it closes with a declaration that, "Our work to help elect at-risk members, at your urging, will not extend to those who vote against us on this issue. As such, we hope that you will also convey to them that we believe those who receive our support have an obligation to vote with us on CAFTA. Further, we ask that the DCCC remove from Frontline status any member who votes wrong on CAFTA. Simply put, there must be real and measurable consequences for opposing labor on this issue. The stakes are too high for the workers of America. We cannot and we will not give any Democrat a pass on CAFTA."
The signers of the letter, which was organized by Fire Fighters union president Harold A. Schaitberger, included the presidents of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers, the Building and Construction Trades Department, the Iron Workers, the Machinists, the Boilermakers; the Electrical Workers, the Teamsters, the Painters, the Seafarers, the Service Employees, the Sheet Metal Workers, the Transportation-Communications International Union, UNITE-HERE, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry, the Auto Workers, the Food and Commercial Workers, the Steelworkers and the Laborer's.
What is striking about that list is that it includes unions that have remained loyal to the AFL-CIO and unions allied with the dissident Change to Win coalition. The Change to Win unions have made it clear that they want to hold Democrats to a higher standard of accountability on issues such as CAFTA. And it seems the AFL-CIO is moving in that direction. Delegates to the federation's convention in Chicago this week adopted a resolution submitted by the Fire Fighters, which commits the AFL-CIO to "a non-partisan political and legislative strategy that bases labors' support on union issues and worker issues, not political parties."
If House Democrats had stuck together in opposition to moves by the Bush administration to reauthorize the worst elements of the Patriot Act, the legislation would have been defeated and a major victory would have been won for civil liberties.
Unfortunately, Democrats did not stick together on Thursday, when the House considered sixteen provisions of the act that are set to expire at the end of the year unless they are reauthorized by Congress.
Following a day-long debate on Thursday, the House voted 257 to 171 to extend, and in some case make permanent, the most controversial provisions of the law that was hastily crafted in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "Now we know the truth. The Patriot Act was never intended as an emergency measure," argued Representative Lynn Woolsey, the California Democrat who has long been an outspoken critic of the law that had its start in former Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department. "It appears the sponsors were always interested in a permanant crackdown on civil liberties."
There was far more opposition in the House this year than was seen in 2001, when the vote for the original version of the Patriot Act was 357-66. But Thursday's House action was a far cry from the vote that should have -- and could have -- been taken to place reasonable limits on the unprecedented powers that the so-called "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001" gives government agents to seize educational, financial and medical records.
Of the 257 votes cast Thursday for the Bush's administration's version of the Patriot Act, 214 came from Republicans, while 43 came from Democrats -- including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, and Rahm Emanuel, the Illinois representative who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Of the 171 votes against the administration's version of the Patriot Act, 156 came from Democrats, 14 from Republicans and one from Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders.
Had the 43 Democrats who voted with the White House and the Republican leadership instead sided with House Democrats and Republicans who were worried about the threat to civil liberties posed by the Patriot Act, the opposition total would have risen to 214 while support for the measure would have fallen to 214.
On a tie vote, the legislation would not have advanced.
That would have been more than just a setback for the White House's draconian approach to civil liberties. It would have dramatically improved prospects for a bipartisan move by members of the Senate to clean up the Patriot Act. On Thursday, as the House was debating the issue, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously for legislation that would require greater oversight of the Justice Department's role in implementing the act and that would place new restrictions on surveillance and secret searches.
The Senate is divided on the question, however. The chamber's intelligence committee voted in June for a separate bill that would make all provisions of the Patriot Act permanent and give the FBI additional powers to issue subpoenas without the approval of a judge.
The fight will now play out in the Senate, where Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold -- who cast the sole Senate vote against the original version of the Patriot Act -- is a leading for of blanket reauthorization.
While he is still hopeful about prospects that the Senate can pass a better bill and then negotiate changes in the House legislation, Feingold was disappointed by the failure of the House to address the fundamental civil liberties concerns that have been raised by the Bush administration's approach.
"I joined my Senate Judiciary Committee colleagues yesterday in unanimously passing a consensus, bipartisan bill that significantly improves the most controversial provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act," Feingold explained on Friday. "In the House, unfortunately, the outcome has been disappointing. House leadership refused to allow meaningful amendments to come to a vote on the House floor. While some improvements were incorporated, the end result is still a far cry from what Congress owes the American people – meaningful changes to the Patriot Act that will protect innocent people from government surveillance. The Senate Judiciary Committee took the first step in that direction yesterday morning. It's unfortunate that the House was not willing to join us."
It is doubly unfortunate that the administration won a House endorsement for its approach with the support of 43 Democrats, including several such as Hoyer and Emanuel who hold key leadership positions in a party that is supposed to be at least a little bit more committed to defending civil liberties.
In 1999, when he was trying to appeal to the conservative base that would eventually deliver the Republican presidential nomination to him, Candidate George W. Bush said the Supreme Court justices he most admired were Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. The clear intimation was that, given the opportunity, Bush would nominate someone like Scalia and Thomas-- a conservative judicial activist bent on upsetting established law--to the high court.
More recently, as he has finally been faced with the task of naming a nominee to the Court, President George W. Bush has attempted to sound more moderate and thoughtful, suggesting that "a nominee to that Court must be a person of superb credentials and the highest integrity, a person who will faithfully apply the Constitution and keep our founding promise of equal justice under law." President Bush has said that he prefers nominees who display "respect for the rule of law and for the liberties guaranteed to every citizen" and who "will strictly apply the Constitution and laws, not legislate from the bench."
So which George W. Bush named federal appeals judge John G. Roberts Jr. to fill the opening on the Supreme Court created by the decision of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to retire? Is Roberts the Scalia/Thomas clone that Candidate Bush promised or is he the mainstreamer President Bush suggested he was looking for?
Chalk Roberts up as Candidate Bush's pick.
For more than a decade, Scalia and Thomas have campaigned without success to reverse the Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which removed barriers to a woman's right to choose. This is the hottest of the hot-button issues facing the Court. And on it, all indications are that Roberts will be the clone Scalia and Thomas need to complete their machinations.
When he served as principal deputy solicitor general of the United States from 1989 to 1993--under Solicitor General Ken Starr--Roberts filed a 1990 brief with the Supreme Court that declared: "Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled. [T]he Court's conclusion in Roe that there is a fundamental right to an abortion," argued Roberts, "finds no support in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution."
Never mind that Supreme Court justices selected by presidents of both parties had consistently concluded otherwise. Roberts had a different opinion and he did not hestitate to advance it. As the deputy solicitor general, he argued for a "gag rule" that prevented physicians working with family planning programs that were recipients of federal funding from discussing abortion with their patients. He even went so far as to appear before the Court to argue in support of Operation Rescue during the period when the group's members were aggressively, sometimes violently, blocking access to healthcare clinics that provided abortions.
Roberts was so feverish in his attempts to find a way to overturn Roe that Supreme Court justices openly joked about his over-the-top antics. Once, during an oral argument before the Court, one of the justices asked the deputy solicitor general: "Mr. Roberts, in this case are you asking that Roe v. Wade be overruled?"
Roberts replied, "No, your honor, the issue doesn't even come up."
"Well," the justice responded, "that hasn't prevented the solicitor general from taking that position in prior cases."
The NARAL Pro-Choice America brief on Roberts, which reviews his aggressive advocacy for antichoice positions, is blunt: "If Roberts is confirmed to a lifetime appointment, there is little doubt that he will work to overturn Roe v. Wade."
On this point, NARAL Pro-Choice America is in full agreement with Roberts's old pals at Operation Rescue.
The militant antichoice group was among the first to hail Bush's selection of Roberts to fill the seat being vacated by O'Connor, who was generally a supporter of reproductive rights. "We pray that Roberts will be swiftly confirmed," announced Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.
Now, it is said that a President ought to have a great deal of latitude when it comes to making judicial nominations.
But all indications are that Roberts is not the nominee of President Bush, the man who condemns judges who would "legislate from the bench" and undermine "equal justice for all."
Rather, he is the political pick of Candidate Bush, the man who promised right-wing Republicans that he would give them another Scalia or Thomas. Indeed, Candidate Bush has found a nominee extreme enough to satisfy even Operation Rescue.
The House of Representatives is moving toward a vote on the proposed Central American Free Trade Agreement, and the spin machines of the White House and the corporate special interests - along with their amen corner in the media - are working overtime.
These are the days when the big lies get told - as we learned more than a decade ago when the Clinton White House was busy working with congressional Republicans to win support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and more recently when Congress debated establishing permanent normal trade relations with China.
To counter the Orwellian twists of facts and figures that are sure to come from the White House and its political allies, fair trade campaigners (www.citizenstrade.org and www.wiscotrader.org) have come up with a top 10 list of trade doublespeak - and the facts to counter it:
No. 10: Our trade deficit actually shows how strong the economy is.That's a lot like arguing that the more you go into debt, the richer you really are. Here's what happened with NAFTA: Our trade deficit with those countries is 12 times bigger than before the pact - it shot up from $9 billion in 1993 to $111 billion last year. A high trade deficit weakens our economy.
No. 9: CAFTA slows immigration.This same false promise was made under NAFTA, and we all witnessed the opposite result of increased immigration from Mexico. CAFTA has back-door provisions that may make U.S. immigration laws and visa requirements in violation of the agreement, and unenforceable.
No. 8: CAFTA opens a substantial market for U.S.goods.Central America has some of the poorest countries in the world, and the aggregate economy of the six CAFTA nations is minuscule. "Add up the six CAFTA economies and you get a market the size of New Haven, Conn.," points out trade analyst Alan Tonelson of the U.S. Business and Industry Council. Tonelson concludes that CAFTA is a "classic outsourcing agreement" - an arrangement in which the only significant U.S. export would be manufacturing jobs to poor, low-wage nations.
No. 7: CAFTA helps the working poor of Central America.Since NAFTA, real wages for Mexican workers have fallen. Over 1.5 million displaced Mexican subsistence farmers were turned into unemployed masses. Mexico is becoming poorer. Today, 40 percent of Central America's workers earn less than $2 a day. Their employment rights are routinely abused, and CAFTA will require these countries to merely enforce their own weak and unfair labor laws. CAFTA is about making corporations, not Central American workers, richer.
No. 6: CAFTA helps farmers.The poor of Central America will not be buying cheese from Wisconsin or corn from Iowa. Under CAFTA, barriers to agricultural imports from these countries would be removed immediately, while barriers to U.S. exports wouldn't be lifted for anywhere from 10 to 20 years - thereby crippling U.S. agricultural producers. Many state-level farm organizations publicly oppose CAFTA. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture passed a resolution against CAFTA because farm products aren't adequately protected by the agreement. CAFTA will hurt the American farmer, but funnel money to large agribusiness corporations who do business overseas.
No. 5: CAFTA is essential for national security.This desperate plea by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a last-ditch effort by a failing administration to resuscitate CAFTA using fear and divisiveness. Short of votes in Congress, with a flawed strategy, they are attempting to scare the American people into support. Nobody really thinks al-Qaida has splinter cells in Costa Rica. We won't be fooled into believing Osama bin Laden is hiding out in the Dominican Republic.
No. 4: CAFTA is a relatively small trade agreement.CAFTA is the largest trade agreement before our country since NAFTA, and a critical steppingstone toward creation of a 34-nation Free Trade Area of the Americas. It has become a national referendum on failed trade policies of the past, and the outcome will set a course for our future dealings with China. For local and state government, CAFTA would become the highest law of the land, determining rules on procurement, health care, zoning and immigration.
No. 3: CAFTA helps the American worker.Just the opposite. When companies in other countries are allowed to race to the basement, employment conditions for our American workers deteriorate. We get less pay, fewer benefits and reduced health care coverage. CAFTA is the Wal-Mart of trade deals. CEOs justify actions by the need to stay competitive and keep prices low. Big corporations then get all the breaks, and the profits, while workers' rights and wages are forsaken.
No. 2: Trade deals always pass in Congress; so will CAFTA.Right now, a majority of House members, including a significant number of Republicans, oppose CAFTA. Another sizable bloc of GOP House members is uncommitted. For CAFTA to pass, over two dozen House members will have to breakcommitments to vote against it, and every single uncommitted member will need to vote for it. That's not likely to happen, as polling shows opposition to outsourcing and CAFTA is growing. The more Americans find out about it, the less they like it.
No. 1 doublespeak: CAFTA trade policies create jobs and stimulate economic growth.It's the Big Lie. When we import more, and our trade deficit grows, we lose jobs, and export our wealth to other countries. We lost an estimated 900,000 net jobs to NAFTA. Outsourcing the American economy to other countries is a failing strategy for our future.