The power play was swift, effective and ugly. Within hours of Albert Gore's concession, Bill Clinton was moving the levers of insider politics to install his personal money guy, Terry McAuliffe, as the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Albert is already history because Mr. Bill intends to run this party for the next four years. That is terrible news for any hope that the out-of-power Democrats might regenerate themselves as the party of new ideas and fundamental reforms. Clinton will defend his checkered legacy and advance his own unspecified ambitions by dispensing the mother's milk of politics--money--to those Democrats who adhere to his manipulative, hollow style of leadership. Think small, act symbolically. Talk reform, but stick with the New Democrat moneybags on the big economic questions.
Among other things, this move makes a weak joke out of the Democrats' supposed commitment to campaign finance reform. Indeed, it insures that the stench of extralegal money scandals that Clinton-McAuliffe generated will continue to hang over the party. Only now, George Bush's Justice Department will be in charge of the investigations and may show more thoroughness than Clinton's has. Has the statute of limitations expired on the 1996 election and other money schemes connected to McAuliffe? Democrats must hope so if they allow this guy to become nominal party leader.
The DNC has not been a meaningful institution for many years--it's a mail drop for political money, that's all--and normally no one except insiders should care who's in charge. But Terry McAuliffe is special. This man has fabulous connections--he reeks of them--but party-building is not among his talents. He raises big bucks for the Clintons' personal debts and the presidential library, even offered to put up $1.35 million in earnest money for their mortgage. He was leading co-engineer of the 1996 fundraising scandals when Clinton blew out the gaskets on the campaign finance laws, when reformers plausibly argued that the "soft money" law (not to mention perjury laws) had been violated by the Clinton money machine. McAuliffe, furthermore, was named in court testimony by a former DNC finance director as the inside player who repeatedly promoted an illegal money swap between the Teamsters and party donors. Teamsters president Ron Carey, the supposed reformer, was tossed from office, two aides pleaded guilty and a third was convicted. McAuliffe's ascension should provide good grist for Senator John McCain's floor speeches on campaign finance reform.
Party leaders and rank-and-file activists should rise up in anger and reject Clinton's clever ploy, though there is little reason to hope they will do so. This deal is wired at the top. House minority leader Dick Gephardt was an usher at McAuliffe's wedding. Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle bubbles up with praise. Leaders of organized labor are cozy with Terry, too. They do union business deals and pension-fund investments with him (including one Florida real estate project the Labor Department investigated because, according to the Orlando Sentinel, McAuliffe realized a $2.4 million profit without investing any money of his own). Friendship trumps principle, especially when money makes the friends.
If McAuliffe gets the DNC job, he will be a living window on the party's cynicism. A few weeks ago, its nominee was promising to fight for "the people against the powerful." The election's over--hold that happy talk about "the people" until the next campaign.
Alagaroooo! Go CCNY, yea team!
Sorry, but I got carried away by the appointment of Colin L. Powell as
secretary of State. Not just because he was in my class at the City
College of New York, then called the immigrant's Harvard, but because
it's important for George W. Bush to have people around him who know what
it's like to make it without inherited wealth.
I've wanted to vote for Powell for President ever since I read his
1995 autobiography, which describes a guy who came up the hard way and
knows he couldn't have done it without the very public assistance the GOP
leadership in Congress so maliciously maligns. Writing of his years at
CCNY (now City University of New York), Powell said, "I received a free
college education because New York taxed its citizens to make this
investment in the sons and daughters of immigrants and the working
Both of us were the children of immigrant garment workers, a group
that is today still among this country's most exploited people. Yet less
is done for their children now than was done for us. As Powell recalls,
our college tuition was only 10 bucks, and there existed a vast network
of community public programs to provide support.
It's true, as George W. Bush said in announcing Powell's appointment,
that it's "a great day when a son of the South Bronx succeeds to the
office first held by Thomas Jefferson." But the South Bronx then, like
all poor quarters of the city, was not a symbol of public neglect but
rather a vibrant place dotted with community centers and excellent
schools. The burnt-out wreckage of the Bronx that followed was the direct
consequence of government funding cutbacks in programs for the poor that
had been the salvation of our generation.
Powell is a believer in the private sector's power to solve most of
our problems and has done much recently to encourage an increase in
private and corporate civic responsibility. But as he wrote in his
autobiography, "I am not, however, knee-jerk, anti-government. I was born
a New Deal Depression-era kid. Franklin Roosevelt was a hero in my
boyhood home. Government helped my parents by providing cheap public
subway systems so that they could get to work, and public schools for
their children, and protection under the law to make sure that labor was
not exploited--Social Security allowed my parents to live a dignified
retirement. Medicare gave them access to quality care during long,
painful terminal illnesses."
This is the guy who in 1995 had the temerity to tell the Wall Street
Journal that we should stop "demonizing" poor people on welfare and go
after the true "welfare kings," the corporations and the high-priced
lawyers and lobbyists that get the government to do their bidding: "Why
do all these corporations pour a ton of money into . . . the next
election? The answer is they are buying affirmative action, they are
buying preference, they are buying quotas--all the things we think are
terrible when the same terms are applied to minorities and those of our
citizens we think are less advantaged."
Powell voted for LBJ and Jimmy Carter and was reluctant to declare
himself a Republican. But his support of Bush and his prominence now in a
Republican administration will turn out to be a good thing--if he is able
to remind the President of his election season commitment to
"compassionate conservatism." The fact that Powell has been one of the
leading voices warning of the instability engendered by ever-sharper
class divisions throughout the world should make him a very progressive
Secretary of State.
Powell is properly admired as a military man, but his greatest
achievement has been as peacemaker. In the previous Bush Administration,
he engineered the stand-down of US and Soviet nuclear forces from their
high state of alert and was a strong defender of arms control. When one
reads the history of the Gulf War, Powell emerges as a consistent voice
for caution and negotiation prior to use of military force.
His is a voice in the Republican Party that cannot be ignored, because
he cuts through the unholy alliance of God and greed that has come to
dominate the GOP agenda. He has said he is "troubled by the political
passion of those on the extreme right who seem to claim divine wisdom on
political as well as spiritual matters. I am disturbed by the class and
racial undertones beneath the surface of their rhetoric."
That's the essential test of the Bush Administration and the
Republican Party: Will they continue to serve the interests of the rich
while counting on the Christian Coalition's social agenda to blind
working people to the betrayal of their economic interests? Or will Bush
define a truly moderate Republicanism in the Dwight D. Eisenhower mold?
The Republicans weren't always the party of strident meanness, and
perhaps Powell's appointment is a sign that Bush intends to follow
President Clinton's lead and govern as a progressive centrist. Bush
should mark the fact that Clinton leaves office with the highest approval
rating of any President since Roosevelt. Bush could do worse than to
follow those two Presidents' excellent example.
After this, four Gore years? Is the Democratic Party stuck with Prince Al until the next election? Did Campaign 2004: Bush versus Gore II begin the moment the Supreme Court issued its 5-to-4 decision? The bad blood created by the disposition of this election will not disappear quickly. The bitterness of this round's losers could even dwarf the profound disappointment of pro-impeachment Americans. In fact, the balance of emotions in US politics may well shift. Those who were upset that Clinton escaped impeachment conviction and who craved revenge are now able to claim George W. Bush's win as vindication and wallow in satisfaction; those who welcomed Bill Clinton's acquittal and who saw Republican losses in 1998 as just deserts for the impeachment crusade are now the aggrieved and outraged. And perhaps they'll feel it is time to seek retribution and justice. As Republicans and conservatives were furiously motivated by Monicagate and impeachment, so the Democrats and their liberal allies could be moved by Bush's Supreme Court-assisted victory--though it's hard to envision Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt bearing a grudge as fiercely as Tom DeLay and Trent Lott. In fact, several conservative Democrats--Senator John Breaux and the Blue Dogs of the House--have already stuck out their hands, realizing that with Bush in the White House and Congress split, their deal-making influence can be enhanced.
The Democratic Party as a whole may not forge a unified (and passionate) anti-Bush front, and that could sharpen the pre-existing tensions between the party's progressives and conservatives. It's unlikely that African-American voters in Florida (and perhaps elsewhere) will forget what many consider to be a Bush-led Republican effort to disfranchise their community. Certainly, any Republican official in Florida not in a safe seat should worry--especially if he or she represents an area with a large African-American population. Black voter turnout in Florida in 2002, when Governor Jeb Bush will be up for re-election, ought to be astronomical. (Would it be too high a price for George W. Bush to win the presidency at the cost of his brother's GOP in Florida? Nah.) But beyond Florida, will Gore try to ride a wave of resentment--become the Democratic Nixon, a Veep who loses closely and waits in the wings? If Gore does, will anyone in the party attempt to knock him off this mount of anger?
The arguments on each side are obvious. Gore partisans will assert that he really won and deserves another shot at the White House, which is rightfully his--particularly if a subsequent counting of the Florida ballots does show that Gore drew more votes than Bush. Other Dems can reply that Gore, whatever the injustices, did not prevail at a time that was tremendously favorable for an incumbent Vice President. But in party politics, it is tough to bounce the apparent leader. In 1984 the Democratic Party could not shake itself free of Walter Mondale, its most recent Vice President--and Mondale, unlike Gore, had lost decisively in 1980 as President Jimmy Carter's ticket partner. The Republicans could not avoid Bob Dole in 1996. And in 2000, both parties embraced the party-establishment candidates, each of whom thwarted a maverick challenger with crossover appeal. Can Joseph Lieberman dare challenge Gore? (That ingrate!) Can those rule of law-citing Democrats who battled for Gore during Recount-O-Rama, like Senators John Kerry and Bob Kerrey, block Gore's quest for justice? The Supreme Court's decision installed Bush in the White House, and it probably installed Gore--if he decides to stay in this line of work--as the permanent Democratic contender for the throne.
In his speech conceding the presidential race to George W.
Tuesday's Supreme Court decision giving the presidency to George W. Bush, delivered in the dead of night in an opaque, anonymous opinion rendered by Justices who gave no oral presentation from the bench (as they usually do) but instead appropriately snuck out of the Court building through the garage, leaves the country facing a worrisome political future. The damage done to the courts and to the rule of law by the Supreme Court's judicial overreaching into politics and the damage done to democracy by the sudden interruption of a vote count (will the distressing, unprecedented televised image of vote-counters physically putting down ballots they had been examining become the symbol of an era?) have been commented upon by many observers. The politics of the struggle have been harder to assess. From the start, the contest presented a puzzle. Why, when the nation as a whole was prosperous, at peace and thoroughly unexcited by the candidates, each of whom belongs to the moderate wing of his party, did the two sides wage such ferocious political war? The easy answer is that the campaigns, their huge momentum unchecked by an election that had failed to produce a result, were simply propelled onward into the narrow confines of courtrooms, which therefore became the scene of a disproportionate sound and fury. It was comforting to reflect that the country at large, though entertained by the spectacle, was scarcely concerned about it--refusing, according to poll results, even to regard it as a "crisis." How dangerous could the quarreling be if it was the product of sheer statistical accident and reflected no deep, real division in the country?
As the struggle continued, this sanguine view became harder and harder to maintain. Each party, aided by its army of lawyers, of course was doing its partisan best to beat the other in court, but before long it became clear that something more serious and frightening was occurring. As noted previously in this space, one party, the Republican, was prepared to go to extraordinary lengths, both constitutionally and in the streets, to win. First, the Bush campaign began to accuse Gore of seeking to "steal" the election. Second, the Republicans launched a vitriolic campaign to discredit the Florida Supreme Court when it delivered a ruling unfavorable to the Bush campaign. Bush's Florida manager, former Secretary of State Jim Baker, called the court's ruling in favor of hand counts "unacceptable," and John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, called the judges "partisan hacks," while House majority whip Tom DeLay, speaking the language of war, announced, "This will not stand." Third, Republican Congressional staffers and Bush operatives, led by New York Congressman John Sweeney, mounted the riot in the Miami-Dade County building to stop a recount that looked as if it would favor Gore; the recount did, in fact, stop. Fourth, in an act of remarkable effrontery to democracy, the Republican-dominated Florida legislature organized itself to choose a slate of electors for Bush, whatever Florida courts might say. Fifth, DeLay and others in Congress began to threaten that if Florida did not go the way they liked, Congress might take the matter into its own hands. These latter two steps were the substance of the Republican warning that if the Supreme Court didn't settle the matter, a constitutional crisis would follow. The Republican message, in other words, was that if they were not allowed to win, there would be a constitutional crisis because they would produce one.
While all this was going on, the promises of bipartisanship that had been such a prominent feature of the Bush campaign were melting away. Such acts as the Florida legislature's decision to substitute its will for the will of the voters and the baseless charge that Gore's legal maneuvering constituted theft of the election hardly showed a bipartisan spirit. In the meantime, the Republicans in the Senate, which is divided 50/50 with the Democrats, refused any institutional power-sharing arrangement and elected some of their most conservative members as leaders. DeLay said that with the Republicans in charge of all three branches of government they would "set the agenda," and Senator Phil Gramm of Texas announced, "I have been waiting all my life for a Republican President and a Republican Congress." Something of what this resolve meant on the practical level was revealed in a number of news stories. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Republican hard right was gearing up to staff the White House and the courts with its members. "Most people are focusing on fumigating the Justice Department," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. Meanwhile, the tide of money on which Bush floated to the White House was rising to the rafters in Republican Washington. For instance, the contest within the Republican Party for the chairmanship of the House Commerce Committee is, in the words of Lizette Alvarez of the New York Times, between Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, "who is more closely allied to the Baby Bells," and Michael Oxley of Ohio, who is allied "to the long distance carriers." The Wall Street Journal notes that "a veritable bidding war erupted last year, as several candidates for chairmanships...raised millions of dollars for GOP congressional candidates." Now Hastert, fearful of cutting short the bidding war, has, according to legislators, been staying "'mum' on how chairmanships will be decided."
It is true that the extreme actions of the Republicans during the postelection crisis did not find much active support among the people (a majority of whom consistently favored the Florida recount), just as the party's impeachment effort a year ago failed to find such support. As we can now see, however, it is a mistake to suppose that political extremism is dangerous only if backed by popular fervor. The Republicans' impeachment campaign failed. But their postelection campaign succeeded. The Republicans, though enjoying the slenderest of legislative margins, will, as DeLay triumphantly pointed out, be in charge of the presidency and both houses of Congress. To this, in view of the recent ruling, it's tempting to add the judiciary. Popular support is the currency of democracy, but it is not the only currency. History shows that militant, highly organized, tightly disciplined parties can have their way even in the midst of apathy--or, perhaps, especially in the midst of apathy. Power, as the founders of this country well knew, is a mighty temptation. Money is another. Put the two together, and you have a force to reckon with.
They'd rather die than admit it, but environmental organizations thrive on disaster. They remember well enough what happened when Ronald Reagan installed James Watt as Secretary of the Interior. Hardly had Watt hung an elk head on his office wall before the big green outfits were churning out mailers painting doomsday scenarios of national parks handed over to the oil companies, the Rocky Mountains stripped for oil shale, the national forests clearcut from end to end.
By the time the incompetent Watt was forced to resign, the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Wilderness Society and the National Wildlife Federation had raised tens of millions of dollars and recruited hundreds of thousands of new members. All this money transformed the environmental movement from a largely grassroots network into an inside-the-Beltway operation powered by political operators in Washington, DC.
Then came the Clinton/Gore era. Because the mainstream green groups had anointed Gore as nature's savior and had become so politically intertwined with the Democrats, they had no way to disengage and adopt an independent critical posture when the inevitable sellouts began.
Thus it was that the big green groups let Clinton and Gore off the hook when the new administration put forward a plan to end "gridlock" and commence orderly logging in the ancient forests of California and the Pacific Northwest. Similarly, they held their peace when Gore reneged on his pledge to shut down the WTI hazardous-waste incinerator in Ohio. Year after year they stuck to their basic game plan: Don't offend the White House; preserve "access" at all costs.
One consequence of this greenwashing of the Clinton Administration was a sharp decline in the green-group memberships. But by now the big green outfits had grown comfortable on fat salaries, inflated staffs and fine new offices.
To maintain the standard of living to which they had now become accustomed, the big green groups sought to offset their dwindling membership revenues by applying for help from big foundations like Rockefeller, the Pew Charitable Trusts and W. Alton Jones. But charity rarely comes without strings. All the above-mentioned foundations derive their endowments from oil, and along with the money they inherited an instinct for manipulation and monopoly.
By the mid-1990s executives of the Pew Charitable Trusts were openly declaring their ambition to set the agenda for the environmental movement during Clinton time, using as leverage their grant-making power. Let a small green group step out of line, and in the next funding cycle that group would find its grant application rejected not just by Pew but by most of the other green-oriented foundations that were operating like the oil cartel of old.
So now, with the shadow of a Republican administration across the White House, the green groups see a chance to recoup, using the sort of alarmism that served them so well in the Reagan-Watt years. Already during the campaign they painted George W. Bush as a nature-raper, and then, only days after the election on November 7, e-mail alerts began to flicker across the Internet, warning that the incoming Congress will be the "most environmentally hostile ever."
But how can this be, if we are to believe the premise of the big green groups, backed by regular "dirty-dozen lists" from the League of Conservation Voters, that Democrats are by definition kinder to nature than Republicans? Democrats gained seats in the House of Representatives and now split the Senate with the Republicans 50/50. By this measure the e-mails rushing across the Net should be modestly optimistic instead of presaging doom.
In fact, one of the natural kingdom's greatest enemies in the US Senate, Slade Gorton of Washington, has gone down to defeat. Another nature-raper, Representative Don Young of Alaska, is being forced to vacate his chairmanship of the House Resources Committee, victim of a term-limits agreement by House Republicans a few years ago.
Good news doesn't raise dollars or boost membership. So the big green groups will go on painting an unremittingly bleak picture of what lies in store. But the likelihood is that a Bush administration won't be nearly as bad as advertised by alarmists.
Indeed, there are some causes for optimism. The model here is Richard Nixon, our greenest President, who oversaw the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and smiled upon our single greatest piece of environmental legislation, the Endangered Species Act. Nixon was trying to divide the left and worked to develop an environmental constituency. Bush, if he makes it to the White House, will be similarly eager to garner green support.
Bush will also be keen to undercut attacks on the question of his legitimacy as President, and a kinder, gentler policy on the environment would be one way to do it. The current betting is that his nominee for Interior Secretary will be Montana Governor Marc Racicot, a Republican version of the present incumbent of the post, Bruce Babbitt. If the speculation about Racicot is borne out, this would be a severe blow to the expectations of the Republican hard-liners, who yearn for Don Young to supervise the dismantling of whatever frail environmental protections America still enjoys.
Of course there will be savage environmental struggles over the next four years. Oil leasing will be one battlefield. Salvage logging will be another. But if you receive a hysterical mailer from one of the big green organizations, set it aside and give your support to one of the small groups that have been fighting doughtily on the same issues through Clinton time, when the big groups were toeing the party line and keeping their mouths shut. Why not, for example, send a check to Earth Island Institute in San Francisco, thus honoring its founder, the late David Brower?
(Another Republican sea chantey)
They all went down to stop Miami-Dade
From making counts the judges had OK'd.
Unlikely toughs, with ties and crisp white shirts,
They went to hand Al Gore his just deserts.
So, noisily, they jammed into the hall.
Then Sweeney, from the House, began to call.
Shut it down, shut it down, shut it down.
The first machine vote's truly holy.
Shut it down, shut it down, shut it down,
With a heave-ho-ho and a bottle of Stoly.
One congressman by whom they had been sent:
DeLay in name, and also in intent.
Prepared to knock a head or bust a snout
To show what our democracy's about,
They bumped some chests and maybe pulled some hair,
And Sweeney's martial call stayed in the air:
Shut it down, shut it down, shut it down.
The rule of law is holy, too.
Shut it down, shut it down, shut it down.
With a heave-ho-ho and some microbrew.
The election results reveal what may be an "emerging progressive majority."
With No Decision 2000 a face-off of spins--moralistic outrage for the Republicans (don't steal our election) versus lofty principle for the Democrats (every vote should count)--the Bush gang has had the edge in passion and unity. In the postcertification phase, the Republicans and their conservative movement pals were impressively maintaining a lockstep message, while the Democrats were trying hard to mount a stand-by-our-man front. House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt and Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle trotted to Tallahassee to demonstrate their support for Gore, but it was a bit late in the game. Other high-profile Democrats--Senators John Kerry and Bob Kerrey, Representative Jerrold Nadler--hit the Sunshine State and the talk shows to help out. And on Capitol Hill, most Democrats--angered by Republican rhetoric and majority whip Tom DeLay's schemings--were egging Gore on. As a senior Democratic House staffer quipped, "DeLay has rallied the Democrats better than Al Gore could."
But questions hovered: How long would the Democrats hang tough? And would they play tough? "Most Democrats are going to wait and see how the court contests go and see what happens with the Supreme Court before they pull out," says one chief of staff for a Democratic senator. But unlike Bush, Gore had to deal with cracks within his bloc. Senator Bob Torricelli remarked that the Florida certification was "the beginning of the end." Senator Byron Dorgan indicated that time was short for Gore: "This is a search for an accurate count, but it cannot be an endless count." Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich counseled retreat: "The country needs closure." Representative Bud Cramer said, "The time has come for this to come to a close." And even though Gore had much of his party on his side, the Democratic effort did not match the fervor of the GOP postcampaign endeavor--and not merely because the Democrats did not send mobs into county buildings in Florida. The remarks of Gephardt and Daschle were temperate, almost defensive, as they pointed out that they were backing the abstract principle of counting all votes. They expressed little emotion regarding the GOP attempt to block the vote-counting process so crucial for Gore. From the Democratic perspective, the election was being hijacked by the Republicans, yet, for the most part, the alarm wasn't raised.
A few Democrats did sound off. James Clyburn, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, said, "We know what it is to have an election stolen from us." He warned that Democrats who wimp out during the postelection combat would lose support among black voters. Nadler, reacting to the GOP-led protests that perhaps precipitated the shutdown of the Miami-Dade recount, complained about the "whiff of fascism." But such fightin' words were not part of the Gore/Democratic talking points.
This was the Democratic plan: Stay calm. "Our message is patience," said an aide to the House Democratic leadership. "We have to embody reasonableness. We feel we have votes and the law on our side, and that the Republican tactics and vehemence will backfire. People may mistake that as a message of not caring, of not being passionate. But we believe this can work." In fact, early on in the postelection battle, Gore decided not to rev up supporters. His campaign discouraged Jesse Jackson, who staged a protest in Florida and raised questions about allegations of racial intimidation on Election Day. "Gore told Jackson to get out of the state, and he told labor not to organize," says one Jackson associate. "He cooled Democrats out, just when Bush and his people were going into overdrive. Gore thought he had the votes. This was a classic case of Gore not believing in politics." It may have been smart to de-Jessify the dispute, since Jackson brings his own baggage to headlines. But the Gore-Lieberman camp kept its distance from the charges of racial intimidation--which, though unproven, were of intense concern to many of Gore's most ardent supporters.
For better or worse, Gore mostly stuck to a legal strategy--and eschewed political mobilization, outrage and crusading rhetoric, even as polls and a few Democratic pols turned against him. As one Democratic Senate aide said wistfully, "It's always been our problem. We Democrats have trouble going for the jugular. We always try to sound reasonable. Reason may not be enough this time."
Three days before the election, I took part in a television panel with former White House flack Joe Lockhart, who was doing his best to hold up his end of the tattered Gore-Lieberman banner. When the show was over, I asked him what he really thought and he said, "I'm pinning everything on the Electoral College." It now takes an effort of memory to recall, but this was what all the Democratic elite were saying that week. So the sudden moral emphasis on the popular vote is slightly unseemly, especially in view of the fact that the vote hasn't been counted yet.