On September 26, the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting elected its new chairperson and vice-chairperson, and the eight-member board--which contains only two Democrats--selected two conservative Republican funders for these posts. Cheryl Halpern will succeed the embattled liberal-hunter Kenneth Tomlinson as chair. Gay Hart Gaines will be vice-chair. The board chose Gaines over an independent.
As press accounts have noted, Gaines, who was first appointed by George W. Bush to the CPB board in 2003, is an interior decorator by training. But she and her husband have contributed at least half a million dollars to GOP causes since 1998. Notably, Gaines was a charter member and chairman of GOPAC, a political action committee headed in the 1980s and 1990s by Newt Gingrich. During that period, GOPAC attracted much attention for dodgy practices (which drew a Federal Elections Commission investigation) and for its harsh partisan practices. So now it's an appropriate time to revisit one of GOPAC's most notorious actions.
In 1990, GOPAC, which worked with Republican candidates across the country, sent a memo titled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" to GOP contenders. The memo started,
As you know, one of the key points in the GOPAC [training] tapes is that "language matters." In the [GOPAC] video "We are a Majority," Language is listed as a key mechanism of control used by a majority party, along with Agenda, Rules, Attitude and Learning. As the tapes have been used in training sessions across the country and mailed to candidates we have heard a plaintive plea: "I wish I could speak like Newt."
That takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created this list of words and phrases.
The memo then provided two lists. One was a set of "Optimistic Positive Governing words and phrases to help describe" the GOP vision for the future; the other was a list of "Contrasting words to help you clearly define the policies and record of your opponent and the Democratic party."
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Bill Frist, John McCain, a rightwing cat fight, Bush's photo-opping and other in-the-news matters.
The positive words were hardly surprising; they included "caring," "freedom," "liberty," "moral," prosperity," and "strength. But the "contrasting words"--which GOPAC said should be applied to Democrats and their proposals--were rather hard-edged: "betray," "bizarre," "cheat," "corrupt," "destroy," "disgrace," "greedy," "incompetent," "intolerant," "radical," "shallow," "sick," and "traitors."
This is to say that Gay Hart Gaines, the number two on the CPB's board as of this week, was a leading official of an outfit that advised Republican candidates to brand Democrats "traitors." She now is in a position to search for bias in public radio and public television programming.
These days, it may seem that GOPAC was merely ahead of its time, given the harshness of the current political discourse. (After all, I wrote a book in which I applied one of GOPAC's "contrasting words" to George W. Bush: "lie.") But the GOPAC list was a clear attempt at putting propaganda ahead of substance. The memo did not tell GOP candidates to make sure they could back up their sharp assertions. The point was to turn name-calling into a strategic political tool. This was a (further) debasement of politics, and Gaines was apparently not put off by GOPAC's tactics. After the memo's existence was revealed by press reports, she did not leave GOPAC. In fact, three years later she became its chairperson.
Of course, advocates and party funders have the right to be as partisan (and rhetorically extreme) as they wish. But the CPB is an entity that is supposed to oversee journalistic endeavors. Should a supporter of party propagandists be in charge of overseeing the journalism of PBS and NPR? Only in Bushworld does this make sense. It often sounds melodramatic to claim that a given development is "Orwellian." But if that "contrasting word" is not merited in this case, then perhaps we ought to reach for an all-purpose term from Gaines' GOPAC list: "pathetic."
Amid chants of "Arrest Bush," hundreds of antiwar activists participated in a peaceful but boisterous sit-in outside the White House Monday, as part of a day of protests that saw Cindy Sheehan and others taken into custody.
Sheehan, the California woman whose 24-year-old son Casey was killed in the Iraq War, drew international attention in August when she camped out near George Bush's ranchette in Crawford, Texas, as part of an effort to secure a face-to-face meeting with the President. Over the weekend, the woman whom Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Lynn Woolsey, D-California, praised for "waking up America" brought her demand to Washington, where she participated in the mass demonstration against the war on Saturday.
On Monday, more than 1,000 people gathered in Lafayette Park across from the White House. Code Pink activists stretched a huge "Mothers Say No to War" banner across Pennsylvania Avenue, and early in the afternoon several hundred members of the crowd, including Sheehan, approached the northwest entrance of the executive residence. Holding a picture of her son in his US Army uniform, Sheehan again requested an opportunity to talk with the President about the Iraq War.
After about ten minutes, Sheehan joined a large sit-in along the fence outside the White House. As the group chanted "Stop the War!" and "The whole world is watching!" she was the first arrested by US Park Police. Like the others who were taken into custody, she was charged with demonstrating without a permit, a misdemeanor that carries a $50 fine. (In addition to the 370 people who joined the sit-in near the White House, another forty-one--including a number of members of the group Veterans for Peace--were arrested earlier in the day near the Pentagon.)
Though Bush did not meet with Sheehan on Monday, his spokesman Scott McClellan was forced to acknowledge that the President is "very much aware of the people here who have come to Washington."
McClellan, whose statements often display all the authenticity of pronouncements from the Politburo, made a hamhanded attempt to compare the weekend's mass anti-war protests with the tiny counter-protests by groups that are supportive of the war--suggesting that the crowds that poured into Washington included "some [who had come] to express support for the steps that we're taking and a number of others that have expressed a different view."
McClellan did allow as how the antiwar activists were "well-intentioned." But he added, "The President strongly believes that withdrawing [US troops from Iraq] would make us less safe and make the world more dangerous."
Sheehan took a different view, suggesting that the real danger comes from those in Congress who gave the Bush Administration permission to launch its war, and who have failed to demand an end to the misguided mission.
"We need a people's movement to end this war," Sheehan told Saturday's rally, during which she urged activists to increase the pressure on members of Congress to break with Bush and support the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. "We're going to ask them: How many more of other people's children are you willing to sacrifice for the lies?"
The White House may not be taking Sheehan or the broader antiwar movement seriously, but some members of the House of Representative seem to be getting the message. Woolsey, who has sponsored a resolution calling for an exit strategy, told Saturday's rally of antiwar activists: "You are far ahead of the Congress and the policy-makers on this war."
In his September 15 speech to the nation, President Bush asserted that poverty in America is mostly restricted to the nation's Southern states.Like a lot of right-wing ideologues when it comes to issues of race andpoverty in America, he's in denial.
Many Republicans seem to believe that poverty is confined to one region ofthe nation, that the past (i.e. what Bush called a "history of racialdiscrimination") should shoulder the blame for the problem, and thatindividuals make choices that determine their station in life. Bush'ssupporters hold the White House and the Republican agenda blameless, andargue that the president's vision for building an "ownership society" willenable America's poor to build a better life for themselves and their families.
The first thing wrong with such arguments is that poverty is not simplyfound in the deep South, as Bush suggested in primetime. Poverty is a factof life in every city and state nationwide. Sociologist Andrew Beveridge(at the request of the New York Times) recently conducted an economicsurvey of New York City and confirmed what other studies have alreadyshown--that New York is divided between the rich and the poor. Thisfabulously wealthy city has more than its share of entrenched poverty andracial economic disparities.
In the Bronx, the poverty rate is 30.6 percent, outranked only by threeborder counties in Texas where living costs are far lower. Overall, NewYork City's poverty rate was 21.8 percent, and people of color are morethan twice as likely to be poor as non-Hispanic whites. Beveridge's studyrevealed as well that the bottom fifth of Manhattan's income-earners arepaid two cents for each dollar that the top fifth currently earns.Economist Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute argues that Manhattan by itself is actually "an amplified microcosm" of poverty in the nation at large. (Manhattan is also leading the way when it comes toanother ominous trend: as the Fiscal Policy Institute recently warned, the city'smiddle class is being wiped out.)
America's claim to shame is that it has the highest level of poverty inthe industrialized world. Bush's four and a half years of trickle-downtheories have failed miserably. The poor have become even poorer. Thenation's poverty rate has climbed from a 27 year low of 11.3 percent to12.7 percent last year. Thirty seven million Americans are living belowthe poverty line, a group so large, Newsweek's Jonathan Alter pointed outin a post-Katrina cover article, that it amounts to "a nation of poorpeople the size of Canada or Morocco living inside the United States."
Bush may talk about addressing poverty in this rich nation, but hiscoldhearted agenda has made the problems much more pronounced. Hisadministration gave a massive tax break to corporations and thewealthiest individuals in his first term; since then, despite evidence ofrising income inequalities, a growing sea of red ink, and $200 billionneeded to fight the war in Iraq and another $200 billion we will spend torebuild the Gulf region, Bush has ruled out repealing any of his tax cutsfor the rich.(And this while household incomes failed to rise for fiveconsecutive years--for the first time on record.)
Bush leads a Republican party that has refused to increase the minimumwage (stuck at $5.15 an hour since 1997), tried to cut Medicaid, foodstamps, housing for the poor, Social Security, and promoted "faith-basedinitiatives" to rally "armies of compassion" that are supposed to assistthe poor through the right-wing panacea of charitable, religious giving.His Gulf Opportunity Zone is a sham. And while this White House tries tocut worker's pay in rebuilding the Gulf region, it lines the pockets ofthose poster boys of corruption--Halliburton and KBR--with no-bidcontracts. As Derrick Jackson wrote in the Boston Globe last week, Bush'splan "will squeeze yet more pulp out of the poor."
If there is a bright spot amidst the despair and catastrophe, it is thatsome in the mainstream media have started addressing issues ofpoverty, race and class in America. I don't know how long this momentwill last. But if some in the big media consistently and aggressivelyreport on poverty and class as central issues in US politics and society--and a few leading political figures find the political will, theimagination and the courage to fight for policies that have proven to workin tackling such an intractable problem--maybe we will see some progress.
(The verdict is in! Scroll below for an update on the St. Patrick's Day Four trial.)
Tens of thousands of protesters rallied on Saturday in Washington and other US and European cities to demand the withdrawal of US troops in some of the largest antiwar protests since the invasion of Iraq more than two years ago.
In DC, protest organizers estimated a crowd of about 200,000 rallied at the Ellipse, then marched around the White House and along Pennsylvania Avenue. Police put the crowd count at about 150,000. Elsewhere, marches took place in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Paul, Florence, and Madrid. In London, British police said around 10,000 people took to the streets, while organizers put the figure at nearer 100,000. A small rally was held in Paris, and in Rome dozens of demonstrators held up peace flags outside the US Embassy.
Among the rally speakers in Washington was the Rev. Jesse Jackson who compared Cindy Sheehan to such icons as Rosa Parks and Helen Keller and urged the audience to follow her example and stay involved in the peace movement, saying: "When you march, things happen. We'll change the Congress in 2006 and take back the White House in 2008." (Thanks to BradBlog, you can click here to hear Jackson as well as other rally speeches by Sheehan, George Galloway and Cynthia McKinney.)
For live reporting from DC, listen to Laura Flanders's Air America radio show. (Also listen to Flanders interview poet Sharon Olds who declined Laura Bush's invitation to join her at a book fair and explained why in a Nation magazine article.) Link TV is also running re-broadcasts of the rally and subsequent concert on the mall. And click here to support United for Peace and Justice's ability to keep up the antiwar momentum of the moment. Finally, watch TheNation.com for reporting from the DC march coming soon and use the comments section below to let us know about any antiwar events that took place outside of Washington.
Saint Patrick's Day Four Acquitted of Conspiracy; Guilty of Lesser Charges
Members of the Saint Patrick's Day Four--Clare and Teresa Grady, Peter DeMott and Daniel Burns--were acquitted in federal court in Binghamton, NY today on their most serious charge of "conspiracy to impede an officer of the United States" after more than seven hours of jury deliberations. The jury found them guilty of lesser charges including damaging government property and trespassing, both misdemeanors.
The courtroom erupted in applause as the verdicts were read. Representatives of the defendants said later they consider it a victory that they were acquitted of the conspiracy charge. Jurors deliberated about 90 minutes this morning, after deliberating for about six hours Friday. Sentencing for all four is set for January, 2006.
It's anti-war quiz time.
Who made the following statement:
"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now."
A.) Cindy Sheehan?
B.) Phil Donahue?
C.) Michael Moore?
D.) A prominent politician who was not afraid to dissent in a time of war.
Answer: D.) A prominent politician who was not afraid to dissent in a time of war.
Defenders of the occupation of Iraq will, before the weekend is done, have some choice words for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are marching and rallying for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from that Middle Eastern nation.
They will pull out all the deliberate misreads of intelligence and paranoid fantasies that were employed by George Bush in his relentless campaign to win support for the invasion of Iraq. But, above all, they will peddle the lie that since the beginning of this misguided war has been their favorite: The suggestion that those who oppose the war are somehow harming the troops.
A marketing campaign, launched shortly after the war began and continued to this day, has sought to link support for the men and women serving in this country's military forces with support for even the most foolhardy and dangerous of the president's policies. There are even bumper stickers that declare: "Support President Bush and the Troops."
But this is just political gamesmanship, nothing more.
How do we know?
Because House Majority Leader Tom DeLay tells us so.
Back in 1999, after then-President Bill Clinton had ordered U.S. forces to begin a massive bombing campaign and missile strikes against Yugoslavia, the House of Representatives considered a resolution supporting the mission. The leading opponent of the resolution was DeLay, who dismissed the notion that opposing the war was in any way an affront to the troops. In a visceral floor statement delivered in March of that year, DeLay declared, "Bombing a sovereign nation for ill-defined reasons with vague objectives undermines the American stature in the world. The international respect and trust for America has diminished every time we casually let the bombs fly. We must stop giving the appearance that our foreign policy is formulated by the Unabomber." As the war progressed, DeLay condemned "(President Clinton's) war," and grumbled in April, 1999, that, "There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our overextended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today."
To those who dared suggest that such aggressive language might be dispiriting to the troops who were engaged in the mission, DeLay told USA Today, "It's very simple. The president is not supported by the House, and the military is supported by the House."
DeLay's sentiments were echoed in the Senate by Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, who explained that, "My job as majority leader is be supportive of our troops, try to have input as decisions are made and to look at those decisions after they're made ... not to march in lock step with everything the president decides to do."
DeLay and Lott has allies in the media who were, if anything, even more passionate in their criticism of the war. Anticipating the current comments of Cindy Sheehan and other family members who have lost loved ones in Iraq, they framed their anti-war arguments as a plea to save the lives of U.S. troops who had been put in harm's way as part of a fool's mission. Sean Hannity growled into his Fox New microphone about how supporters of the war should be forced to: "Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life." Hannity was an "out now" man: "No goal, no objective, not until we have those things and a compelling case is made, then I say, back out of it, because innocent people are going to die for nothing. That's why I'm against it," he argued. Hannity's fellow peacenik, conservative commentator Tony Snow, even went so far as to make quagmire comparisons, suggesting on a March 24, 1999, Fox program: "You think Vietnam was bad? Vietnam is nothing next to Kosovo."
The commander-in-chief's critics found an ally in a candidate in the 2000 contest to replace Clinton. Sounding an awfully lot like U.S. Sen Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, who in August suggested that it was time to set a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, Texas Governor George W. Bush told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on June 5, 1999: "I think it's also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long (U.S. troops) will be involved and when they will be withdrawn."
What about "stay the course"?
No way, said Bush the candidate. "Victory means exit strategy," he told the Houston Chronicle on April 9, 1999, "and it's important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is."
Critics of this weekend's anti-war marchers will surely dust off the claim that the protesters are merely recycling the slogans of the 1960s. Fair enough. No more: "Make Love, Not War." Instead, why not recycle an anti-war slogan from the 1990s? Something catchy, like: "Victory means exit strategy." And while they're at it, foes of the Iraq occupation might want to recycle some of the better rhetoric of that decade, like the line: "I cannot support a failed foreign policy." Just be sure to credit the prominent politician who was not afraid to dissent in a time of war -- even if it meant criticizing the commander-in-chief: Tom DeLay.
Somehow, the disconnect persists. Despite a steady stream of polls and statements indicating public opposition to the war in Iraq, the stay-the-course consensus continues to suffocate DC.
Last week, a New York Times poll showed that 52 percent of Americans want immediate withdrawal, and that only 44 percent now feel that the United States "made the right decision in taking military action against Iraq." Yet, aside from a select group of representatives--like Progressive Caucus chair Lynn Woolsey, who convened an unofficial hearing on withdrawal last Thursday--calls for real change have been met with deaf ears on the part of the political class.
But, as tens of thousands of citizens are set to converge on the Mall this weekend for what could be the largest US protest yet against the Iraq war, and with some of America's largest cities having passed resolutions calling for a pullout, ignoring the public may no longer be politically tenable. Last week, the Chicago City Council voted 29 to 9 to become the largest US city to pass the "Bring Them Home Now" resolution. The Windy City joins Philadelphia, San Francisco, and more than fifty other municipalities that have called for withdrawal.
"When you have a city as diverse and as large as Chicago weighing in on this important issue, I think it will have real impact," Ald. Joseph Moore (49th), a leading sponsor of the resolution, told the Chicago Tribune. "We are from the heartland."
The nationwide push for local resolutions is being led by Cities for Progress, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies, which also works towards passing local bills on extending health care benefits, establishing living wages and opposing the Patriot Act. The movement has grown considerably since its inception last March, when dozens of towns and cities in Vermont called for withdrawal. Organized labor has joined in too: in July, the AFL-CIO called for "the rapid return of US troops" and scores of local, state, and national labor organizations have passed similar resolutions.
If you're tired of seeing $5 billion squandered each month in Iraq while our own national infrastructure remains in a shambles, click here to download a step-by-step guide detailing how to help convince your City Council members to pass the resolution. The tide's not going to turn without us.
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
Of all the votes by Democratic senators in favor of the nomination of John Roberts to serve as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, none is likely to be more disappointing to progressives than that of Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold.
Feingold, a maverick Democrat whose increasingly outspoken criticism of the war in Iraq has earned him frequent mentions as a potential candidate for his party's 2008 presidential nomination, was one of three Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to support the Roberts nomination on Thursday.
Along with Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the committee, and fellow Wisconsinite Herb Kohl, Feingold joined all of the committee's Republicans in backing the Bush administration nominee. The three Democratic votes on the committee are likely to ease the way for as many as two dozen Senate Democrats to vote to confirm Roberts when the nomination goes to the full Senate.
Feingold's stance is especially significant, as his lonely opposition to the Patriot Act in 2001 and other bold challenges to the administration have marked him as one of the chamber's more courageous defenders of civil rights and civil liberties. As such, his support of Roberts provides other Democrats and moderate Republicans who choose to back the nominee with a measure of cover.
But why would Feingold want to provide that cover?
The senator, who has a record of showing great deference to presidents when it comes to confirming nominees (including that of former Attorney General John Ashcroft), had his excuses. He told the committee, "Judge Roberts's impeccable legal credentials, his reputation and record as a fair-minded person, and his commitment to modesty and respect for precedent have persuaded me that he will not bring an ideological agenda to the position of Chief Justice of the United States and that he should be confirmed."
But, then, in the same statement to the committee, Feingold admitted, "I do not want to minimize the concerns that have been expressed by those who oppose the nomination. I share some of them. Many of my misgivings about this nomination stem from Judge Roberts's refusal to answer many of our reasonable questions. Not only that, he refused to acknowledge that many of the positions he took as a member of the Reagan Administration team were misguided or in some cases even flat-out wrong."
The fact is that Feingold asked some of the best questions of Roberts on those very issues, and he got some of the worst answers.
Unfortunately, Feingold does not appear to have taken those exchanges seriously enough to decide that Roberts failed the test.
One senator who did listen to Feingold's exchanges with the nominee was Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy.
In explaining his decision to vote against Roberts, Kennedy specifically mentioned Feingold's pointed questioning of Roberts.
Recalling the discussion of the Roberts's efforts to block the strengthening of the Voting Rights Act when the nominee served in Ronald Reagan's administration, the Massachusetts senator noted that, "Both Senator Feingold and I tried to find out whether he came to agree with the strengthened Voting Rights Act after President Reagan signed it into law. Even when Senator Feingold asked whether Judge Roberts would acknowledge today that he had been wrong to oppose (limits on the ability of minorities to seek protection under the Voting Rights Act), he refused to give a yes-or-no answer."
Kennedy went on to point out that: "Senator Feingold asked: 'What I'm trying to figure out is, given the fact that you've followed this issue for such a long time, I would think you would have a view at this point about… whether the department was right in seeking to keep the (narrow) intent test (that Roberts lobbied for) or whether time has shown that the (broader) effects test (that was supported by civil rights groups and much of Congress) is really the more appropriate test.'
"Judge Roberts responded, 'I'm certainly not an expert in the area and haven't followed and have no way of evaluating the relative effectiveness of the law as amended or the law as it was prior to 1982.
"So we still don't know whether he supports the basic law against voting practices that result in denying voting rights because of race, national origin, or language minority status."
Feingold's questioning helped Kennedy form his conclusion that, "Based on the record available, there is clear and convincing evidence that Judge Roberts' view of the rule of law would narrow the protection of basic voting rights. The values and perspectives displayed over and over again in his record cast large doubts on his view of the validity of laws that remove barriers to equal opportunity for women, minorities, and the disabled. His record raises serious questions about the power of Congress to pass laws to protect citizens in matters they care about."
Kennedy concluded, appropriately, that it would be irresponsible on any senator -- particularly any progressive senator -- to vote for the Roberts nomination.
Feingold did not choose to embrace the responsibility that Kennedy recognized. Though he asked the right questions, Feingold cast the wrong vote.
Any doubts about whether the Bush administration's nominee to become the 17th chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court will win the endorsement of the Senate Judiciary Committee came were removed when the ranking Democrat on the committee, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, said he would join Republicans in supporting the confirmation of John Roberts. Though Leahy asked some of the toughest questions of Roberts during the Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination, and received some of the least-satisfying answers, the senator has now decided to suspend disbelief.
``John Roberts is a man of integrity," Leahy announced, adding that, "I can only take him at his word that he does not have an ideological agenda.''
Leahy, a former prosecuting attorney, would never have convinced a jury with so lame an expression of confidence in a star witness. But his decision could convince a number of Democrats on the committee -- including cautious moderates such as California's Dianne Feinstein and Wisconsin's Herb Kohl -- to back Roberts. And as many as half of the Senate's 44 Democratic members may do the same when the full chamber considers the nomination. Certainly, the announcement by so-called Senate Democratic "Leader" Harry Reid, D-Nevada, that he will oppose Roberts's confirmation will not have much impact.
Indeed, there is some serious speculation that the Reid-Leahy split -- coming with a 24-hour period -- is meant to comfort the Democratic party's anti-Roberts base while at the same time signaling to wavering Senate Democrats that they are essentially free to back Roberts. Within the Democratic Caucus, there is some sentiment for the view that members should vote to confirm Roberts in order to appear cooperative with the Bush administration when it comes to high court nominations. That, the theory goes, will make Democratic opposition to a conservative replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor more credible.
The awareness that such calculations are in play led to a good deal of snickering when Leahy, who is nothing if he is not an able politicial player, claimed to be "voting my conscience" with his endorsement of Roberts. Even Leahy seemed to be dubious about his stance, as the senator admitted to lingering concerns that Roberts will, as chief justice, be too deferential to presidential authority. (Leahy's suggestion that his concerns were somewhat alleviated by the fact that Roberts is an admirer of the late Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson was comic. It is true that Jackson was involved in a high-profile challenge to presidential authority in 1952, when he backed a Supreme Court ruling to block an attempt by then-President Harry Truman to seize and operate U.S. steel mills for the supposed purpose of maintaining production of needed munitions during the Korean War. But the fact that Roberts, perhaps the most pro-corporate nominee in the history of the court, respects a jurist who chose to prevent the government from meddling in the affairs of major corporations can hardly be called "reassuring.")
For evidence of where people of conscience are lining up, consider the statement by the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, who on Wednesday advanced the most convincing case for rejecting Roberts. While conservatives will dismiss Kennedy as a liberal partisan who would never back a Republican nominee, the truth is the opposite. As the veteran senator noted Wednesday, "In my 43 years in the United States Senate, I have supported more nominees for the Supreme Court by Republican presidents than by Democratic presidents." Kennedy backed the nominations of Antonin Scalia, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy and other members of the court who were nominated by Republican presidents. (Significantly, Kennedy was one of nine senators who voted against former President George H.W. Bush's 1990 nomination of Justice David Souter, who has turned out to be one of the court's most liberal members. As with the Roberts nomination, Kennedy was concerned that Souter had not been frank enough in his testimony before the Judiciary Committee.)
It is notable that even if Leahy was not sufficiently concerned by Roberts's responses to his questions, the statement from senator from Massachusetts indicates that he was influenced by the issues the senator from Vermont raised.
Here is what Senator Kennedy had to say in announcing his opposition to the Roberts nomination:
Our Founders proclaimed the bedrock principle that we are all created equal. But everyone knows that when we started, the reality was far different. For more than two centuries, we have struggled, sometimes spilling precious blood, to fulfill that unique American promise. The goals, the principles, and the sacrifices of millions of Americans breathed an ever-fuller life into our constitutional ideals.
The Constitution itself has been the inspiration for this march of progress. The open-ended principles that our Founders had the wisdom to bequeath us have acquired ever-deeper meaning over the years – a remarkably steady movement toward greater protection for individual rights and liberties, and an increasing assurance that governments at all levels have the authority to defend ordinary Americans from overreaching by those who would discriminate against them or exploit them.
We have made much progress. But our work is not finished, and we still look to our elected representatives and our independent courts to uphold those founding principles in each new generation, to continue the great march of progress, to never turn back and never give up our hard-won gains.
This was the basic issue in our hearings on the nomination of John Roberts to become our next Chief Justice. Would he bring to that high office the values and ideals that would enable our struggle for equality and opportunities for all to continue, or would he stand in the way?
The only records made available to us were those of John Roberts as an aggressive activist in the Reagan Administration, eager to limit basic values we have achieved at great cost and sacrifice over the years, especially in basic areas such as voting rights, women's rights, civil rights, and disability rights. He's an outstanding lawyer who says he could represent clients on any side of a question. As Congressman John Lewis eloquently stated in our hearings, 25 years ago, John Roberts was on the wrong side of the nation's struggle to achieve genuine equality of opportunity for all Americans. Now, we need to know whose side he is on today. We need to know that as Chief Justice of the United States, his sole client would be all the American people. John Roberts is a highly intelligent nominee. He has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court, and won more than half of them. He is adept at turning questions on their head while giving seemingly appropriate answers. These skills served him well as a Supreme Court advocate. These same skills, however, made a mockery of the confirmation process. At the end of the four days of hearings, we still know very little more than we knew when we started.
He proclaimed repeatedly in the hearings that he would uphold the rule of law.
In answer to a question about his views, he said, "If I am confirmed, on the Supreme Court, I need to decide those questions with an open mind on the basis of the arguments presented, on the basis of the record presented in the case, and on the basis of the rule of law."
In answer to another question about his views, he stated again, "I will confront issues in this area as I would confront issues in any area, . . . and that would be to fully and fairly consider the arguments presented and decide them according to the rule of law."
In yet another instance, he proclaimed, "The responsibility of the judicial branch is to decide particular cases that are presented to them in this area according to the rule of law." And again, "I became a lawyer or at least developed as lawyer because I believe in the rule of law."
The rule of law. Everyone in the Senate agrees with that. In fact, we have each taken an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution, and we take that oath seriously. But it reveals little about how we will vote on the important questions of the day, and what values and ideals we bring to our decisions.
Judge Roberts said that a judge should be like an umpire, calling the balls and strikes, but not making the rules. But we all know that with any umpire, the call may depend on your point of view. An instant replay from another angle can show a very different result. Umpires follow the rules of the game. But in critical cases, it may well depend on where they are standing when they make the call.
The same holds true of judges.
As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously stated, "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience."
As Justice Stephen Breyer offered in his confirmation hearing, "I always think law requires both a heart and a head. If you do not have a heart, it becomes a sterile set of rules, removed from human problems, and it will not help. If you do not have a head, there is the risk that in trying to decide a particular person's problem in a case that may look fine for that person, you cause trouble for a lot of other people, making their lives yet worse."
The rule of law is not some mathematical formula for meting out justice. It is our values and ideals that give it real meaning – in the case of the Constitution, not our personal values and ideals, but our values and ideals derived from the meaning of the constitutional text.
We all believe in the rule of law. But that is just the beginning of the conversation when it comes to the meaning of the Constitution. The Constitution of Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas is a very different document from the Constitution of Justice Stevens and Justice Souter. Everyone follows the same text. That is the rule of law. But the meaning of the text is often imprecise. You must examine the intent of the Framers, the history, and the current reality. And this examination will lead to very different outcomes depending on each Justice's constitutional world view. Is it a full and generous view of our rights and liberties and of government power to protect the people, or a narrow and cramped view of those rights and liberties and the government's power to protect ordinary Americans?
Based on the record available, there is clear and convincing evidence that Judge Roberts' view of the rule of law would narrow the protection of basic voting rights. The values and perspectives displayed over and over again in his record cast large doubts on his view of the validity of laws that remove barriers to equal opportunity for women, minorities, and the disabled. His record raises serious questions about the power of Congress to pass laws to protect citizens in matters they care about.
In fact, there is nothing in the record to indicate otherwise. For all the hoopla and all the razzle-dazzle, the record is no different in its bedrock substance than it was the day the hearings started.
When Senator Kohl and others asked Judge Roberts whether he would disavow any of the positions he took over the years, he refused to do so. On the first day of the hearing, Senator Kohl asked, "Which of those positions were you supportive of, or are you still supportive of, and which would you disavow?" Judge Roberts never provided a clear response.
1.) Voting Rights Act
In the area of voting rights, he has a record of strong opposition to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which is widely acknowledged by scholars and civil rights experts to be one of the most powerful and effective civil rights laws ever enacted. It outlaws voting practices that deny or dilute the right to vote based on race, national origin, or language minority status – and is largely uncontroversial today. Before it was passed, there had not been a single African-American elected since Reconstruction from seven of the southern states with the greatest of African American populations.
But in 1981 and 1982, Judge Roberts was one of a small group of attorneys in the Justice Department urging the Administration to oppose a strong Section 2, which allowed discrimination to be proved by demonstrating its result, not just its intent.
Although Judge Roberts sought to characterize his opposition to this critical amendment as simply following the policy of the Reagan Administration, the dozens of memos he wrote on this subject show that he personally believed the Administration was right to oppose the "results test."
In fact, he pressed to keep others from changing their minds about opposing the law. When Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Brad Reynolds raised concerns about sending the Senate a letter on this issue, John Roberts urged the Attorney General to send it, stating that "my own view is that something must be done to educate the Senators on the seriousness of this problem . . . ." Of course, the problem he saw was the amendment, not the discrimination it was designed to end.
He also urged the Attorney General to assert his leadership against the amendment to Section 2. He wrote that the Attorney General should "head off any retrenchment efforts" by White House staff who were inclined to support the amendment. He consistently urged the Administration to require voters to bear the heavy burden of proving discriminatory intent in order to overturn practices that locked them out of the electoral process.
Judge Roberts clearly knew that his position would make it harder for voters to overturn restrictive voting laws. As he wrote at the time, "violations of section 2 should not be made too easy to prove . . . ." Remember, when he wrote this there were no African Americans elected to Congress from the states with the largest black populations, and only 18 in Congress overall. And there were only 6 Latinos in Congress. There is no indication in any of his writings on the Voting Rights Act that he was the least bit troubled by this obvious discrimination.
The year after section 2 was signed into law, Judge Roberts wrote in a memo to the White House Counsel that "we were burned" by the Voting Rights Act legislation.
Given his clear record of hostility to this key voting rights protection, the public has a right to know if he still holds these views. But Judge Roberts gave us hardly a clue.
When I asked him if he holds these views today, he refused to answer. He repeatedly tried to characterize his views as the views of the Administration. He declined to say whether he agreed with them – then or now. That answer strains credibility, when the memos themselves declare: "my own view is that something must be done…."
In fairness, he did concede that he no longer believes that Section 2 is, to use his words from the 1980s, "constitutionally suspect." But the fact that it took almost 20 minutes for him to provide this obvious answer to a straightforward yes-or-no question is not reassuring.
Both Senator Feingold and I tried to find out whether he came to agree with the strengthened Voting Rights Act after President Reagan signed it into law.
Even when Senator Feingold asked whether Judge Roberts would acknowledge today that he had been wrong to oppose the effects test, he refused to give a yes-or-no answer.
Senator Feingold asked: "What I'm trying to figure out is, given the fact that you've followed this issue for such a long time, I would think you would have a view at this point about…whether the department was right in seeking to keep the intent test or whether time has shown that the effects test is really the more appropriate test."
Judge Roberts responded, "I'm certainly not an expert in the area and haven't followed and have no way of evaluating the relative effectiveness of the law as amended or the law as it was prior to 1982."
So we still don't know whether he supports the basic law against voting practices that result in denying voting rights because of race, national origin, or language minority status.
You don't need to be a voting rights expert to say we're better off today in an America where persons of color can be elected to Congress from any state in the country, as opposed to the America of 1982, in which no African American had been elected to Congress since Reconstruction from Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, or Louisiana, because restrictive election systems effectively denied African Americans and other minorities the equal chance to elect representatives of their choice. In these states, African Americans were a third or more of the population, but they were effectively blocked from electing any candidate of their choice decade after decade throughout the twentieth century.
Yet Judge Roberts repeatedly refused to give even this simple reassurance about the Act. Is that what he means by the rule of law?
2.) Civil Rights Restoration Act
Another very important area in which Judge Roberts refused to disavow his long history of opposition to civil rights is in the prevention of discrimination by recipients of federal funds. These laws were adopted because, Congress believed, as President Kennedy said in 1963, that "[s]imple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers . . . contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes, or results in . . . discrimination." As an assistant to Attorney General William French Smith, John Roberts argued that these important laws should be narrowed.
In fact, his position was even more extreme than the Reagan Administration's. In 1981, he supported a recommendation to exempt institutions from civil rights laws if the only federal financial assistance they received was in the form of loans to their students. Under this view, the enormous subsidies the federal government gives colleges and universities in the form of federal financial aid would not have been enough to require them to obey the laws against discrimination.
At many private institutions, financial assistance to students was the only form of federal aid, so Judge Roberts' suggestion would have left those institutions largely free to discriminate against women, the disabled, and minorities in both education and hiring.
In fact, Judge Roberts's position was so extreme that it was rejected by the Reagan Administration and later by the Supreme Court. But in his testimony, Judge Roberts ignored this aspect of his record. He refused even to acknowledge that his past positions had gone beyond the Administration's. Instead, he stated repeatedly that he was just doing his job.
He said, "I was articulating and defending the administration's position. . . . The position that the administration advanced was the one I just described. The universities were covered due to federal financial assistance to their students. It extended to the admissions office." That's an accurate statement of the Administration's position, but the view Judge Roberts advanced in his December 8, 1981 memo was quite different.
I also asked whether he still agreed with the statement he made in 1985, that "[t]riggering coverage of an institution on the basis of its accepting students who receive Federal aid is not too onerous if only the admissions office is covered. If the entire institution is to be covered, however, it should be on the basis of something more solid than Federal aid to the students."
Again and again, Judge Roberts refused to say whether he still agrees with those words. He said only "Well, Senator, the administration policy was as I articulated it. And it was my job to articulate the administration policy."
That's no answer at all. I never asked about the policy of the Reagan Administration. I asked only whether today, he still believed, or would disavow, his earlier position. Given his repeated refusal to answer, I can only conclude that he still holds those views today.
In addition, in response to questions from Senator Biden, Judge Roberts refused to say he no longer agrees with his former position that laws against discrimination should be narrowly interpreted to apply only in the parts of the institution that directly receive federal funds. Under this view, a college that received federal financial assistance through its admissions office could not discriminate in admissions, but it could discriminate in every other aspect of its operations – in hiring teachers, in instructing students, and in athletics. When Senator Biden reminded Judge Roberts that he'd written in 1982 that he "strongly agreed" with this view, Judge Roberts never said he no longer holds that position. Instead he testified under oath, "So if the view was strongly held, it was because I thought that was a correct reading of the law." Is that his view of the rule of law?
3.) Title IX
Another very important area in which Judge Roberts failed to give any reassurance was his position protecting women and girls against discrimination in educational programs under Title IX.
In the case of Franklin v. Gwinnett County, in 1991, Judge Roberts argued that Title IX did not allow a high school girl who had been sexually abused by her teacher to recover damages. Judge Roberts' argument would have left the victim with no remedy at all.
Senator Leahy asked him, "Do you now personally agree with and accept as binding law the reasoning of Justice White's opinion in Franklin v. Gwinnett?" Judge Roberts replied that, "It certainly was a precedent of the court that I would apply under principles of stare decisis."
That answer sounds reassuring, until you realize that Judge Roberts never answered whether he personally agreed with this unanimous decision of the Court.
Senator Leahy offered Judge Roberts several chances to disavow his position in the Franklin case. He asked, "Do you now accept that Justice White's position [in Franklin v. Gwinnett County] was right and the government's position was wrong?" Just Roberts replied again, "I certainly accept the decision of the court--the 9-0 decision, as you say – as a binding precedent of the court. Again, I have no cause or agenda to revisit it or any quarrel with it."
That sounded reassuring, until I recalled that Justice Thomas repeatedly used the same words – "I have no quarrel with it" – to evade answers during his nomination hearing. Justice Thomas testified, for instance that he had "no quarrel" with the test established by the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurzman for analyzing claims under the First Amendment's prohibition on the establishment of religion. But just two years later, Justice Thomas joined a dissent ridiculing the test and saying it should not be applied, and Justice Thomas has consistently opposed the Lemon test ever since.
I have to wonder why it was so difficult for Judge Roberts simply to say, "Yes, in hindsight, I personally believe that Franklin v. Gwinnett was correctly decided, and that victims of intentional sex discrimination in educational programs do have a right to relief under Title IX." Why was that so difficult an answer for Judge Roberts to give? Could it be that it was contrary to his view of the rule of law?
4.) Affirmative Action
Judge Roberts's record is also one of consistent and long-standing opposition to affirmative action. In the 1980s, he urged the Reagan Administration to oppose affirmative action. In the 1990s, in the administration of the first President Bush, he urged the Supreme Court to overturn a federal affirmative action program. In private practice in the late 1990s and as recently as 2001, he litigated cases challenging affirmative action. That includes his repeated challenges to the Department of Transportation's disadvantaged business enterprise program, which has been upheld by every court that has reviewed it.
On affirmative action, his view of the rule of law seems to be that established court precedents have little meaning, even though they have been found again and again to advance our progress on civil rights.
In 1981, he advocated abolishing race- and gender-conscious remedies for discrimination, although he admitted this position was in "tension" with the Supreme Court's opinion in United Steelworkers of America v. Weber, upholding affirmative action in employment – a case that had been decided only two years earlier. He wrote that the Administration did not see that opinion as a "guiding principle."
In the same memos dealing with the Weber decision, Judge Roberts even suggested that the opinion might be overturned because of changes in the Court's composition.
Given his long and consistent opposition to affirmative action, Senators were entitled to seek some reassurance from the nominee that he would not use the power of the Chief Justice to continue his past efforts to end affirmative action.
I asked Judge Roberts, "Do you agree then with Justice O'Connor, writing for the majority, that gave great weight to the real-world impact of affirmative policies in universities?" He stated, "I can certainly say that I do think that that is the appropriate approach, without commenting on the outcome or the judgment in a particular case. But you do need to look at the real-world impact in this area and I think in other areas as well." So he thinks that we should consider real world impact, but he never stated whether he agreed with Justice O'Connor that the University of Michigan case was correctly decided. On that issue, we don't know any more than we did before the hearing.
Senator Feinstein also asked Judge Roberts his view of affirmative action, but he avoided her question as well. She asked, "Do you personally subscribe, not to quotas, but to measured efforts that can withstand strict scrutiny?" Judge Roberts replied, "A measured effort that can withstand strict scrutiny is…a very positive approach." Well, that sounds as though he agrees, but then he also said, "And I think people will disagree about exactly what the details should be."
When Senator Feinstein stated she specifically wanted to know his view of Grutter v. Bollinger, the University of Michigan case upholding affirmative action, Judge Roberts gave a long answer that was no answer at all. "In the Michigan case, obviously, you have – I always forget whether it's the law school --- but I think the law school program was upheld and the university program was struck down because of the differences in the program. But efforts to ensure the full participation in all aspects of our society by people, without regard to their race, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, all those are efforts that I think are appropriate."
But of course, Senator Feinstein had not asked about efforts to ensure participation without regard to race. She'd asked his view on a particular affirmative action program at the University of Michigan Law School that took race into account. We still don't know whether he agrees with that important Supreme Court decision, and his refusal to tell us is very troubling.
5.) The Right of All Children to Share in Public Education
I'm also troubled by Judge Roberts' refusal to distance himself from his past criticism of the very important Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe, which held that the basic principle of equal protection requires all school age children to have the same access to public education – including the children of undocumented immigrants. In a very real sense, the Plyler decision is as important to the children of undocumented workers as the Brown decision is to African American children. Yet Judge Roberts strongly criticized the decision. On the day the case was decided, he co-authored a memo criticizing the Solicitor General's Office for failing to file a brief arguing that these children could be denied public education.
Senator Durbin asked Judge Roberts, "Did you agree with the decision . . . then? Or do you agree with it now?" Judge Roberts avoided the question, saying "I haven't looked at the decision in Plyler v. Doe in 23 years. . . ."
Senator Durbin asked, "Is this settled law, as far as you are concerned, about our commitment in education. . . ?" Judge Roberts again avoided the question, stating that he had not looked at the case recently and that when he wrote the memo, he was just doing his job.
So we are left with nothing to reassure us that he has changed his mind from his harsh criticism of that opinion in the past. His many statements of support for the rule of law yield no clue about his true convictions on this important question today.
6.) Women's Rights
Finally, a number of my colleagues on the Committee asked Judge Roberts about issues related to women's rights and a woman's right to privacy. On these important matters, too, he never gave answers that shed light on his current views.
No one is entitled to become Chief Justice of the United States. The confirmation of nominees to our courts – by and with the advice and consent of the Senate – should not require a leap of faith. Nominees must earn their confirmation by providing us with full knowledge of the values and convictions they will bring to decisions that may profoundly affect our progress as a nation toward the ideal of equality.
Judge Roberts has not done so. His repeated allegiance to the rule of law reveals little about the values he would bring to the job of Chief Justice of the United States. The record we have shows a clear hostility to our progress toward our common American vision of equal opportunity for all of our citizens.
Supporting or opposing nominees to the Supreme Court should not be a partisan question. In my 43 years in the United States Senate, I have supported more nominees for the Supreme Court by Republican presidents than by Democratic presidents.
But, there is clear and convincing evidence that John Roberts is the wrong choice for Chief Justice. I oppose the nomination, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.
I interrupt the spirited debate raging in the comments section on whether we should care about the police records of Jeb Bush's children--and whether these Bush kids received preferential treatment due to their father's position--in order to post again today on the latest news regarding the Roberts nomination. If you want to join the fray on the previous column, click the link for that column at the bottom of this page.
What's a Democrat to do?
On September 20, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid issued a passionate statement denouncing the nomination of John Roberts Jr. as chief justice of the Supreme Court. He said he would vote against Roberts, and he pointed to memos Roberts had written in the 1980s in which Roberts took hard-edged conservative stances on civil rights, privacy issues and other matters. Reid also cited the Bush administration's refusal to release memos Roberts had written when he served in the solicitor general's office during the first Bush administration. "We should only vote to confirm this nominee if we are absolutely positive that he is the right person" for the post, Reid said. His position was unambiguous.
On September 21, Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat of the judiciary committee, declared that he would vote for Roberts. Leahy released a lengthy statement that could have justified either a nay or aye vote. He said he was "extremely disappointed by the lack of cooperation from the Administration....The Bush administration treated senators' requests for information with little respect. Instead, for the first time in my memory, they grafted exceptions from the Freedom of Information Act to limit their response to Senators' requests for information. They stonewalled entirely the narrowly tailored request for work papers from 16 significant cases John Roberts handled when he was the principal deputy to Kenneth Starr at the Solicitor General's office during the President's father's administration." Leahy also complained that Roberts "disserviced himself" by being tight-lipped about his judicial views during his confirmation hearings. And Leahy voiced concern about where Roberts would lead the court:
Judge Roberts's work in the Reagan and Bush Justice Departments as well as his formative period in the Reagan White House seem to have led him to a philosophy of significant deference to presidential authority.....Maybe this deference was a principal basis on which this President chose him....This is a fundamental question. We know that we are in a period in which the Executive has a complicit and compliant Republican Congress that refuses to serve as a check or balance. Without the courts to fulfill that constitutional role, excess will continue, and the balance will be tilted.
But Leahy put aside these and other concerns. Why? Because he believes "Roberts is a man of integrity." He explained:
I can only take him at his word that he does not have an ideological agenda. For me, a vote to confirm requires faith that the words he spoke to us have meaning. I can only take him at his word that he will steer the court to serve as an appropriate check on potential abuses of presidential power. I respect those who have come to different conclusions, and I readily acknowledge the unknowable at this moment, that perhaps they are right and I am wrong. Only time will tell.
"Only time will tell" is not much of a bone to toss to the Democratic base, which has organized against Roberts and yearns for a fight. Once again, the Democrats are splitting on an issue that its most ardent supporters care much about. Just like Iraq. Ted Kennedy (no surprise) is voting against Roberts. So is John Kerry. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, is voting for Bush's pick. Some progressive bloggers have tried to target Baucus, depicting him as a Democratic turncoat. Are they now going to do the same with Leahy, an otherwise reliable liberal? And can any Democrat who wants to run in 2008 vote to confirm Roberts? There is much anticipation regarding Hillary Clinton's vote. Perhaps Leahy has given her the cover she needs to vote for Roberts. Still, imagine the debate during the Democratic presidential primaries of 2008 if Roberts reaches the court and then weakens abortion rights. Candidates who voted for Roberts could expect to face harsh questions from candidates who opposed Roberts as well as from potential supporters and voters.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Hurricane Katrina, Marjorie Williams' honesty in death; new ammo for abortion foes, and other in-the-news matters.
Putting aside 2008, how much alienation can the Democratic Party afford now? If its troops--and key liberal fundrasiers--expected a fight on Roberts, they are in for a big disappointment. And such disappointment at the grassroots is not good for a party--especially as it heads into an election year. This is a similar to what has been happening within the party on Iraq. Most Democrats beyond the Beltway are fed up with the war, if the polls are to be believed. But they do not see the leadership of the party--such as there is any leadership of the party--reflecting their concern. In Washington, a handful of Democrats are calling for a withdrawal of some sort from Iraq, some Democrats are urging that the Bush administration fight a better and smarter war, and many (including congressional leaders) are not saying much at all.
Of course, there are real policy differences among Democrats. But on the Roberts nomination and the Iraq war, the GOP is in synch with its base: stay the course and pass Roberts. The Dems are squabbling among themselves, and that renders it more difficult for the party to present a coherent message that could stir its foot soldiers and/or to entice new recruits. The Republicans are engaged in their own intramural fight over federal spending and the reconstruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. (When Tom DeLay recently declared that there was no more fat to cut in the federal budget, other conservative Republicans howled at such blasphemy.) And this fight may become ugly. But for now the Democrats are the ones who cannot agree on a bumpersticker.
The election of 2006 is a year away. But if the Democrats are going to try to turn it into a national election--that is, one with overarching themes that can play in various districts and states--they will eventually need a consensus pitch. Going national in this fashion is always a difficult task for a party; most elections are determined by local factors and the qualities of the particular candidates. But it's even tougher when the party has competing messages on the key issues of the moment.
Scroll down for a new update on the St. Patrick's Day Four Trial.
As antiwar sentiment keeps broadening and calls for withdrawal become more and more mainstream, this weekend's antiwar activities in Washington could be the US's largest Iraq war protest yet. With Congressional initiatives for withdrawal beginning to take shape, we could be coming to one of those tipping point moments everyone is so fond of citing these days.
Here's the official schedule for Saturday's antiwar march and rally, organized by United for Peace and Justice. It's a full day that starts with a late morning rally, a march through downtown Washington and an antiwar fair on the grounds of the Washington Monument, capped off by a concert featuring Le Tigre, Ted Leo, Jello Biafra and Steve Earle, among many others.
10:00am, Peace & Justice Festival Begins, Washington Monument Grounds
11:30am, Rally at Ellipse
12:30pm, March begins
3:00pm, Operation Ceasefire concert
Saturday's events will be followed by a UFPJ-organized day of training for two concurrent, complementary actions on Monday: personal lobbying of Congressional reps and civil disobedience outside the White House. (The CD training is particularly useful for those who've never taken part in similar protests before.)
UFPJ's goal for the lobbying is to have more than 600 people from around the country meet with more than 100 members of Congress and their aides. The delegations will include Cindy Sheehan and fellow members of Gold Star Families for Peace on the Bring them Home Now Tour. (Click here to join them.)
There are still lots of ways you can help. First, if you can, come to Washington! If you're coming from NYC, taking one of the UFPJ buses is the cheapest (only $35/roundtrip!) and probably easiest way to go. There are also UFPJ buses leaving from many other places. Click here for departure locations and to buy tickets. If you're driving, leave early (or the night before) or the traffic will kill you, and click here and read the good advice, which includes parking info for when you arrive in the District. You can also consult this housing board for rides nationwide.
Other ways to help:
If you have a website, add a UFPJ banner.
The Green Festival
This weekend is going to be a busy one in the Washington, DC area. In addition to the antiwar protests, there's also the annual Green Festival which The Nation is proud to be co-sponsoring. If you'll be in the area next Saturday or Sunday, please stop by the Washington Convention Center (Mt. Vernon metro stop) to check out the Festival.
Co-produced by Global Exchange and Co-Op America, the GF brings together socially responsible businesses, environmental groups, leading thinkers, and thousands of attendees for a two-day party with a very serious objective: expanding popular support for policies aimed at ecological sustainability and social justice. Check out the more than 125 speakers and 350 exhibitors. Speakers this year include Dennis Kucinich, Jim Hightower, Greg Palast, Dolores Huerta, Medea Benjamin, Van Jones and many others. You can also meet Nation staffers, pick up free copies of the mag, buy discounted shirts and caps and participate in a special Nation raffle--at booth #1021 all weekend.
You're also invited to a special Friday night benefit party hosted by Jim Hightower on Sept. 23 starting at 7:00pm at the Convention Center. Guests receive free organic food and wine plus two free tickets to the entire Green Festival weekend. Click here for info and tickets.
St. Patrick's Day Four Trial Update--Sept. 22
In the first federal prosecution of civilian war protesters on conspiracy charges since Vietnam, the prosecutor rested his case yesterday, Sept. 21, against four antiwar activists after calling just four witnesses over three days.
The four protesters, longtime members of the militantly pacifist group Catholic Worker who spilled drops of their blood at a recruiting center before the invasion of Iraq two years ago, were portrayed by a federal prosecutor as religious zealots who routinely destroy government property yet have mostly evaded consequences.
Now the four on trial, who are defending themselves, take their turn to make their case, arguing that the illegality of the US invasion of Iraq renders their actions in nonviolent protest justifiable, maybe even necessary. As they wrote in a recent article published on Common Dreams, "We were compelled to act by the Nuremburg Principles of international law, which state that citizens have individual rights and duties to prevent war crimes and crimes against humanity which supersede our obligations to obey domestic law. And we were inspired by our nation's rich history of nonviolent action for justice."