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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

Cabinet Alert Status: Red

With Tom Ridge following Colin Powell out the White House revolving door, George Bush has finally completed his purge of Vietnam veterans from the Cabinet. Call it the revenge of the Deferment Generation.

In mourning over this latest "spend more time with my family" loss, Americans in airports across the nation removed their jackets, shoes and cowboy belt buckles. Some even consoled each other with quick frisks and pat-downs.

You can tell I find it hard to know whether to laugh, cry, or shout over his departure. Ridge's Homeland Security Department represented the War on Terrorism in its Dadaist mode: a series of pointless provocations involving color codes, duct tape, suspiciously-timed alerts and endless talk about terrorist "chatter."

But while Ridge made us feel less secure at home, Donald Rumsfeld and his fellow Chicken Hawks actually did make us less secure abroad with a "fight them over there" strategy that has worked all too well. Two years, 150,000 soldiers, and tens of thousands of American and Iraqi lives later, and we have yet to secure Baghdad's airport road. Each month the number of casualties rises. November was the worst of the entire war.

What was sold as an easy battle in our latest War On An Abstract Concept has become another dreaded "quagmire"--a black hole for American prestige, treasure and blood. This is tragedy replaying itself as farce. And we have the men who avoided service in Vietnam to thank.

Truth and Consequences in Ukraine

A Russian friend once said to me, "You Americans are an odd people. You love our liberals, but you don't like your own liberals." He added, "You should support your local liberals too."


My friend's words came to mind this past week as I watched the extraordinary street protests in Ukraine. Anyone who cares about citizens fighting corrupt regimes can't help but be moved by scenes of thousands of demonstrators, many of them students, standing for hours in Kiev's Independence Square in sub-zero temperatures--waving banners, chanting and protesting what they believe is a rigged election.

When the Bush Administration rushed to celebrate the protesters' courage and tenacity, I thought--what rank hypocrisy. These same officials have shown no respect for American pro-democracy protesters, and, if they have their way, they'll probably lock their political opponents out of central Washington when Inauguration Day rolls around.

On the hypocrisy meter: Consider how the Ukrainian protesters' charges of election fraud have been treated so seriously by Bush and his team, while they dismiss such charges when they are raised here at home. And how exactly does the Bush Administration--which has said that it cannot accept the results of the Ukrainian presidential election as legitimate "because it does not meet international standards"--explain why those international standards don't apply to the US? What right does this Administration have to lecture Ukraine when Bush came to office in a non-violent coup d'etat in 2000, and when numerous reports document that the 2004 election was marred by GOP voter suppression and intimidation tactics, flawed voting equipment and unexplained discrepancies between exit polls and official results in key swing states?

Then there's the reality that the mass street protests in Ukraine are not as sweet or homegrown as they appear. Although it is virtually unreported in our media, the US has been closely involved in funding and training Ukraine's youth protests, and the united opposition.

As Ian Traynor reports in The Guardian, "...while the gains of the orange-bedecked 'chestnut revolution' are Ukraine's, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in Western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries and four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavory regimes...Funded and organized by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, the two big American parties and US non-government organizations...the operation--engineering democracy through the ballot box and civil disobedience--is now so slick that the methods have matured into a template for winning other people's elections."

It was even US funding that organized and paid for key exit polls; those gave the opposition candidate Viktor Yuschenko an 11-point lead and set the stage for charges of vote fraud.

Nor is it accurate to think that we are watching an unalloyed struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. As Jonathan Steele observes in The Guardian, "Yuschenko, who claims to have won Sunday's election, served as Prime Minister under the outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma, and some of his backers are also linked to the brutal industrial clans who manipulated Ukraine's post-Soviet privatization." (It is also worth noting, as The Independent reported Sunday, that Yuschenko's wife, a US citizen of Ukrainian descent, worked in the Reagan White House.) Certainly, many Ukrainians seek a less corrupt, more democratic system, but as Steele notes, "to suggest that [Yuschenko] would provide a sea-change in Ukrainian politics and economic management is naive."

Yet, this more realistic view of Yuschenko shouldn't diminish the democratic awakening in Kiev and other cities. In many ways, as The Guardian's Nick Paton observes, "this protest is no longer about America's or Russia's candidate, but an end to the past 12 years of misrule." The journalists who are breaking with state rules--as well as the thousands who have filled Independence Square--are "for the first time, realizing how they could one day have a government whose main interest is not stealing from state coffers and protecting favored oligarchs, but actually representing the people who elected them. For most people, this is a first taste of real self-determination."

But, for now, we need a media which provides needed historical and political background and context. Since 1991, every election in the former Soviet Union has been tainted by fraud, unfair use of state television and, quite often by direct rigging. Yet, the Bush team has ignored far more egregious examples of voter fraud, as was the case with Azerbaijan's transparently fraudulent election last year.

It may well be that the Ukrainian election was one of the most fairly conducted, with the two candidates ("the two Viktors" as the Russian press refers to them) even engaging in a nationally televised debate several weeks before the election. That doesn't mean vote fraud isn't an issue or that discrepancies shouldn't be challenged but, as Steele points out: "The decision to protest appears to depend mainly on realpolitik and whether the challengers or the incumbent are considered 'pro-Western' or 'pro-market.'"

With the country culturally and geographically divided between the heavily industrialized East, traditionally allied with Russia, and the West, a traditional center of Ukrainian nationalism, there is already talk of secession by leading governors in the Eastern part of the country. (On Sunday, as many as 3,500 officials from 17 regions in Eastern Ukraine voted unanimously to seek autonomy by public referendum if the opposition continues its fight to make Yuschenko president.)

And though there has been no violence yet, the streets remain filled with growing crowds of impassioned protesters, eyeball to eyeball with riot police. In the next few days, the country's Supreme Court is likely to rule on the validity of the election, which will add a new element to the chaotic mix. And calls for a recount--to be overseen by international observers--are being issued by many European leaders. But that too will take time, and patience is running thin.

Perhaps of gravest import is that we're witnessing the worst crisis in US-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War--with both sides deeply involved in the election, with each having a candidate, and with each proclaiming the fateful consequences of the election's resolution. (An important footnote: The US--in actions reminiscent of the Cold War--has since 1991 encircled Russia with NATO troops and US bases, from the Baltics to Central Asia. While not condoning Russia's meddling in Ukraine, some media reporting on this historical and geopolitical context might provide necessary insight into the deep anxiety in Moscow about a divided or, perhaps, anti-Russian Ukraine on its borders.)

Depending on the outcome, and let us pray for a peaceful resolution, the consequences may well be profound and far-reaching. Even apart from the possibility of civil violence, the result may be a new European divide between East and West; the end of any meaningful Russian cooperation with the US--remember Putin has been one of Bush's leading European "friends" since the Iraq war began; and if Ukraine is "lost," we may even witness the destabilization of Putin's leadership and Russia itself.

Desperate Republicans

In the pregame highlights for the next two years of Republican one-party rule, rightwing radicals dropped their towels and exposed themselves in all their naked ambition last week. It wasn't a pretty sight.

Tom DeLay's buddies voted to lower their Party's ethical standards to protect their conflict-ridden leader over the objection of moderate stalwarts like Christopher Shay.

Arm-twisted behind his back, Arlen Specter cried "Uncle" and signed a White House loyalty oath before he was allowed to replace Orrin Hatch as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a humiliation unprecedented in the history of our constitutional system of checks and balances.

Two Congressional staffers slipped a provision into the Omnibus spending bill giving two committee chairmen and their assistants access to every American citizen's tax returns.

And in a Pacers vs. Piston-like brawl in the House Republican caucus, Defense Department patsies shot down the unarmed Intelligence Reform Bill, much to the shock and awe of Senate Republicans like Pat Roberts, Chuck Hagel and Susan Collins.

It would seem the only thing worse than being a Democrat these days is being a moderate Republican. One has to wonder: how long will they stand the humiliations, the slights, the powerlessness before they defect like Jim Jeffords?

At this rate, executive producer Karl Rove's TV hit, The Permanent Republican Majority, may be cancelled sooner than anyone previously expected.

Modest Appointments

Bush has appointed Torture Guy to run the American "Justice" Department, his "work wife" to serve as America's top diplomat, and a partisan hatchet man, Porter Goss, to subject the CIA's analysts and covert operatives to loyalty oaths. It is hard to imagine how Bush's appointments could get any worse, but here are five suggestions:

Ahmed Chalabi--Ambassador to Iran. Since he's going to spy for them anyway, it'd be better to keep him inside the tent in Tehran and away from any useful information in either Iraq or the United States. Besides he could be our secret weapon against the Mullahs--as he's proven in Jordan, Iraq, and America, he is a parasite capable of seriously damaging any host nation.

James Dobson--Chief Justice. He turned out the evangelicals for Bush, he expects his "values" agenda to be rewarded or else he will turn on the Republicans, and he doesn't think Alberto Gonzales is sufficiently anti-Roe to deserve the job. Besides he's a big believer in spanking, and someone needs to protect corporal punishment from 8th amendment activist judges.

Dennis Hastert--Middle East Envoy. He certainly has the free time, and he's used to holding an important sounding job without having any real power of his own. His appointment would powerfully signal to Ariel Sharon that we want to go through the motions of a "peace process" without changing the status quo.

Sean Hannity--White House Press Secretary. With Helen Thomas out, and a cowed press corps scrambling for sources back in, there's no reason to soft-shoe the Fourth Estate. After all, the media is the last check on Republican one-party rule. It's best to crush them with someone who's had daily practice at fairly balancing a soft, thoughtful, well-meaning liberal into the dustbin of history.

Richard Perle--Director of NSA. Many are the Republicans who are ethically-challenged (Tom De Lay) and many more who were completely wrong about the Iraq War (Donald Rumsfeld), but very few embody both more completely than Perle. Since second terms inevitably founder in the face of high profile scandals, why not bring him in to serve as a potential scapegoat.

Dean Tells It Like It Is

If you want some straight talk in these days of the Democratic Leadership Council's calls to retreat to a monastery or move to the center, check out Howard Dean's feisty comments about his vision for the Democratic Party and what he thinks went down in this election.

In a speech to students at Northwestern University last week, Dean fired back at the Right; he called Reverend Jerry Falwell a hate-monger, and described Justice Antonin Scalia as "sarcastic and mean-spirited." And in a jab at the conservative Club for Growth's ad attacks on him as a "latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, body-piercing, left-wing freak show" who should head back to Vermont, Dean explained, "I don't drink coffee. I have three cars--all of them are American. " "No part of me is pierced that I'm willing to discuss publicly," he added. "And if you want to see a freak show, go look at the people who wrote that ad..."

Dean ended by calling on the students to run for office. In a playful twist on his now infamous "Dean Scream," he shouted, "You need to run for office--not just in Illinois and Ohio and South Carolina! You need to run for office in Mississippi, and Alabama, and Idaho and Texas and..."

Creeping Creationism

Some days it feels like 1925--when William Jennings Bryan defended the merits of creationism in the Scopes Monkey trial--all over again.

I've written before about how the Right wants to dismantle the achievements of the 20th century--the New Deal, environmentalism, civil rights and civil liberties. But now rightwing social conservatives, our home-grown fundamentalists, are seeking to unravel the scaffolding of science and reason, and this battle deserves attention from humanists of all stripes. One of the most virulent expressions of the rightwing assault on modernity is the war against evolution being waged in America's classrooms and courtrooms, parks and civic institutions.

Slipping creationism into civic discussions picked up steam in the 1990s. That's when Kansas issued new state science guidelines in which "evolution" was replaced with the phrase "change over time," and Illinois made a similar change.

In Oklahoma and Alabama, creationists inserted disclaimers into biology textbooks which cast doubt on evolution. In 1999, school boards in Arizona, Alabama, Illinois, New Mexico, Texas and Nebraska tried to modify the teaching of evolution, in some cases trying to have it excised from the state standards.

Now, we're into the 21st century, Bush is in the White House for another four years, and creationists feel emboldened to impose their beliefs on secular America. From schools to parks, creationists are moving aggressively.

The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/26/science 26cany.html?ex=1256529600&en=66af410f8a71ca6f&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland"> recently reported that six stores in the Grand Canyon National Park are selling a book called Grand Canyon: A Different View. Its wild theory has no factual basis: God, argues the author, created the Grand Canyon in Noah's flood and the flood was intended to destroy "the wickedness of man."

The issue of whether this book should be on sale in park service stores is under review in the solicitor's office of the US Interior Department. But Interior has been silent for almost a year now, in spite of a scientific consensus that hydrology, over millions of years, caused the Grand Canyon's formation, not God's hand. The government should stand on the side of science.

Meanwhile, in Cobb County, Georgia in 2002, the Board of Education unanimously approved the teaching of creationism in public schools. The decision, promised the school board, would provide students with "a balanced education."

In Ohio, educators and parents are promoting the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools; proponents believe that a higher power created human life. And in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, a school board has just revised its science curriculum to permit creationist teachings in local classrooms. (The science curriculum "should not be totally inclusive of just one scientific theory," declared Joni Burgin, the school district's superintendent.)

The rightwing assault on the Enlightenment extends well beyond putting creationism on equal footing with evolutionary science. The Bush Administration has truncated stem cell research, promoted abstinence-only sex education, undermined Roe v. Wade and supported federal funding for faith-based institutions. "Respect for evidence seems not to pertain any more," Garry Wills recently argued in an op-ed. (Somedays, it seems like it's only a matter of time before two guests on CNN's Crossfire are given equal time and equal weight in George Bush's America to debate the merits of the creationist argument.)

In Texas, just days after the election, the Board of Education approved health textbooks that explicitly defined marriage as a union of a man and a woman. Two of America's largest academic publishers--Holt, Rinehart and Winston and Glencoe/McGraw-Hill--capitulated to the board by removing from the text all words like "partners" and phrases like "when two people marry" and replacing them with more traditional circumlocutions like "husbands and wives."

"We thought it was a reasonable thing to do," explained a Holt spokesman. (Wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that Texas is the second-largest buyer of textbooks in the country?)

Activists must join with the ACLU, People for the American Way and the National Coalition against Censorship (NCAC) in fighting off attempts to turn the clock back. "We work with other organizations to provide background and supporting information [and] are always available to help find the right person to give testimony" before school boards, said Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition.

NCAC organized a coalition of progressive groups that signed a statement opposing censorship in sex education. It was sent to every member of Congress and scores of state legislators. The Coalition also stresses partnerships with local groups, encourages letter-writing campaigns to school boards, text-book publishers and local papers and promotes "stirring the pot" to bring publicity and pressure to bear on this crusade against science and reason.

The ACLU, meanwhile, is working with parents to sue the Cobb County School Board in federal district court. Cobb County put stickers in three biology textbooks that warned: "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

The stickers, argues the ACLU, promote the teaching of creationism and violate the Constitutional separation of church and state. "The religious views of some that contradict science cannot dictate curriculum," said ACLU attorney Maggie Garrett. The Supreme Court has already ruled that teaching creationism has no place in science class, but the ACLU is aggressively re-fighting this battle in Georgia for the sake of religious freedom, knowledge and reasoning.

While creationist groups like the Discovery Institute wage war against evolution in states like Texas, local groups like Stand Up For Science composed of Texas scientists, religious leaders and parents have formed to lead the fight against censoring textbooks there. And the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the religious right, has taken on publishers like Holt Rinehart that put stickers in textbooks challenging evolution.

"Rather than stand up for keeping good science standards in textbooks, Holt Rinehart has compromised the education of Texas students," said Samantha Smoot, the Network's executive director, in August 2003.

People of reason must be savvy, and just as tough as the intolerant Right, in defending scientific discovery and the ideal of human progress from the retrogressive forces now rallying behind this White House. With a messianic militarist in the Oval Office, social conservatives are seizing the initiative and assailing the Enlightenment. Time is not on our side.

Defining Failure Down

Last July, the Washington Post devoted much of its front-page to a well-reported story indicting National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice for her role in misleading Congress and the public in the run-up to the Iraq war. The bottom line: Rice was either incompetent or a liar.

Even sources described as "generally sympathetic" to the NSC adviser questioned her many shifting and contradictory statements regarding Iraq's alleged uranium purchase and the WMD (non)threat. But Rice's dogged loyalty to Bush served her well, and she stayed put.

In August, barely noticed during the campaign, former chief weapons inspector David Kay went before Congress and in impassioned testimony spent most of his time faulting Rice for botching intelligence information before the war. Kay's remarks reflected a widespread view among intelligence specialists that Rice and the NSC have never been held sufficiently accountable for intelligence failures before the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq.

Bush's nomination of Rice to replace Colin Powell as Secretary of State today is just another sign of how this Administration continues to define failure down. As even the Washington Post's lead editorial this morning acknowledged: "...It is a measure of the stunning absence of accountability under Mr. Bush that it is Mr. Powell who leaves, while the architects of the failed and even disastrous policies [Powell] opposed, from postwar Iraq to Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, remain in office."

Small But Sweet Victories: Part 2

Earlier this week, I wrote about some small but sweet election victories which progressives should be celebrating. I ended by asking readers to send me victories they believed were worth highlighting. The response was overwhelming. Please read a selection of the letters below. Many thanks to all those who took the time to write and apologies to those whose good letters we weren't able to include.

In Minnesota 13 new Democrats were elected to the House of Representatives. This sharp increase in Democratic representation came about because of voter opposition to the failure of the Republican-controlled House to pass a bonding bill to fund much-needed road and higher education construction; cuts in education, welfare, and health care funding; and passage of conceal/carry gun laws, gay marriage, and regressive school standards, all driven by Republican House members' pledges to not raise taxes. Given this voter mandate, the new legislature will no longer be able to use religious right issues to mask having to deal with declining education, welfare, and health care funding.

Richard Beach, Minneapolis, MN


Here in North Carolina, we elected our first openly gay member of the General Assembly. Democrat Julia Boseman, a former New Hanover County (Southeastern part of state) Commissioner, will represent that county in the North Carolina Senate.

B.J. Eversole, Wilmington, NC


The Los Angeles City Council unanimously adopted the nation's most aggressive anti-sweatshop ordinance by a unanimous vote after two years of lobbying by local unions, sweatshop workers, clergy and activists.

Tom Hayden, Los Angeles, CA


Colorado replaced the Republican State Legislature (both houses) with a Democratic legislature (both houses.)

Corlyn Seifer, Littleton, CO


Bucking national trends, one third of the Dean Dozens candidates won their respective races at the national, state, and local levels.

Corinne Marasco, Kingstowne, VA


In the category of small but important victories, we should include the election of Bob Hasegawa to the Washington State House of Representatives.

Hasegawa was for nine years the principal officer of Teamsters Local 174, the largest trucking local in the Northwest, following several years as head of the State Teamsters for Democratic Union. During the WTO demonstrations in Seattle, perhaps a majority of the Teamsters in the "Teamsters and Turtles" garb were from his local. He's a long-time leader in the progressive and Asian-American communities.

What's significant about Hasegawa's victory, beyond his background and politics, is that he's determined not to just be another "good vote." He plans to use his position to develop a popular movement in his largely working-class district. He hopes to hold meetings throughout the area to develop a "people's legislative agenda" that reflects the wants and needs of his constituents.

Paul Bigman, Seattle, WA


In Massachusetts, Democrats picked up three seats in the legislature despite the Republican governor's attempt to promote conservative and anti-gay marriage lawmakers.

Victoria Fowlre, Boston, MA


Here in the Central Valley of California we elected a Democratic State Senator against the endorsement of Governor Schwarzenegger and major money from the large land developers. In Yolo County we pay a lot of attention to preservation of farm land and the prevention of sprawl so common in other places in California. Even though the campaign got nasty, the Democrat prevailed. In fact, the Governor lost every one of the candidates he backed, further proof that Californians may register Republican but when it comes to voting they go moderate or Democrat.

Martie Dote, Woodland, CA


A small bit of good news from Massachusetts: A very progressive Democrat just won a seat on the Governor's Council, the body that signs off on (or blocks) judicial appointments. Peter Vickery beat out better funded Democrats in the primary, and a substantially more well-funded Independent in the general election. Given that the conservative Democrats and the Republicans in Massachusetts want to get the gay marriage decision overturned, this is actually a pretty important victory.

Joe Gabriel, Northampton, MA


Oregonians defeated a Tort reform bill that would have put a cap on jury awards for medical liability. The proponents said this change would lower our medical insurance premiums, but Oregonians voted (narrowly) against it. This is in-line with the recent Nation article about Tort reform in Texas. The country needs insurance reform and we hope Oregon can be an example.

Bill Ziebell, Central Point, Oregon


Cincinnati voters overturned an 11 year charter amendment that prohibited city officials from passing any laws aimed at protecting gay and lesbian people.

William P. Fleischmann, Plymouth, MI


Small (and not so small) victories in Red State Colorado: We not only replaced an outgoing Republican Senator and House member with Democrats but also reclaimed both the State House and Senate for the first time in 40+ years. In addition we defeated the Republican governor's request to overhaul the State personnel system by 61 percent to 39 percent and approved a referendum requiring the phase-in of renewable energy by 53 percent to 47 percent. In the Denver Metro area we passed a large light rail/mass transit funding initiative by 57 percent to 42 percent and extended funding for scientific and cultural facilities by an overwhelming margin. The vast majority of school tax and bond issues passed.

Andy Stone, Wheat Ridge, CO


I am a middle aged woman and this is the first time that I got deeply involved in activism. I have always been a Democrat but this year I was very active in the Fairfax County Democratic Party. I was very passionate about the Bush Administration being voted out of office. I took election day off from work and I worked as a Democratic Poll Watcher.

Another bright light is that Kerry won Fairfax County--the largest in Virginia. This is the first time in 40 years that a Democrat has won Fairfax County. He won by a 6 percent margin.

Susan Kent, Springfield, VA


Democrats in Iowa gained 5 seats in the State Senate so that it is now split evenly with Republicans.

Carlo Veltri, Cedar Falls, IA


My younger brother, Commissioner Todd Portune, Democrat, was re-elected by a large majority in heavily conservative Hamilton County, Ohio. (You may recall that this area of the Buckeye State, which includes the city of Cincinnati, once took its own art museum to court for daring to exhibit Robert Mapplethorpe's work.)

In this repressive atmosphere, Todd has managed to stay true to his progressive ideas and goals, and yet somehow become the first Democrat elected to his post in over 35 years. His is a voice of intelligence, compassion, tolerance and reason in a county which has for too long advocated none of the above. And he has succeeded in appealing to voters on both sides of the political fence, an accomplishment to which our party should aspire on a national level.

Bob Portune Cresskill, NJ


Seventeen-term Illinois Republican Rep. Phil Crane was defeated by progressive Democrat Melissa Bean. Crane had a 0 percent lifetime AFL-CIO voting record. Bean's major criticism of Crane was that he had grown complacent and had failed to change with the times and stand up for working people. She cited as prime examples his voting to cut student loans, allowing exploratory oil drilling on Lake Michigan and supporting privatization of Social Security.

Crane fought back, calling his opponent out about not living in the district, claiming Bean would raise taxes if elected and saying she flip-flopped in support of the Bush tax plan. He failed to make the usual Republican attacks stick to Bean.

Dennis Barker, Collinsville, IL


In Maine, Green Independent John Eder was redistricted into a Democratic incumbent's district for the State House of Representatives in an effort to defeat the Green presence in Augusta. It didn't work as Eder won 55 percent of the vote in a three-way race. Democrats ought to learn from this. Gerrymandering in Maine is just as wrong as it is in Texas.

Daniel Jenkins, Timonium MD


Here in Portland, progressive Democrat Tom Potter, who was endorsed by Howard Dean, won the mayoral race by a large margin.

Anthony Johnson, Portland OR


In Utah (despite giving Bush an incredible 70 percent of its votes) there were some small victories (perhaps one not so small). We now have a county governor who is a Democrat and all three "at large" county council seats are held by Democrats as well.

Also, Jim Matheson managed to hang on to his Congressional seat despite a nasty campaign run by his Republican opponent.

Minor victories to be sure; however, in a state like Utah, believe me, every little victory is a sweet blessing.

Valerie Heath-Harrison, Kearns UT

The Republican Dictionary

At least until the draft comes, progressive Americans will not be fleeing en masse to Canada, despite the charming offer of so many compassionate Canadians to sacrifice their singlehood to save us from the "cowboy" Bush. (As the New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg says, the Canadians make us proud to be North Americans.)

After all, who is to say Canada is safe from a preemptive strike? Canada's leaders are a bunch of socialists hostile to our president just like the Baathists were, Canada might have hidden stockpiles of WMD, it possesses a natural resource-- cheap prescription drugs--critical to our people's security, and historically-speaking it would be a really bad idea (see Quebec, Battle of; 1812, War of).

No, alas, we will stay and fight to retake our country from the forces of extremism, corruption, and incompetence that have set up shop in the White House, Capitol Hill, and K Street. Taking our cue from the venerable military strategist Sun-tzu, the first stage of this battle is to understand our opponents, who are as bold as they are devious.

Nowhere is their deception more in need of debunking than in the realm of political discourse, where they have over the last several decades created a veritable Orwellian Code of encrypted language. The key to their linguistic strategy is to use words, which sound moderate to us but mean something completely different to their base. Their tactics range from the childish use of antonyms, i.e., "clean" = "dirty" to the pseudo-academic use of prefixes--"neo" is a favorite--to the pernicious (and very expensive) rebranding of traditional political labels--"liberal"--as an insult.

We need to break the code by building a Republican dictionary. Here's a small list I've put together to get us started. Please feel free to add your own contributions by clicking here. I'll be publishing more examples in the coming weeks.

BI-PARTISANSHIP, n. When conservative Republicans work together with moderate Republicans to pass legislation Democrats hate.

CLARIFY, v. Repeating the same lie over and over again.

CLEAN, adj. The word used to modify any aspect of the environment Republican legislation allows corporations to pollute, poison, or destroy.

FAIRER, adj. Regressive.

FAITH, n. The stubborn belief that God approves of Republican moral values despite the preponderance of textual evidence to the contrary.

FAITH COMMUNITY, n. Evangelicals, because they are saved, and hawkish conservative Jews, because they are useful. Israel is the bait-on-the-hook just waiting for God to take that Rapturous bite.

FISCAL CONSERVATIVE, n. A Republican who is in the minority.

FREEDOM, n. What Arabs want but can't achieve on their own without Western military intervention. It bears a striking resemblance to chaos.

GROWTH, n. The justification for tax cuts for the rich. What happens to the deficits when Republicans cut taxes on the rich.

HONESTY, n. Lies told in simple declarative sentences: "Freedom is on the march."

HUMBLE FOREIGN POLICY, n. The invasion of any sovereign nation whose leadership Republicans don't like.

HUMBLED adj. What a Republican says right after a close election and right before he governs in an arrogant manner. 

MORAL VALUES, n. Hatred of homosexuals dressed up in Biblical language.

MANDATE, n. What a Republican claims to possess when only 49 percent of the voting public loathes him instead of 51 percent.

THE MEDIA, n. Immoral elitist liberally-biased traitors who should leave Republicans alone so they can complete God's work on Earth in peace and quiet, behind closed doors.

PHILOSOPHY, n. Religion.

SIMPLIFY, tr. v. To cut the taxes of Republican donors.

SLAVE, n. A person without legal rights, e,g. a fetus.

BONUS DEFINITION: NEOCONSERVATIVES, n. Nerds with Napoleonic complexes.

Small--But Sweet Victories

I admit that it's hard in these post-election days to maintain a sense of hope in the face of the grief, anger and outrage over the prospect of a second Bush term.

But millions of us spent these last months agitating, organizing, educating and mobilizing with an intensity, cooperation and discipline rarely seen. We're not going away. I don't know about you, but everyone I've spoken with understands that this isn't the time to retreat, that their commitment is needed now more than ever and that we need to build on the energy unleashed and the structures put in place.

Part of building to win means understanding what we lost and why; but it also requires understanding, patience and the ability to celebrate the small but sweet victories in this election year. Here are a few worth celebrating:

*DAVID SOARES, a young activist attorney who ran against the draconian Rockefeller drug laws on the Democratic and Working Families Party (WFP) lines, survived an ugly campaign to become Albany County District Attorney. Soares' courageous advocacy for an end to New York's wasteful drug laws turned his campaign into a crusade.

On election night, Soares told a packed ballroom that with the help of the WFP and Citizen Action, a new coalition within the Democratic Party brought together "young and old, black and white and all the shades in between, straight and gay, women, labor and environmentalists."

Soares's victory is evidence that a campaign that has a clear position on key issues, that appeals to the voters' best instincts, and that is unrelenting in getting its message out door-by-door can overcome the advantages of incumbency.

On election night, Soares also spoke about what his victory signals for the state's harsh drug laws. "The voters have demanded that the Rockefeller Drug Laws be reformed. Every district attorney in the state clinging to these archaic laws will hear today's results. The legislature must act, and the recalcitrant DAs must get out of the way--or else go the way of the Albany County incumbent." Soares' victory--both in the primary and the general election--proves not only that a candidate can run and win on a platform that emphasizes sensible drug law reform--but that it might actually be a winning issue.

* FLORIDA AND NEVADA MINIUMUM WAGE INITIATIVES. Florida voters approved by overwhelming margins (72 percent to 28 percent) the statewide ballot initiative to raise the state minimum wage by one dollar an hour to $6.15/hour (and index it to inflation). Sponsored by ACORN with a broad coalition of unions and other liberal groups, the measure passed despite the united opposition (and heavy spending) of Florida's big business community. The figures show that many Floridians, including many middle-class voters (even some evangelicals) who voted for Bush and Mel Martinez for Senator, also voted to raise the minimum wage.

In Nevada, the initiative also passed by large margins (68 percent to 32 percent).

Results show that voters may like Bush on abortion, gay rights and terrorism, but that they are unhappy with his handling of the economy, the growing number of working poor and increasing job insecurity. Progressive groups like ACORN, which did such extraordinary organizing and mobilization around this issue in Florida, are gearing up to make this a national issue. (For more information, click here.)

* OTHER PROGRESSIVE INITIATIVE VICTORIES include one on increased funding for renewable energy in Colorado (that likely helped elect Ken Salazar to the Senate); the clean-up of the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington; the expansion of healthcare through tobacco taxes in Colorado, Montana, and Oklahoma; stem cell research and mental health funding in California; the legalization of medical marijuana in Montana and the defeat of tax cuts in Maine and Washington.

* Democrats took back the STATE LEGISLATURES in Colorado and North Carolina--a good win as critical political policy-making increasingly shifts to the states.

* Thirteen CAMP WELLSTONE graduates won races for the state legislature, school board and city council in Minnesota. The camp, dedicated to training and organizing candidates and activists committed to Paul and Sheila Wellstone's ideals and approach to politics (combining the power of grassroots organizing with citizen participation), intends to continue turning out a new generation of political leaders in 2005 and beyond.

* In New York State, the WORKING FAMILIES PARTY did well. Approximately 120,000 of John Kerry's votes came on Row E, which was a WFP record and will help the party continue to use fusion voting to add to the electoral infrastructure of progresives.

* PROGRESSIVE MAJORITY--the only national organization dedicated to building a permanent progressive candidate recruitment program--elected two new members to the Pennsylvania legislature. In Washington State, Progressive Majority helped shift control of the State senate, and held its ground in Wisconsin even though conservatives turned out in record numbers. In all, 41 percent of Progressive Majority's candidates won election this cycle, a remarkable accomplishment given national trends this year.

You may know of other small victories around the country. Please click here to share them with me so I can spread the word as we revive, regroup and rebuild.

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