"I am here in the hope that we can do business," Minnesota Governor
Jesse Ventura told a Cuban audience after cutting the ceremonial ribbon
with Fidel Castro to open the recent US Food and Agri
Would-be intelligence watchdogs often lack the knowledge or the will to be effective.
Before nonpresident Al Gore recently weighed in against President Bush's
rush to war in Iraq (for posing "the potential to seriously damage our
ability to win the war against terrorism and to w
Even as Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone announced his opposition to
In January, when George W. Bush's pollster warned that "Enron is a much
bigger story than anyone in Washington realizes," White House political
director Karl Rove informed the Republican National Committee that this
fall's election would have to be about national security rather than the
economy. Rove wasn't practicing political rocket science; he was merely
echoing the common-sense calculations of veteran Republican strategists
like Jack Pitney, who says, "If voters go to the polls with corporate
scandals at the top of their list, they're probably going to vote
Democratic. If they go [thinking about] the war on terrorism and taxes,"
Republicans have the advantage. Now, with the election that will set the
course for the second half of Bush's term less than two months away,
Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, National Security
Adviser Rice and every other Republican with a talking-head permit is
busy making the improbable case for war with Iraq.
Rove's sly strategy appears to be working. On September 4, the day
Congress returned from its summer break, the Dow Jones average plunged
355 points. Yet the next morning's headlines talked about how Bush would
"put the case for action in Iraq to key lawmakers." Whether Bush
actually believes that the war he's promoting is necessary--or even
marketable--there's no question that Republican prospects are aided by
the fact that he's talking about Saddam Hussein rather than Enron,
WorldCom, Harken, Halliburton, deficits, layoffs and 401(k)atastrophes.
There is, however, some question as to why Democrats are allowing Rove's
scenario to play out so smoothly. Along with those questions comes the
fear that unless the supposed party of opposition finds its voice soon,
Democrats could squander opportunities not only to stop a senseless and
unnecessary war but also to hold the Senate and wrest control of the
House from the right in November.
So far, however, most of the coherent Congressional challenges to the
Bush strategy have been initiated by Republicans worried about the
threat a war would pose to the domestic economy (House majority leader
Dick Armey) or who actually listen to the State Department (Jim Leach, a
key player on the House International Relations Committee). While Bush
and Rove have had trouble keeping their GOP comrades in line, they've
had more luck with Democrats. Only a handful of Democrats, like
Progressive Caucus chair Dennis Kucinich, have echoed Armey's blunt
criticisms of the rush to war. A few more have chimed in with practical
arguments against the Administration line, a view perhaps best expressed
by Martin Sabo of Minnesota, who says that "to move into a country and
say we're going to topple the government and take over the
government--and I think inherent in that is also 'run it'--is not
something we have ever proved very capable of doing."
But House Democratic opposition has been muddled by the fact that
minority leader Dick Gephardt has positioned himself as an enthusiastic
backer of "regime change" in Iraq. One senior member of his caucus says,
"You can pin most of the blame on Gephardt. If he hadn't been so
enthusiastic about going to war when the Bush people brought this up in
the first place, I think they would have backed off." Acknowledging that
Gephardt's position could make it difficult to hold off a House vote in
October, Kucinich says, "I think it could all come down to how Daschle
handles the issue."
Senate majority leader Tom Daschle is not doing Bush as many favors as
Gephardt--Daschle at least says Congress needs more information. But the
Senate's leader has yet to echo likely 2004 Democratic presidential
candidate Senator John Kerry's suggestion that a policy of containment
would be sufficient to manage any threat posed by Iraq, let alone to
express the steady skepticism of Senate Armed Services Committee chair
Carl Levin, who left a meeting at which Rumsfeld tried to make the case
for war and said, "I don't think [the Administration] added anything."
Daschle's caution is rooted in his concern that a misstep on issues of
war and patriotism could jeopardize his continued leadership of the
Senate. It's a legitimate worry; his one-seat majority could well be
endangered if flag-waving appeals take hold--as they have before--in
Senate battleground states like Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Georgia,
North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Daschle's own South Dakota.
But Daschle's caution is not making things easier for Democrats in those
states. It has simply left him playing Karl Rove's game when he should
be saying what most Americans know: that in the absence of any credible
evidence of an immediate and quantifiable threat from Iraq, Congress
should not get bogged down in this issue. Moving aggressively to shift
the focus from Iraq to corporate wrongdoing and economic instability
would be smart politics for Daschle and the Democrats. More important,
calling the President's bluff on Iraq would slow the rush toward a
senseless war while freeing Congress to debate genuine threats to
Doomed by the incoherence of a foreign policy defined largely by biblical notions of the struggle between good and evil, the Bush Administration thrashes about in its hunt for the devil.
The US Green Party held its first-ever midterm convention since becoming a full-fledged national party in Philadelphia a week ago, and the gathering of seventy-nine delegates from thirty-nine stat
This past weekend, the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) convened a national conversation in New York City.
It was bad enough that the Bush Administration co-opted the Children's
Defense Fund slogan "Leave No Child Behind." Then the most famous former
board member of CDF, Hillary Rodham Clinton, apparently decided to leave
children behind in her rush to the political center, endorsing a bill
that contained some of the worst elements of the Bush welfare reform
Fortunately, Hillary's Senate colleagues decided to take a courageous
stand. To the surprise and relief of advocates, the Senate produced a
bipartisan welfare reform bill that is more progressive than the current
law in almost every way.
The Senate bill, which emerged from the Finance Committee and soon goes
to the floor, repudiates the White House vision of welfare reform. But
the final version is still up in the air, and the politics of welfare
reform are fickle, as evidenced by Hillary's unexpectedly harsh
position. Whether we have a welfare reform law aimed at simply ending
welfare or a sincere effort to help families get out of poverty will be
decided in the days to come.
The House of Representatives and the White House wanted to double the
hours of work--paid and unpaid--for poor single mothers, effectively
ending their chances of getting better jobs through education and
training. They wanted to do away with exemptions from this workload for
mothers with small children and other significant barriers to
employment, and make it even harder for them to obtain access during
"work hours" to drug treatment, domestic violence counseling and other
services that might help people become more employable--not to mention
lead more tolerable lives. (The bill Hillary signed onto also contained
these provisions.) They wanted to keep the ban on Medicaid for many
legal immigrants. And, despite all the emphasis on work, they added next
to nothing for childcare, stranding single mothers with young children
in an impossible situation.
The Senate has taken a much more responsible approach: rejecting the
increase in work hours, expanding education and training, and restoring
benefits for legal immigrants. The Senate bill, however, has a few major
flaws. One of the biggest is the $5.5 billion proposed for childcare
funding, which will not even cover the cost of maintaining existing
The final bill will likely increase those funds (twenty-five Democrats,
including Hillary Clinton, are on the record as supporting more money
for childcare). The bigger problem is that the quality of available care
is so inferior as to be developmentally damaging and, in some cases,
outright dangerous for poor children. Two toddlers died when they were
forgotten in a hot van all day at a daycare center used by
welfare-reform clients in Memphis. More commonly, children find
themselves strapped into car seats, attended only by blaring television
sets, or simply left to roam the streets. The trade-off of more mothers
in the work force for more bad care leaves kids the losers.
If policy-makers are serious about ending the cycle of poverty, they
will look closely at the price children are paying for welfare "reforms"
that focus relentlessly on pushing more poor mothers into low-wage work.
A study by researchers at Columbia, Stanford, Yale and the University of
California reports that mothers who have moved from welfare to work
spend four hours less each day with their preschool children, read to
and talk with their children less, suffer twice the rate of clinical
depression as the rest of the population and cut meals to make ends
"You go through so much because of these people," says Swan Moore, a
welfare client and member of Community Voices Heard, an advocacy group
in New York City. Moore was one of 200 low-income women who took a bus
ride to Washington in May to protest outside Hillary Clinton's home when
she signed the welfare reform bill written by Evan Bayh, head of the
Democratic Leadership Council. The women threw waffles on Clinton's
lawn, urging her to stop "waffling"--saying she supported poor women and
children, then signed punitive legislation.
"I just wish politicians would meet with people and talk to us and stop
trying to hop on some political bandwagon," says Moore. "How can you
make laws for people you know nothing about?"
Shortly after the protest, Clinton joined Ted Kennedy in a statement of
progressive principles on welfare reform. But her waffling shows just
how tenuous support for the poor can be. The question now is: Will
Senate Democrats stick to their guns and fight for welfare reform that
makes a positive difference? Watch what happens in the floor debate,
particularly on issues of childcare and the five-year lifetime limit on
assistance, which currently applies even to people working in low-paying
jobs, who receive income supplements as low as $50 a month.
There is a real chance for progressive legislation to reach the
President's desk, now that the Senate bill has marshaled bipartisan
support. The welfare bill came out of the most conservative committee in
the Senate. Democrats have the votes to make it even better on the
The world has changed since the Clinton White House ended welfare as we
knew it in 1996. No one is arguing for a return to the old system.
Instead, advocates are pushing for a few provisions to allow poor women
with children to earn a living and do right by their kids. The Senate
bill contains the seeds of hope for that vision. Rather than risking a
veto, the White House may try to delay until the bill dies. That would
mean a one-year extension of the current law--but a year from now there
will be even less money available for progressive programs.
It's now or never. As the 1996 welfare reform law comes up for
reauthorization, Congress and the President have a historic opportunity
to change the future for children who live below the poverty line--16
percent of all kids, and 30 percent of African-American children. That's
a lot of people to leave behind.