Pomp and Shame

Pomp and Shame

The ascendency of George W. Bush to the presidency exposes stark dissatisfaction in the United States.


At the corner of Connecticut and K streets in downtown Washington, three blocks from the White House, a young African-American artist does a flourishing business selling his flavorful anti-Bush posters. "Shame on the Bushes and the rest of their kind!" he hollers occasionally to stir up customers. "Hail to the thief!" We hope he'll continue to stand his ground during the inaugural events and that police don't tamper with his First Amendment rights. He is expressing an important message that official Washington seems anxious to forget: the popular rage at the blatant injustices of Election 2000 and the illegitimate presidency that is assuming power. Our soundings tell us that this anger is widely shared around the country. George W. Bush's inaugural has not eclipsed the subtext of illegitimacy but actually aggravated and enlarged it.

Bush's elevation cannot be undone, but neither can its irregular foundations–including the conduct of Florida's election and the US Supreme Court's ruling–be brushed aside (see Gregory Palast, page 20, and Vincent Bugliosi, page 11). Some commentators sweetly suggest that Bush could help himself by squarely responding to these continuing doubts and protests. Instead, Bush opaquely responds, "They counted the votes, and I won. Next question." His presumptuousness is reflected in his opening moves and extreme appointments, which, in the case of John Ashcroft and Gale Norton, pour more salt on racial wounds. The fact that both nominees have earnestly invoked the "lost cause" of the Confederacy in their paeans to the archaic notion of "state sovereignty" (see Eric Foner, page 4) provides a chilling glimpse of a reactionary mindset. Bush aims to govern as if he were elected in a landslide–a latter-day Reagan who believes his agenda is now fully ratified by a popular mandate and so he can proceed to reward the right wing and various other of his constituencies. But the new President, remember, got votes from about 24 percent of adult Americans, slightly less than his opponent.

Whatever Bush may believe from his conversations with opposition leaders in Congress, the country is not on board for this presidency. Nor did it vote to build a costly missile defense system that reignites the nuclear arms race or to pass out more tax-cut boodle for the wealthiest among us. We call on the Democratic Party to stand against these and other outrages. The minority party, by responding hesitantly to the popular anger, seems not to understand that its own legitimacy is at risk, too. This troubled presidential outcome requires principled resistance in the political arena, not business-as-usual compromises and cheap deal-making among old colleagues. Ashcroft and Norton can be stopped if Democrats stand together. The sooner Democrats learn to speak resolutely for a true Democratic agenda, including healthcare for all, fairness for workers and a tax system aimed at reducing, not increasing, inequality, the better their own future prospects–as well as the prospects for restoring confidence in the system.

We call on the Democrats not only to resist but to lead. Dozens of plans have been put forth to insure that another Florida never happens, many of which are scheduled to be discussed by members of the Progressive Caucus and others at a meeting set for the day before the inauguration. Changes must include stronger enforcement of the Voting Rights Act and improvements in the way we conduct elections, ranging from campaign finance reform to the uniform introduction of modern technology. Restoring democracy is the top priority, but Democrats must rediscover their progressive voice on many other issues of substance before people will begin to believe in them again.

For this new President, who called himself "a uniter, not a divider," his beginning is dangerously provocative. We hope and expect that if Democrats prove to be weak-kneed and undependable, the people will organize to keep the pressure on.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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