Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
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
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.
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.
One thing we can say for certain at this point, after the grieving, the anger, is that the country is still bitterly divided.
We saw two turnouts and Two Nations last night. Both sides of the chasm saw a major turnout of its voting base. Karl Rove talked about creating a permanent Republican majority. But the truth is, he has a divide-and-rule strategy. And the electoral college amplifies the rural, socially conservative vote. (Twenty percent of voters considered "moral values"--eleven states had anti-gay marriage ballots--more important than the economy or Iraq in this election.)
Perhaps more astonishing than the polling on the murky issue of morality (why aren't poverty and unjust war considered immoral?) are the figures reported in the New York Times: "Voters who cited honesty as the most important quality in a candidate broke 2 to 1 in Mr. Bush's favor..." The most mendacious Administration in American history won the honesty vote?
Progressives, who were on the defensive two years ago, added millions of new voters as well, and tapped a new energy and activism that will last far beyond November 2nd. The extremism and incompetence of this rightwing cabal has sharpened our focus to a razor's edge.
But for me, one of the fundamental questions about this campaign has been whether you could defeat a terrible but clear incumbent without a substantive policy alternative, and this time at least we couldn't. Kerry offered intelligence, a return to fiscal discipline, a bulwark against a rightwing court, and a health plan that few understood. He failed to use the moral message of "Two Americas" to erode Bush's edge. He mounted a late challenge to Bush's disastrous war in Iraq-- but he also talked about "staying the course." That wasn't enough of a coherent positive, populist or moral message to complement the impressive mechanics. We've got to build a politics of conviction, of passion and substance. It's there but it needs to be built and fought for. And the lesser lessons, if that's the big one, are:
1) People really are confused and manipulated (we have a mainstream media that continues to focus on irrelevant stories--Swift Boat, Rathergate and all the rest--abrogating its responsibility to focus on what's important and significant; and too much of it keeps giving head instead of keeping its head.) This makes an expansion of the progressive media echo chamber all the more important; And,
2) Neoliberalism is broken beyond repair and people need to be offered a real alternative not just despair at this point. This is truly a non-violent Civil War between those who think government is basically screwed up and that they're on their own, and those who believe....what exactly? We've got to be much clearer on the latter.
But this morning, we woke to a country at war with itself--as well as Al Qaeda. As America fights Islamic fundamentalism abroad, progressives are re-fighting the Enlightenment here at home. (The two new Senators from Oklahoma and South Carolina are leaders of our homegrown Taliban.)
This is war at a very deep level about how this country will proceed and this war isn't over, it's just renewed.
In that spirit, on Election Day, a friend sent some words by John Dos Passos, from his great trilogy USA. He said these lines, from the part where Dos Passos narrates the death of Sacco and Vanzetti, stuck in his head in these last weeks as we faced the possibility of Bush winning this election:
"America our nation has been beaten by strangers who have turned our language inside out who have taken the clean words our fathers spoke and made them slimy and foul
their hired men sit on the judge's bench they sit back with their feet on the tables under the dome of the State House they are ignorant of our beliefs they have the dollars the guns the armed forces the power plants
they have built the electric chair and hired the executioner to throw the switch
all right we are two nations."
The American Right understands we are two nations, and cares less about healing than about holding power. A Bush wins forces us to understand, in a very deep way, what that means for us and for the values and institutions we care about. Not that they are wrong, or rejected or weighed down by "identity politics" or some other rationale for surrender. But that they are in desperate danger and we need to start thinking along the lines of how to resist, delay, deflect, oppose and ultimately defeat the assault on our freedoms. As progressives, we will need to marshal at least as much dedication, purpose, strategic focus and tactical ruthlessness, and The Nation is one of the few places that will have earned the trust of over 40 percent of the American people who were against Bush and all his works from the beginning.
And we should be thinking about the indispensable work of resistance. We need to identify legislative and administrative choke points where Bush's initiatives can be blocked, and make clear to both legislators and their constituents that the days of go-along in the interest of non-partisan comity have to stop.
We need to give a clear sense of priorities and red-lines so that people aren't fatigued by constantly being asked to protest--and we need to identify and work for some early victories, at both the local and national (and international) levels...BECAUSE we all need to remember, and remind ourselves, and everyone else that there are two Nations--not Bush's America and some dissenters--especially since I'd be willing to bet that numerically there are more of us.
In the end, this election is about what kind of people we are, what kind of country we'll be. Half of the electorate dissents from Bushism. The election still represents an expression of the strength of opposition to the radical and reckless course Bush has followed, despite the ugly campaign.
Unlike 1972, when Democrats were wiped out everywhere--in 2004 there is an emerging progressive infrastructure capable of standing and fighting. Progressives should build on those structures put in place in this last cycle and redouble their commitment to economic justice, peace and environmental movements that can make real change.
In the streets of New York on August 29th on the eve of the Republican National Convention and in precincts across America these past few months, millions of people stood up for democracy. This is the heart and soul of this country and it will be the heart and soul of the defense of our rights and liberties in the months to come.
I couldn't let Election Day come and go without offering a top ten list of progressive groups working for change on November 2nd and beyond. Here, then, is my far-from-comprehensive list of organizations embodying a new progressive spirit and infrastructure that will mobilize first-time voters, protect every vote, help to elect John Kerry and provide the basis for progressive victories in the future.
The majority of these groups are affiliated with one of two coalitions. National Voice is coordinating non-profit groups such as ACORN, the NAACP National Voter Fund, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, and the USAction Education Fund (as well as 1,000 other nonpartisan groups) to create a new kind of voter registration, education and outreach effort directed at the millions of Americans usually ignored by the campaigns.
The November 2 Campaign is the most effective voter mobilization group in the National Voice coalition. Its simple "November 2" slogan is plastered on t-shirts, billboards, buses and ads in movie theaters. "You want people to come up and ask you what the shirt is all about so you can engage them in conversation about voting," explained Mark Ritchie, NV's executive director. There's an inspirational and optimistic quality to it, combined with real service, reminding people when to vote, how to get register, how to find your polling place. It's civics with an edge. Having recruited 200,000 volunteers, the November 2 Campaign has upped its registration goal to 5 million new voters.
Election Protection 2004 (EP2004 ) was launched by Ralph Neas' People for the American Way (PFAW) and other coalition public interest partners to provide educational tools and legal assistance to minority voters in battleground states. PFAW has set up 58 field offices in the targeted states, and along with its strategic partners in the coalition it is mobilizing nearly 20,000 volunteers including 5,000 lawyers. "What Freedom Summer was to 1964," Neas says, "Freedom Fall will be to 2004."
America's Families United Voter Protection Project, as I wrote here in August, understands that election protection begins long before Election Day. For months, AFUVPP has been working in some 100 counties and 20 states to clarify ID rules, monitor election officials and ensure that registered voters remain on the rolls. AFUVPP, says Director Penda Hair, is "adding additional activities" prior to Election Day, is "very active" in Ohio, where GOP poll watchers are seeking to suppress African-American turnout, and is trying to prevent the election from being thrown into the courts. "Our lawyers are now developing a county-by-county strategy for dealing with problems," explains Hair.
Rock the Vote, also a member of National Voice, was founded in 1990 to promote freedom of speech and artistic expression and mobilize young voters. Rock the Vote has registered 1.3 million new voters in this cycle. By emailing fake draft cards to 650,000 youth, it "substantially cranked up the volume on the already loud Internet buzz surrounding a possible military draft," said the Los Angeles Times.
Women's Voices. Women Vote (WVWV) is fighting to mobilize 22 million voters that, until now, the Democratic Party (and even progressives) have ignored--unmarried women. "What we know is that these women are concerned about affordable health care, job security, a livable minimum wage and the environment, and progressive groups should approach these women and respond to their concerns," says Chris Desser, WVWV's co-director. WVWV has registered 150,000 women so far, and dozens of organizations have used its lists in battleground states to register unmarried women.
A second coordinating group, America Votes, is a coalition of 33 progressive national mass membership organizations combining venerable Democratic organizations like the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club and US Action with newer, well-financed groups like MoveOn.org and America Coming Together.
America Votes has conducted door-to-door canvasses, run phone banks and spearheaded registration drives in 17 battleground states. Active in America Votes are the largest grassroots organizations in the US, representing 20 million people and doing work to protect the environment, guard civil rights, support labor rights, promote choice and mobilize voters in under-represented communities. This unprecedented coalition is deploying 30,000 volunteers in swing states on Election Day.
America Coming Together (ACT) says its efforts will result in "the largest voter mobilization effort in history." ACT is funding more than 12 million phone calls and delivering 11 million pieces of literature to voters in battleground states. Its 45,000 paid canvassers complement the Democratic Party's GOTV efforts and give Kerry a leg up.
MoveOn.org has taken on Fox News, the Gallup Poll and the Bush Administration's disastrous Iraq policy. MoveOn.org is "recruiting 50,000 volunteers to turn out 440,000 additional votes from 10,000 targeted neighborhoods across the country," establishing itself as a linchpin in the new progressive movement.
Citizen Change (CC), which was founded by P. Diddy, has recruited celebrities including 50 Cent, Jay-Z and Leonardo DiCaprio to mobilize the hip-hop generation. CC intends "to make voting hot, sexy and relevant" to youth who regard politics as irrelevant in their lives. CC's message: "Vote or Die."
The League of Pissed Off Voters (LPOV), as our Nation cover story pointed out, wants "to establish a voting bloc specifically on the basis of being young and angry." Punk rock fans, argues LPOV, should vote "to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office," as the title of its book urges.
Alongside edgy groups like Punk Voter, LPOV is crafting a first-time appeal to a disaffected voting bloc; The League has close to 100 local chapters and over 500 organizers using the internet and other creative 21st century strategies to spread the word. Its members recently embarked on an 80-city swing state tour. LPOV encourages folks to hold "Politics n' Pancakes" brunches "to learn and teach each other in the environments we hang in anyway" and it is committed to "building a long term progressive power base."
Progressive Majority is a farm team for recruiting the next generation of progressive public officials at the local and national levels. As I pointed out in this space last December, Progressive Majority, led by veteran organizer Gloria Totten, was launched in 2001 with the purpose of electing progressive champions. As the only national organization dedicated exclusively to supporting the next generation of progressive candidates, it is dedicated to long-term change, and to countering the DLC's centrist candidates and efforts to steer the party rightward.
In the end, then, this is a grand (though by no means comprehensive) coalition of progressivism. The hard work of these groups over the past two years will pay dividends on Election Day. Equally important, however, is that these groups represent a kind of shadow Democratic Party--that has arisen due to new campaign finance rules and the Party's weakness--offering a fighting chance to progressives who are committed to protecting the vote, mobilizing progressive voters and revitalizing democracy in the decades ahead.
These organizations--and the values they represent--are finding strength in numbers. Regardless of who wins, progressives aren't going away after November 2nd.
In the most unexpected and bizarre October surprise of my lifetime, Osama bin Laden interjected himself into the last days of the presidential campaign by editorializing against Bush. He accused the Bush family of nepotism, cronyism, and corruption. He criticized the Patriot Act by name, saying its purpose is to suppress freedom. And he said he found it easy to provoke and bait this administration. As Bill Maher courageously joked Friday night, "He's stolen Michael Moore's and my act."
Here's Osama's take on the opening scenes of Farenheit 9/11: "It never occurred to us that the commander-in-chief of the American forces would leave 50,000 in the two towers to face those horrors alone…because he thought listening to a child discussing her goat and its ramming was more important than the planes and their ramming of the skyscrapers. That gave us three times the required time to carry out the operations, praise Allah."
In a perfect world we would treat Osama bin Laden's remarks with the disdain they deserve and ignore them. He is a megalomaniacal murderer who should be captured and brought to justice, not analyzed. He's also an aging diva, who desperately wants to get back into the spotlight after having been displaced by a younger, more vicious version of himself--Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Osama looked tan, fit, and rested for his comeback role as Public Enemy #1. This is becoming like a Jihadist production of All About Eve.
Instead we live in Partisan World, where everything is about the horse race. Immediately the media, aided as always by The Note, was weighing two scenarios. A) It helps Bush because it would turn the topic away from the mess in Iraq to terrorism and Osama. B) It helps Kerry because it underlines his critique of the Bush Administration's failure to focus on Osama instead of going to war with Iraq. On balance, the Gang of 500 thinks it helps Bush.
Many reached this conclusion in part because of the virtually audible collective gasp from Kerry supporters on Friday afternoon. Osama bin Laden is using the same lines of attack against Bush that Democrats have been using for the last three years? Talk about the kiss of death.
But the question arises: kiss of death for whom? Since we have already started down this road, one feels the need to ask: does Osama really want Kerry to win? Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, one of our few remaining Arab allies, says Bush is a walking recruitment poster for al Qaeda.
Or to borrow the words of blogger Ana Marie Cox, aka Wonkette, "[Osama's] condemning Bush. Which of course means that he wants Kerry to win. Unless he really wants Bush to win and is just by default endorsing Kerry in order to get people to vote for Bush out of spite. But then again, if we're smart enough to figure this out, then maybe Osama knows that too and he really wants Kerry to win, and is endorsing Kerry so that people will at first lean towards voting for Bush but then think that's what Osama wants…So confusing."
None of this should matter. In a perfect world, the Bush Administration wouldn't try to spin this, because if they acknowledge and therefore amplify Osama's political importance, "the terrorists"--to borrow a popular refrain from three yaers ago--"win."
But in Partisan World, the Republicans were barely able to contain their glee as they went spinning away. "When people look at that guy [Osama], they understand we are at war," said Mr. Bush's campaign manager, Ken Mehlman. "And they want to make sure that their commander-in-chief does."
Well, Ken, since you brought the subject up, does this commander-in-chief really understand we are at war with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda? It seems to me when Bush had a chance to capture Osama "dead or alive" at Tora Bora he not only blew it but almost immediately turned the attention of the military, the special forces and his Administration to war with Iraq and Saddam Hussein, who the 9/11 commission confirmed had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.
Correct me if I'm wrong here, Kenny Boy, but wasn't it George W. Bush who said at one of his exceedingly rare press conferences in March of 2002, "So I don't know where he is. Nor, you know, I just don't spend that much time on him really, to be honest with you. I...I truly am not that concerned about him"?
And wasn't it President Bush who was so unconcerned about bin Laden that when Kerry brought up that specific quote in the second debate, Bush, apparently having forgotten he made it, denied it, calling Kerry's attack "One of those exaggerations"--drawling out the word "exaggerations" in the affected West Texas accent he breaks out when going for cheap laughs?
No, this dividing-not-uniting Administration can't help trying to turn its failure to capture bin Laden into a political positive. After all, they successfully turned their failure to take Islamic terrorism seriously before 9/11--remember the August 2001 PDB report entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside United States?"--into a political mandate when grieving Americans quite naturally wanted to rally around the flag after the shocking tragedy.
This Administration initially resisted proposals for a homeland security office before flip-flopping, while still making certain to put a poison pill into the bill limiting the legal rights of the new agency's employees. When Senate Democrats, like war hero Max Cleland, who left three limbs in the jungles of Vietnam, voted against this cynical provision, the Bush Administration used their honorable votes to claim they were soft on terrorism in the 2002 elections. As a result, Vietnam draft deferral specialist Saxby Chambliss beat veteran Cleland because of these baseless attacks.
No, this Administration can't help but try and turn its failures of vision, strategy, and policy into political positives. On November 2nd the American people have the opportunity to reject their cruel and cynical opportunism. I pray we do.
It's fitting that the last seven days of a presidential campaign fall during Halloween week. Scare tactics are the order for each day. The difference this year is the Republicans only have innuendo, while the Democrats can simply point to facts on the ground.
Bush's recent attack ad tried to cry wolf, but those dogs won't hunt. The real fear factor is Mesopotamia, where M is for Massacre, Mutiny, and Missing Explosives. In Iraq, everyday is the Day of the Dead. The tragedy is that this tragedy was not inevitable.
It is clear the Administration's handling of the occupation of Iraq goes beyond incompetence into the realm of negligence. As the situation went south in the Sunni Triangle, Bush punted, refusing to either increase the number of troops in Iraq or withdraw them. He did neither, preferring to dither on with a failed policy. Bush is not a war president; he's a war criminal president.
Even worse, Bush blames the "commanders-in-the-field," claiming that they say they have enough troops. Of course, they can't disagree publicly. When General Shinseki, the then Army Chief-of-Staff, told Congress we needed more troops to secure Iraq, the Bush Administration retired him early, shooting the messenger. When Paul Bremer, the second Bush appointed civil administrator of Iraq, privately asked for more troops, he was ignored.
Bush has spent his adult life in costume, pretending to be a Texas good ole boy. What he actually is, however, is the anti-Midas. From Arbusto to the Texas Rangers to the US surplus, everything golden he touches turns to lead. We can't afford to bail him out for four more years.
If you live in the non-swing state of New York, I urge you to vote for John Kerry on the Working Families Party line (Row E). This is the most powerful way for New Yorkers to cast a progressive vote in this national election.
For those unfamiliar with New York's voting rules, here's a brief reminder: Kerry is on the ballot twice, as the nominee of both the Democratic and Working Families Parties. A vote on the WFP line for Kerry counts just as much as a vote on the Democratic line, but it sends a message about what you believe in. It's a vote for equality and democracy, and for living wage jobs, affordable housing, universal healthcare and an end to preemptive wars.
The Nation was an early supporter of the WFP when it was established in 1998. It's fair to say our early hopes have been redeemed, and we have faith that the WFP can become even more potent and effective (including expanding to some new states) if it continues to prosper. Help it do so by casting your vote for Kerry under the banner of the Working Families Party, Row E. (Click here for more info on the WFP.)
And In Our State, Support Barbaro and Soares on the WFP Line
Frank Barbaro, who's running for Congress from Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island, deserves your support. As I wrote in this space last July, Barbaro is a genuine working class folk hero and a lifelong fighter for social and economic justice.
In normal times, the 13th district is a safe Republican seat but the demographics are shifting and the four-term Republican incumbent Vito Fossella has amassed a shameful record while ignoring his constituents. As a result, even papers like Crain's New York Business report that Fossella is "facing the most serious challenge since he was elected in 1997."
Barbaro has wrapped up endorsements from all the unions (except for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association), and just the other day Sarah Brady held a press conference on Staten Island to hail Barbaro as a "leader for common sense laws that prevent gun violence and make our communities safer."
Barbaro is running not just on the Democratic ticket but also on the Working Families Party Line, which sees in him an exemplary messenger for its core mission "to inject the concerns of working class, middle class and poor people into the public debate."
As Dan Cantor at WFP explains Barbaro's appeal: "If Paul Wellstone was a 78-year old Italian from Brooklyn, his name would be Frank Barbaro." To win on November 2nd, Barbaro needs support from smart and strategic progressives. Click here for more info on his campaign.
Meanwhile, in Albany, young activist attorney David Soares rocked the county in mid-September with his stunning landslide victory in the Democratic Primary for District Attorney.
A WFP nominee, Soares' race served as a referendum on the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws and his victory was a terrific accomplishment for the urban-suburban, black-white, gay-straight, grassroots community-labor campaign led by the WFP's Albany chair. The defeated Democratic Party incumbent, Paul Clyne, landed a spot on the Independence Party line and since then has been waging an ugly and negative campaign (along with the Republican in the race) to smear Soares for his activist past.
But, so far, not only is Soares leading in a three-way fight (according to the latest figures from an independent Albany Times Union/News Channel 13 poll) but reform of the Rockefeller drug laws--a key campaign issue for Soares--appears to be popular. A whopping sixty-six percent of respondents said Soares' reform stance was a plus. (This crosses party lines, with some 22 percent of Republicans polled saying they will vote for him because of his upport for drug law reform).
In the next few days, here's what you can do to assist Soares and the fight to repeal the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws:
1/ Support Soares by clicking here.
2/ Support the Working Families Party by clicking here.
3/ Vote for Soares if you live in Albany County and/or tell friends who live there to vote for him.
Steve Cobble, political consultant; progressive strategist father to two young women; former political director of the Rainbow Coalition; former McGovern county coordinator in New Mexico and elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention as a twenty-year-old in '72; national delegate coordinator for Jackson in '88, strategist for Nader in '00, strategist for Kucinich in '04 and occasional Nation contributor writes:
"Maybe you're young, and against the war. Or you're blue-collar, and think both major parties are just fronts for the big corporations. Or you think Bush is a liar, but Kerry's too cautious to win your heart.
"So you're still thinking about voting for Ralph Nader, or David Cobb. But you also live in a swing state, and you know it's close. You know it could go either way in Wisconsin, or New Mexico, or yes, Florida.
"And it does make you mad that George W. Bush thinks he can start an unnecessary war and lie to the American people about it. You are disgusted that Enron was Bush's #1 career backer, but when Ken Lay got in trouble, the media let Bush get away with pretending they barely knew each other. And you're really angry about Halliburton, outsourcing and repeated tax cuts for the already rich.
"So you'd like to help Bush lose, too. He just doesn't deserve another term. What do you do? Well, most of the Citizens Committee that endorsed Ralph Nader in 2000 has signed a public statement encouraging people who admire Nader and Cobb in swing states to cast their vote for Kerry. The group includes progressives Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Susan Sarandon, Bonnie Raitt, Barbara Ehrenreich and many more. So you could take their advice. (Click here to see the complete list.)
"Or if not casting your vote for Nader or Cobb is still too much, then why not "vote-pair"? Vote-pairing is legal and constitutional lawyers like Jamin Raskin designed the site using freedom of speech and freedom of association law. It's technically sweet and is staffed by smart and enthusiastic volunteer activists who believe both that third parties often serve a useful purpose and that George W. Bush needs to be defeated this year. (Vote-pairing also 'jiu-jitsus' the stupidity and racism inherent in the outdated electoral college system, in a way that reduces the so-called 'spoiler' problem.)
"Here's how it works: If you're a swing state voter who likes Ralph Nader or David Cobb, you can pair-up with a Kerry supporter from a safe red Bush state (like Utah or Oklahoma or Texas) and essentially swap votes. This way candidates like Nader and Cobb will receive the same number of votes nationally they would have received otherwise and so will John Kerry. But with vote-pairing, Kerry's vote will be in the swing state, the one that counts in the electoral college--a huge difference. Click here for more info and to sign up for vote-paring before it's too late.
"You can have your electoral cake, and eat it, too. On election night. With champagne. When we celebrate regime change at home, together."
With eight days to go before election day, it's the "November Surprise" that we need to worry about. Every day brings reports of voter intimidation and suppression in the key battleground states.
A front-page story in Saturday's New York Times reported that the Republican Party has registered thousands of people to serve as partisan "vote challengers" at Ohio polling places, in what they say is an effort to prevent "voter fraud." Meanwhile, the Columbus Dispatch reported that based on a mailing to newly registered voters, the GOP plans to challenge 35,000 voters in an effort to keep them from the polls.
This disturbing news from Ohio points to the potential for massive voter disenfranchisement in November--and additional confusion and chaos at the polls in this key swing state and others, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona--that have seen huge increases in voter registration.
"Based on the lessons of history," says Ralph Neas, President of People for the American Way (PFAW), "this isn't an effort to prevent voter fraud. It's an effort to prevent voting. It's an effort to keep people away from the polls by creating confusion, congestion and chaos. That's un-American."
What is so threatening about tens of thousands of new voters coming to the polls? Doesn't democracy work best when more people vote, not fewer? Obviously, voter fraud must not and should not be tolerated. But there is no evidence of massive voter fraud in this country. Instead, there is evidence of massive voter disenfranchisement.
Last August, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, who closely monitors voter-suppression efforts, reported a conversation with a member of Florida's GOP establishment, who admitted the open secret: "A Democrat can't win a statewide election in Florida without a high turnout....of African-Americans. It's no secret that the name of the game for Republicans is to restrain that turnout as much as possible."
With the election just a week from tomorrow, polls show Bush and Kerry still neck and neck. Will the country wake up on November 3rd with a national nervous electoral breakdown? In a smart piece in The Independent, Andrew Gumbel wonders whether Election 2004 "could just as easily produce a concatenation of knockdown, drag-out fights in several states at once, making the debacle in Florida four years ago look, in retrospect, like the constitutional equivalent of a vicarage tea party."
And it seems appropriate that John Dean, the Watergate-era counsel who knows a few things about electoral dirty tricks, has issued the starkest warning about what the country may face: "Only a miracle, it strikes me, " Dean wrote in a http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/102404V.shtml ">piece that zoomed around the internet on Sunday, "can prevent the election from descending into post-election chaos."
P.S. The best defense against voter suppression is to flood the polls. As Jim Hightower says, "There are only so many votes they can prevent or steal--a massive turnout will overwhelm their perfidy."