Even as Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone announced his opposition to
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.
SEC chairman Harvey Pitt lurches from lapdog to bulldog, threatening
CEOs with jail time if their corporate reports mislead. George Bush
demands "top floor" accountability. Republican leaders in the House
muscle their own caucus members into passing a sham prescription drug
The run-up to the fall elections has begun. Barely a month ago, White
House political guru Karl Rove was telling Republicans they could retain
control of Congress by waving the flag, celebrating the recovery and
promoting an ill-defined "compassion agenda." Now, with the dollar and
the stock market sinking, the recovery looking shaky and Vice President
Cheney back in hiding as investigations widen into accounting deceptions
at his former company, Halliburton, Republicans are getting nervous.
Americans don't want the war on terrorism turned to partisan purpose,
pollster Stan Greenberg informed a Campaign for America's Future press
briefing, "and they want this election to be about their own pressing
concerns"--the soaring price of healthcare, educating their children,
paying for college, decent jobs with good benefits and whether they can
afford to retire now that their 401(k) has become a 201(k).
At such a moment, progressive reforms are not only good policy but good
politics. Add a real prescription drug provision to Medicare. Get
serious about cracking down on HMOs. Invest in teachers, schools and
after-school care and help with college tuition; pay for it by closing
down offshore tax havens and making billionaires pay what they did
before George W. Bush cut their taxes. Raise the minimum wage and curb
excessive executive pay packages. Protect workers' pensions and
prosecute corrupt corporate executives. Save Social Security from
privatization's benefit cuts. Stop fast-track trade authority and demand
trade accords that strengthen rather than diminish worker, farmer and
environmental protections. Make polluters pay for cleaning up their
toxic wastes instead of sending the bill to taxpayers and slowing the
The popularity of these reforms has led Republicans to add political
cross-dressing to the Rove strategy: Hug a tree, hang a CEO, don't say
the word "privatization." Whether they can get away with this is
unclear. It's a bit like putting pearl earrings on a sow. It's an
all-too-real prospect, however, at a time when Democrats control the
Senate but fast track passes easily, when Senator Ted Kennedy still has
trouble getting fellow Democrats to sign on for a rewrite of Bush's
fundamentally flawed tax plan, and when Democratic Leadership
Council-addled "money Democrats" blur the differences between the
If Democrats hope to win in 2002, they will have to do it the
old-fashioned way--by running as Democrats. And labor, community, civil
rights, women's and environmental groups will have to give them a push
in the right direction--just as they did with the successful effort to
keep the GOP from enacting a permanent repeal of the estate tax. Rove
and his army of strategists are masters at filling the narrow cracks
between the GOP and "kinder, gentler" Democrats. Only by opening a
significant divide between themselves and the GOP can the Democrats
emerge as the alternative that Rove and his minions fear--and that the
voters are ready to embrace.
Minnesota can be considered a veritable mecca for insurgent third parties. Its governor is maverick independent Jesse Ventura.
Speech to The Democratic National Committee--Western Caucus
Saturday, May 25, 2002
As Molly Ivins put it in a recent column: "Across the length and breadth of this land of ours, from the mountain to the prairie, from every hill and dale comes the question, 'Where are the Democrats?'" For weeks pundits have dismissed Democrats as having no clue about how to mount a credible challenge to the failed domestic policies of the Bush Administration. But when representatives of the party's core progressive constituencies gathered in Washington in mid-April at the Reclaiming America conference, sponsored by the Campaign for America's Future, it was possible to imagine the lineaments of such an opposition. Members of Congress like Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Sheila Jackson Lee and Senator Paul Wellstone, who have been pressing for months for a more aggressive Democratic stance on domestic issues, no longer sounded like voices in the wilderness of post-September 11 politics. These leaders of the democratic wing of the Democratic Party were joined at the podium by House minority leader Dick Gephardt, Senator John Edwards and Vermont Governor Howard Dean--all prospective presidential candidates--who seconded Schakowsky's message that the Republican agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy and service cuts for the majority is making the rich richer, the poor poorer and the middle class less secure.
A Democracy Corps survey, released by pollster Stan Greenberg at the conference, provided evidence of public support for an issues-based assault on the Bush Administration's domestic agenda. As Joel Rogers, co-author of America's Forgotten Majority, aptly summed up: "On a broad range of basic concerns, ranging from investing in education, securing affordable healthcare for all, protecting Social Security, lifting the minimum wage to a living wage, leveling up not down in trade, protecting workers on the job as well as the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we drink, large majorities of Americans stand with us and oppose Bush's policies." And as Senator Jon Corzine argued, the Enron scandal reminded a lot of people "that the pendulum has swung far too far to the right, now endangering our prosperity as well as our core values."
So if progressive values are flourishing at the grassroots, how come Democrats in Congress continue to be cautious? That's a question that speakers like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ivins, National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy and populist political agitator Jim Hightower asked in well-received speeches at the conference. We'd like to think that Gephardt and others headed back to Capitol Hill as ready to fight as their rhetoric suggested. But we know Gandy was right when she said that progressive activists must keep the pressure on by refusing to be satisfied with a little bit of Congressional opposition to the Administration's right-wing agenda. It is time, Gandy and others said, for progressive Democrats to start demanding that our representatives give us more victories like the defeat of Mississippi Federal Judge Charles Pickering's nomination to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. As long as there is no bold challenge to the extremism of this Administration, it will exploit the tragedy of September 11 to stifle debate and push national policy in an ever more regressive direction.
They helped set the stage for the current scandals.
Tuesday, March 5, midnight
Congress returns--will the Democrats challenge Bush?