Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
George Hunsinger gives the lie to the Right's caricature of progressives as anti-religious zealots. As a minister, the McCord professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, and coordinator of Church Folks for a Better America (CBFA), Hunsinger is working hard to reframe the "moral values" debate by raising tough questions about how torture, pre-emption, unjust war, and poverty can be tolerated by people of moral and religious conviction.
Hunsinger has tapped into a rich tradition of religious progressive activism--from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Father Robert Drinan to Rev. William Sloane Coffin. He shared his thoughts on Iraq, torture, and the challenges facing progressive religious leaders in a recent email interview.
Torture is not a divisive issue for religious people. No religious person, and no person of conscience, can possibly justify it morally. An example of this is an emerging new network of religious progressives which recently published an "Open Letter to Alberto Gonzales."
My fledgling organization, Church Folks for a Better America, took the lead. In a short time we garnered over 225 signatures from a wide variety of religious leaders: Not only Catholics, Protestants and Jews, but also Muslims and Sikhs. We also made inroads among leading evangelicals.
The Open Letter got some good coverage. We were often mentioned alongside the ex-military lawyers who came out against Gonzales in press accounts. In the final Gonzales debate, our letter was quoted on the Senate floor.
Church Folks for a Better America came into existence almost by accident. On September 12, 2001, I found myself spending more time on the Internet than I care to remember trying to get a handle on what was really happening. I could see the ominous implications for war as well as for a crackdown on liberty at home. I wrote an Urgent Appeal opposing the invasion of Iraq on just-war grounds, signed by prominent academic theologians like Sarah Coakley, Stanley Hauerwas and Nicholas Wolterstorff as well as activists like JimWallis and William Sloane Coffin, Jr., and published in Sojourners. I started flooding the inboxes of my friends each day with what I found by scouring the net.
Until the Abu Ghraib torture scandal I was pretty much just a guy alone in his office with a computer. By that time I had an enormous backlog of files. I wrote a new statement that I hoped we could run in the New York Times. I wanted to get it out there before the "transfer" of power in Iraq on June 30, 2004. When I was unable to raise the handsome sum the Times requires, a colleague suggested setting up a website a la Howard Dean. One thing led to another, and by August CFBA came online. And, with a few large donations and many smaller ones, An Appeal to Recover America's Moral Character"--the Dove Ad, as we called it--finally ran in the Times as a quarter-page ad on the Sunday Op-Ed page just prior to the presidential election. We also had enough funds to publish the letter in papers in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
I try to keep the website up-to-date, though as a professor I also have a day job. The site keeps abreast of Iraq news, in-depth analysis, good sermons, antiwar poetry and little-known websites.
It used to be said that the right had the wallet but the left had the pen. But then the Right discovered that if you had the wallet you could buy the pen. The rightwing take-over of religious discourse in America is part of a larger trend that has developed over the last 25 to 30 years. The right has learned to be extremely effective in shaping the political agenda and exploiting religious sensibilities.
Meanwhile, the liberal left has not always been hospitable to religious people. The renewal of a progressive movement in our country may well hinge on whether that can change. The Solidarity movement in Poland, where dissident intellectuals joined hands with the Catholic Church, is suggestive of what we need here. Jeffrey Stout's new book Democracy and Tradition is also seminal for the future of religion and politics in America.
Church Folks for a Better America is dedicated to the idea that the word "Christian" does not necessarily go with the word "Right." Our motto, taken from Martin Luther King, is addressed first to the churches: "A time comes when silence is betrayal." We are a rallying point for many Christians who are appalled when the churches remain silent. If the churches cannot speak out against something like torture, what good is it to have tongues?
The confirmation of Alberto Gonzales was, in effect, a national referendum on torture. No one in high places has been held accountable, the Republican-dominated Senate has acquiesced, and not enough people seem to care. Enormities like torture are increasingly papered over with democratic rhetoric and pious falsehoods. Anti-democratic forces in America tighten their grip, while we suffer from a will to ignorance. The elements of atrocity, manipulation and indifference add up to a spiritual crisis.
Let me add, however, that to some extent I was heartened by the quality of opposition to Gonzales. Senators Kennedy, Byrd, Durbin, and Reed, for example, all made distinguished speeches. They remind me of the hopes we once had, and might still have, for our beloved country.
Karl Barth (1886-1968), regarded by many as the 20th century's greatest theologian [and whom Hunsinger has studied], is, in one sense, something like Noam Chomsky. He does not fit neatly into familiar categories. Theologically traditional, he stood on the political left. Generous orthodoxy, as he represented it, inspires my intellectual and religious life.
Barth was the theological leader of the confessing church, the grouping of Protestant churches that resisted Hitler. He was a life-long democratic socialist. On the war question, he went back and forth between just-war pacifism and chastened non-pacifism. These are the parameters of my political views.
As a divinity student at Harvard years ago, I pounded the pavement for Father [Robert] Drinan during his campaign for the House of Representatives. It was a particular pleasure for me when, just recently, he volunteered his signature for The Dove Ad. In 1978-79, with the Riverside Church Disarmament Program, I served as an assistant to [Rev.] William Sloane Coffin, Jr. The loose-leaf anthology and course syllabus I developed on nuclear disarmament, which we called the Red Notebook, was widely distributed at the time. You might say that Church Folks for a Better America online is a successor to the Red Notebook.
Church Folks for a Better America owes a debt to great figures who have gone before us like Karl Barth, Martin Luther King, and Bill Coffin. You could look at it as my modest attempt to pay them tribute.
As for what's next, a larger anti-torture campaign is now in the works with the following goals: 1) Congressional action to stop exempting intelligence services from the torture ban imposed on military services; 2) Congressional action to outlaw the horrifying practice of extraordinary rendition/torture by proxy; 3) A clear statement from Bush that US policy does not condone torture in any form or under any circumstances; 4) The appointment of a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of the issue.
Our work will also continue against the Iraq war. Destroying entire cities, as happened with Fallujah, is a form of terrorism, just as torture is a form of terrorism. Fighting terrorism by terrorism is at once immoral and futile. It has been clear since Abu Ghraib that the war cannot be won. The 14 new military bases planned for Iraq must be exposed and opposed along with the shameless profiteering still taking place. We join with all who call for an early and orderly exit, and for reparations for Iraq's long-suffering people.
As our list of supporters grows, we will combine Internet activism with direct mail and political action. Last fall the Dove Ad campaign saw seminary students raising money on 12 campuses across the country. Model sermons and prayers appear on our website along with alternative news and analysis. Congregations need a deeper understanding of the just-war tradition. Ordinary believers need to see the progressive implications of ordinary faith. They need powerful alternatives to the Religious Right.
We will work in concentric circles, beginning with the community of faith. Our efforts will be modest. Remember that we have only been around for six months. Though we will of course join in coalitions with anyone who shares our concerns, our particular calling is reaching out to people of faith, including elected officials. Republican Senators who profess to be believers, for example, have no business voting for torture. Through creative new faith-based initiatives, perhaps they too can be reached.
Al Franken's decision not to run for the Senate is a loss for the people of Minnesota and the country, but at least he'll have more time for his very funny radio show and books. I was just thinking about Al's first book today after reading a transcript of Rush Limbaugh's Valentine's Day show.
Recently, I wrote in this space about data showing that single women were more likely to be Democratic voters than married women, and I joked that this was another reason not to get married. Now, I do know that it's the nature of our political culture today that if a progressive, even a happily married one (16 years), makes a joke like that some right-wing blowhard is going to distort it for the sake of scoring cheap partisan points. So it wasn't a surprise that Rush Limbaugh, the grandaddy distorter of them all, stepped up to the plate to take a whack. But what did surprise me is that he took the opportunity not only to attack me but also my husband. Here's what he said:
"Now, The Nation is one of our favorite publications here, the far left fringe publication of the liberal journal of opinion that is edited by well known communist named Katrina vanden Heuvel whose husband is a well known communist at Columbia. Well, I use the term advisedly. Stephen Cohen's his name."
Now, I know that Limbaugh doesn't have a lot of experience with successful relationships, but attacking someone's spouse is generally considered to be pretty low down and dirty. In fact, some would call his reckless allegations libelous--my lawyer, for example. I also know that Limbaugh suffers from a rather severe case of McCarthy-era nostalgia, but equating liberalism with communism is tired and boorish even for someone who is a big, fat idiot. I use the term advisedly.
By the way, if Rush had done any research, he would have discovered that my husband now teaches, after many years at Princeton, at NYU, not Columbia. (Kids, this is an object lesson: read books, don't take drugs.)
As the Gannongate scandal grows more disturbing by the day, it is worth remembering that this is but the latest round in the Bush White House's assault on the freedom of the press.
It started with loyalty oaths at Bush campaign events, which turned town hall meetings into infomercials. This proved so successful they've exported the strategy. When Condi met with a group of French intellectuals, their questions were pre-screened for anti-Bush bias. (It was presumably a rather short Q&A session.)
Then we discovered the Bush Administration was using taxpayer dollars to buy the fourth estate and turn it into a dude ranch. Armstrong Williams was paid a quarter million to pimp for No Child Left Behind. Maggie Gallagher and Mike McManus, who should talk to Armstrong's agent, were paid considerably less to hold forth on the gay marriage amendment.
And now we've learned that a Texas Republican set up a fake news website and hired The Journalist That Dare Not Speak His Real Name (James Dale Guckert, aka James Gannon) to infiltrate the White House Press Corp and lob friendly questions. He infamously asked President Bush how he could work with Democrats who had "divorced themselves from reality."
It was at this point that pajama-clad bloggers, armed only with their Google search engines, uncovered that Gannon not only had a secret identity but also had gained access to classified documents that named Valerie Plame as a CIA agent. (Some connections to gay prostitution websites which Guckert-Gannon was involved in were also turned up.)
Despite the ease with which the blogosphere was able to uncover Guckert/Gannon's true identity and even though Guckert/Gannon had been denied credentials to enter the House and Senate press galleries, Bush spokesperson Scott McClellan claims post-9/11 security measures failed to detect a faux-journalist operating inside the White House under a pseudonym.
If you believe that, I have some Iraqi weapons of mass destruction I'd like to sell you.
The blogopshere is jam-packed with strategic advice for new DNC Chair Howard Dean. One of the most thoughtful pieces was written by Zack Exley--former director for MoveOn.org and former Dean and Kerry "net" mobilizer.
His Letter to the Next DNC Chair describes a new kind of politics emerging and lays out a blueprint for how the party can build a vast, permanent field organization with the "New Grassroots" by leveraging email, the web and a little technology. (Click here to read more about Exley's open letter.)
The latest strategic salvo comes from Zephyr Teachout--director of internet organizing for Dean's presidential campaign. Posted at personaldemocracy forum.com, it's a provocative piece calling on the party to pursue "an Internet-generated aggressive effort to re-establish local structures as vibrant, multi-purpose, cross-class continuous communities."
With references to Harvard sociologist Theda Skocpol's research and Robert Putnam's seminal work on the decline of participation in civic life, Teachout observes that while the "net is disrupting some old channels for political power and offering new kinds of connections as well...without an aggressive effort, I worry that most of this energy will go into fundraising, list-building and maybe some online community building."
Sure, these aren't bad things, Teachout says, "but in the face of the Great American Loneliness and the Great American Powerlessness, I hope that the disruptive power of the internet might serve to create a new form of voluntary association: offline communities based on online connections but rooted in public places."
She also tackles the many reasons why local party poobahs might resist. But, as Teachout argues, "the best thing the DNC can do is be an aggressive hydraulic force outwards, with the net as its power--and all Democrats will be rewarded with a vastly stronger networked community, with deep loyalty and deep engagement of the party membership."
Teachout to Dean. Food for thought.
Zen on His Mind
"In his first post-election news conference...Dean said Democrats should not be afraid to stand up for what they believe, but he cast the party's core beliefs in mainstream language, avoiding some of the bombast of his presidential campaign. Asked whether there was a new, more subdued Howard Dean on view, he said, 'I'm not a Zen person. It's hard to answer stylistic questions. I am who I am...It's not intentional."(Washington Post, February 13, 2005)
"In order to make good on the new empowerment, we have to genuinely give power to the states and grassroots. That's what we did in our campaign. I believe in order to have power, you have to give up power. I know that sounds Zen-like, but it is true."(From an interview in Start Making Sense: Turning the lessons of Election 2004 into Winning Progressive Politics, by Alternet--available in March from Chelsea Green Publishing.)
In Bush's State of the Union address, he mentioned personal accounts seven times but private accounts zero times, which is interesting because only a few months ago he was using both terms interchangeably. But fear not, this was no mistake. The Republicans tested the phrase private accounts and found public support was much lower than when the same, exact, identical concept was called personal accounts. (Personally, I like caring accounts, but they didn't ask me.)
So the White House and its paid spin doctors, many of whom play journalists on TV, have taken to the airwaves to push the phrase personal accounts and chastise anyone in the media who employs the banished words to characterize ther Administration's Social Security agenda. Proof, if more was needed, that language is power and debates are won or lost based on definitions.
But here is the really funny thing about the personal/private accounts debate. Not only are they not personal accounts, they're not private accounts either. They are in fact US government loans. (Bear with me now, because this will only hurt for a moment.) You see, your payroll taxes will still be used to cover the benefits of current retirees, but under Bush's scheme the government will place a certain "diverted" amount into an account in your name. It sounds like a personal retirement account, but it's not. It's a loan. Because if your account does really well (above 3 percent), when you retire the government will deduct the money it lent you (plus 3 percent interest) from your monthly Social Security check leaving you with almost the same amount you would have received under the current system. If your account does really poorly (below 3 percent), you are out of luck. According to Congressional Budget Office, the expected average return will be 3.3 percent, so the net gain will be zero.
But wait, it gets better. These personal accounts aren't exactly US government loans either, because our government under the fiscal stewardship of George W. Bush no longer is running a surplus and therefore does not have the $4 trillion or so needed to cover the transition costs, and Bush refuses to raise taxes on his base (BUSH'S BASE, n. the wealthy).
So our government will have to borrow that cash. And if the last three years are any guide, our largest single loan officer will likely be the Central Bank of China. And who runs China's Central Bank, China, and the Chinese people with an iron fist? Why, it's our old friends, the democracy-loving, freedom-marching Chinese Communist Party. So Bush's personal retirement accounts=private retirement accounts=US government loans=US government borrowing=Chinese government lending=Chinese Communist Party loans.
Or as we like to say in Republican Dictionary land:
PERSONAL RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS, n. Chinese Communist Party loans.
We've had a grassroots groundswell of submissions from our readers after soliciting ideas for the Republican Dictionary project, which first debuted in this space last November.
Bush's "ownership society" was a big hit, "God" made a return, and Justin Rezzonico delivered the best definition of "Fox News" yet. I've included a sampling of the latest batch below. Please keep them coming in. (Click here to submit your ideas.) We are going to be collecting our favorites and publishing them as a book in the next few months.
ACCOUNTABILITY, n. Buck? What buck? (Martin Richard, Belgrade, MT)
BIPARTISANSHIP, adj. When Democrats compromise. (Justin Rezzonico, Keene, NH)
CHECKS & BALANCES, pl. n. An antiquated concept of the Founding Fathers that impedes autocratic efficiency; see also REFORM. (Robert B. Fuld, Unionville, CT)
FOX NEWS, n. Faux news. (Justin Rezzonico, Keena, NH)
GOD, n. Senior presidential advisor. (Martin Richard, Belgrade, MT)
NONPARTISAN JUDICIAL NOMINEE, n. An active member of the Federalist Society. (Mark Hatch-Miller, Brooklyn, NY)
OWNERSHIP SOCIETY, n. 1) A society where you're on your own. (John Read, Ownings Mills, MD); 2) A society where one-half of society owns the other half. (Anne Galvan Klousia, Corvallis, OR); 3) The euphemism used by robber barons and their political lackeys to promote or justify the extreme concentration of wealth into the hands of a powerful few. Synonyms: PLUTOCRACY, CORPORATE FEUDALISM. (Ken Stump, Seattle, WA)
SOCIAL SECURITY, n. Broker security. (Bruce Clendenin, Dallas, TX)
SPREADING PEACE, v. Preemptive war. (Bruce Hawkins, Silver Springs, MD)
STAY THE COURSE, v. To relentlessly pursue a disastrous policy regardless of how far conditions deteriorate. Antonym: "To cut and run." (Aja Starke, New York, NY)
TORTURER, n. 1) White House Counsel. 2) Attorney General. (Martin Richard, Belgrade, MT)
The federal budget is not just an accounting tool--it's a statement about our nation's values and priorities. This week, Bush released a budget that Representative Jan Schakowsky calls a "weapon of mass destruction."
It would drastically underfund domestic initiatives, from education to children's healthcare to homeless shelters to support for small businesses. The vast majority of Americans will be asked to sacrifice, with one exception: the millionaires who can afford to give something up. Their tax cuts--the same tax cuts that brought us unprecedented deficits--would be protected and likely even extended under Bush's proposal.
Bush's reckless policies are mortgaging our country's future. When he took office, the budget had a projected 10-year surplus of $5.6 trillion. We now have a more than $3 trillion deficit. That $9 trillion swing is the largest fiscal reversal in US history.
These are not the right priorities for our nation. It is not only fiscally irresponsible, it is morally wrong to cap spending for the most vulnerable and the weakest among us--children, seniors, veterans, the poor and the working class--while pursuing tax cuts for the wealthiest without limits or restraint.
As a new project of the invaluable Center for Community Change points out, Bush once promised that as a country, "When we see that wounded traveler on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side." But his budgets have never matched that rhetoric, as a new TV ad produced by the Center makes clear.
This week, the Center is launching an ad campaign to engage voters in the "red" states of Missouri and Tennessee; the spot will also run in Washington, DC so the nation's decision makers will see it. The ad, titled "Jericho," focuses on the biblical language that Bush has used repeatedly to depict himself as a compassionate conservative and questions whether Bush's budget reflects the moral values of a compassionate man.
It's time to hold Bush accountable for those "wounded travelers." As Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center writes, "We cannot allow this nation to cross to the other side." (Click here for more info about the CCC and click here to help support its ad campaign.)
A new report recently highlighted in Ruy Teixeira's valuable Public Opinion Watch shows that one of the bright spots for the Democrats in the 2004 election was their performance among single women. The study, done by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner for Womens' Voices/Women Vote, showed that the "marriage gap is a defining dynamic in today's politics, eclipsing the gender gap, with marital status a significant predictor of the vote, independent of the effects of age, race, income, education or gender."
As Teixeira writes, the new research shows that unmarried women, who voted overwhelmingly for Kerry, "are social and economic progressives advancing a tolerant set of values." One more reason to oppose marriage. (Click here to check out the full report.)
In his State of the Union address tomorrow night, we can expect Bush to riff on a familiar theme: the onward march of "freedom." When it comes to this President though, watch the deeds, ignore the rhetoric.
Few would argue that achieving "freedom" and "liberty" are valuable goals though, as historian Eric Foner reminds us, "freedom by its very nature is a contested concept, to which different individuals and groups have imparted different meanings." What progressives need to do is reclaim these terms from an Administration that has corroded their meaning. It's time to stand up for a redefined and affirmative vision of national security and US foreign-policy. The good news: there's a real political opening for a credible and alternative progressive security policy. And as John Powers observed recently in a provocative piece in the LA Weekly, "Money and organization can only take any political movement so far." Ideas matter.
We know what not to do. The New Republic's Peter Beinart recently argued that Democrats should adopt a get-tough crusade, launching a "war against fanatical Islam." But this strategy not only buys into the GOP's fear-mongering and militarized approach to the threat of terror, it is more likely to give life to Bin-Ladenism than it is to liberate people in the Islamic world or serve to protect America's security.
The muscular crusade against terrorism that some in the Democratic Party see as the only way to stop Islamic terrorism-and win votes--ignores the fact that it was previous crusades that helped create bin Laden in the first place. Crusades masquerading as foreign policy will weaken our security and divert precious resources from the real fight for hearts and minds in the Middle East and beyond.
Instead of engaging the Republicans on their terms, progressives need to have a debate framed by our own concerns and values. And fighting terrorism should not be the alpha and omega of America's security policy. Yes, Al-Qaeda remains a threat, but it's a plain fact that "terrorism" is not a menace meriting hysteria or neglect of other national priorities; nor is the "Global War on Terror" a compelling justification for US aggression around the world.
"Islamic fundamentalism is actually on the wane in much of the world," Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, recently argued on the Sunday chat show ABC's This Week. Islamic fundamentalism "does not have the kind of appeal that worldwide Communism did,"Zakaria added.
Progressives can and should debate what an effective security policy would look like. But we also now know that in the fight against stateless terrorism, the war in Iraq was an act of self-sabotage; despite the relative lack of violence this past Sunday, and the courage of millions of Iraqis willing to risk death in order to vote, the invasion of Iraq was an act of hubris that has destroyed US credibility in foreign capitals, killed more than 1,400 US troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis, and drained the US treasury.
We no longer hold the moral high ground after the revelations of torture by US troops at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. In general, Bush's "doctrine" has corroded the rule of law abroad and civil liberties at home, with no measurable gain for our security.
Writing recently in the Financial Times, Michael Lind persuasively argued that Bush's security policy has backfired. "A new world order is indeed emerging," Lind wrote, but Bush's strategies have generated so much ill-will abroad that "its architecture is being drafted in Asia and Europe, at meetings to which Americans have not been invited."
"Practically all new international institution-building of any long-term importance in global diplomacy and trade occurs without American participation."
A fascinating and underreported 119-page study, "Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project," recently issued by the CIA's National Intelligence Council, underscores Lind's arguments by highlighting the steep decline of US moral, political and economic capital. Available on the CIA's website, the report predicts that in 2020 China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and other nations will have emerged as powerful rivals to US global dominance, "transform[ing] the geopolitical landscape" and significantly eroding US power.
What, then, will a democratic alternative to Bush's doctrine look like? First, let's understand that there is a constituency in the US and the world for a progressive-left security policy. (Even Bush's staunch ally Tony Blair seemed to suggest as much in his speech at last week's World Economic Forum in Davos.) The Democratic Party should ground its affirmative vision in the reality of public opinion.
In November 2001, the highly regarded Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) reported that a majority of Americans supported a multilateral approach, wanted a strong UN role in the world, and endorsed using humanitarian and development aid to build good will abroad. In April 2003, PIPA released a poll showing that the American people didn't like Bush's "global cop" vision, and that they endorsed global institutions like the UN that confronted global challenges.
According to a recent Chicago Council of Foreign Relations poll, a large majority of the American people think the US should have "strong evidence that the country is in imminent danger of being attacked" before we use military force. This is a powerful rebuke to the pre-emptive war doctrine, which is at the heart of Bush's security policy. So, too, is the finding also in the Chicago CFR poll that a majority of Americans support the use of diplomatic and economic tools rather than military ones to fight terrorism. Last week, the Pew Research Center revealed that 76 percent of registered Democrats believed that "good diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace."
Democrats, in particular, want to see a real alternative to Bush's go-it-alone jingoism; as The Atlantic's Jack Beatty put it, "the neo-cons are history's fools. The strategy they championed was the wrongest possible strategy for the wrongest possible moment in the wrongest possible region of the world." (Abject failure hasn't slowed down the neocons however; full of typical arrogance, in a letter to congress dated January 28, the neoconservative think-tank/power broker known as The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) essentially called for a draft without actually using the 'D' word.)
The second thing progressives should do is talk about a more constructive, intelligent use of American power exemplified by things like the founding of the UN, support for universal human rights, and our commitment, however imperfect, to a framework of multilateralism. We should urge America to support a leadership that wins respect at home and abroad through global partnerships, and understands that the key to world order, peace and prosperity is not American unilateral dominance but the strengthening of international governance and the global rule of law.
Third, the US needs to redefine security to meet the challenges of the 21st century, at a time when the world is increasingly interdependent. The reality is that overwhelming military power is ill suited to dealing with the central challenges of the early 21st century: stateless terrorists with global reach, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, insecure and decrepit nuclear arsenals in the former Soviet Union, genocidal conflict and starvation afflicting Africa, environmental degradation, and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality. These are problems that no one country, however powerful, can solve on its own.
The new definition of national security should include using US power to lead a global campaign to meet the UN's Millennium Goals--halving world poverty, cutting child mortality by two-thirds and guaranteeing every child primary education by 2015; strengthening multilateral and verifiable arms control treaties, encouraging nuclear disarmament and increasing funding for Nunn-Lugar and other programs aimed at eliminating nuclear stockpiles in the former Soviet Union; ratifying the Kyoto, ICC, ABM and other treaties to strengthen our alliances; reducing our dependence on foreign oil by forming a global alliance that invests in alternative energy sources; and engaging the world so that America becomes a source of hope, not fear
Democracy cannot be imposed from without on nations with different cultures and histories. Freedom, liberty and democracy are built not in the ashes of war and occupation but from a history of struggle, civic work and economic development. The American people have no appetite for a religious crusade. What they would like to see is a principled foreign policy. Progressives need to offer the American people an affirmative vision.
Howard Dean was in NYC this weekend for the last of the candidate forums for DNC chair before the party's final meeting from February 10 to 12th. On Saturday he spoke to New York's DNC members; and on Sunday, he met with the state party chairmen. (About fifty of the DNC's 447 voting members have already announced support for Dean, far more than any other candidate.)
On Saturday night, I saw Dean at a small gathering where he spoke passionately about his vision for the Democrats. His smart and pungent comments about how the party needs to give genuine power to the grassroots and build the new politics at the "netroots"; support and build state parties; develop a fifty-state strategy; mobilize the young; change the way we talk about issues, without changing our core principles, makes me pretty certain that Dean has checked out Zack Exley's must-read "Letter to the Next DNC Chair."
Exley--former director of organizing for MoveOn.org, and former Dean and Kerry net mobilizer--describes a new kind of politics emerging and lays out a fascinating scenario for how the Democratic Party can build a vast, permanent field organization with the "New Grassroots" by leveraging email, the web and a little technology.
I particularly like this former, grassroots labor organizer's grounded enthusiasm about what can be done to reshape the party--and build a winning infrastructure for 2006 and 2008. "Using the online assets that Democrats built in 2004, we should be able to jump light years ahead of the Republican field organization. If we do, it will not be thanks to Internet Magic, but rather thanks to mixing new online tools and resources with good old-fashioned grassroots organizing, focusing on results."
Dean gets what Exley is talking about. As he said about one of the central jobs facing the DNC, "In order to make good on the new empowerment, we have to genuinely give power to the states and grassroots. I believe in order to have power, you have to give up power." Power needs to come from the grassroots." Dean gets it. Exley gets it. Do the DNC's 447 delegates get it? We'll soon find out.
Thanks to Michael Sylvester, the executive director of Common Cause in Maine, for his letter clarifying some key features of his state's revoutionary Clean Elections Act. I'm pleased to post it below and you can check out Common Cause's website for more info. I'd also like to encourage further dialogue on this topic--and other issues that are addressed in this space--so please click here to send letters to Editor's Cut.
Dear Ms. vanden Heuvel,
I appreciated your recent Editor's Cut reviewing several progressive state initiatives. These laws are models for how we can create change at the local level even when national politics might not leave a very good taste in our mouths.
I wanted to point out, however, that you were mistaken about Clean Elections in Maine. You stated that the Maine State Legislature had approved the Clean Election Act when, in fact, the law is even more revolutionary because it was voted in by Citizen's Initiative in 1996. You also stated that over 50 percent of candidates made use of public financing but the great news is that nearly 80 percent of all candidates used public financing. This number (a hair over 79 percent) includes over 50 percent of Republican candidates and all Green Independent candidates.
The Maine Clean Election Act is an enormous success story and Common Cause is working with our allies to pass a similar law in the state of Connecticut. Yet even the Maine Clean Election Act's success has not stopped attacks on the law. In this legislative session, we will see bills to repeal MCEA and to allow loopholes in the law even as we fight to close loopholes in the current law and to continue to pass progressive legislation including a bill to limit all PACS to a $250 limit, to introduce Instant Run-Off Voting and bills to make election day a state holiday. Keep fighting the good fight in the states. Someday we'll get the chance to roll it out nationally.
Michael Sylvester,Executive Director, Common Cause in Maine