Keep the Heat On

Many of our friends voted for Al Gore in the Democratic primary and are celebrating his early clinching of the nomination. Bill Bradley attracted some worthy progressive supporters to his campaign but he never generated a groundswell of popular support.

Perhaps, as Molly Ivins suggests, Bradley lost because he has no Elvis in him, but Democratic voters also saw no compelling reason to dump the vice president when Bradley was only marginally more progressive. Neither of the Democratic candidates varied from the "free trade" position of their corporate sponsors, nor did the Republicans.

Now we have nearly nine months left before the general election with a race between Vice President Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush that Jim Hightower has characterized as "Dull vs. Dullard."

Both nominees-apparent immediately made claims on the reform mantles of Bradley and McCain, but neither Gore nor Bush have much credibility in that new area of interest.

Gore, of course, participated in the 1996 Democratic campaign that broke new ground in the use and abuse of hard and soft money. He narrowly avoided having an independent prosecutor attached to his tail as a result. But at least he appears to be embarrassed by the necessity of constant fundraising and he might sign a bill providing for reforms of the current corrupt system if one ever got through Congress.

Bush, who has been spending other people's money his entire life and already has raised a record $74 million for this race, thinks "reform" means making it harder for injured people to win lawsuits against businesses. Bush has made it clear that he would not support McCain's proposed limits on soft money contributions to political parties, which favor the GOP. Nor would Bush support any reforms that would reduce the fundraising advantage that the Republican Party holds, or make political action committees accountable for their attack ads, such as the series his Texas sponsors, the Wyly brothers, spent $2.5 million on to smear John McCain prior to the Super Tuesday primaries.

Bush follows the lead of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Senator Mitch McConnell, the leading Republican defenders of the corrupt campaign finance status quo who showed their contempt for campaign finance regulations by insisting that President Clinton appoint Bradley Smith, who opposes the nation's campaign finance laws and believes they should be repealed, to serve as a Republican Commissioner on the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Clinton reportedly went along with Smith's appointment in part to get Senate action on some of his judicial appointments that have been held up for years, but reform organizations such as Common Cause, Democracy 21, and the Brennan Center for Justice are pushing the Senate Rules Committee to hold full hearings on the nomination, and to allow outside groups to testify.

Ralph Nader's campaign is a positive form of progressive populism that should be encouraged. Read his announcement speech on page 13; then ask yourself if you agree more with Nader or Gore. Even if you can't bring yourself to vote for someone other than the Democratic nominee, you should recognize that Nader's Blue-Green insurgency could help progressive Democrats by at least giving them a recourse from the party bosses' "take it or leave it" line.

America is having one of those "When in the course of human events" moments again, Hightower noted as he introduced Nader at an Austin rally on March 12. "We've got to take our country back," he said, adding that the protests in Seattle last December were a good start, "at what I call the Seattle Tea Party when 50,000 uninvited guests showed up at the WTO's little private confab, and what happened in Seattle was that the people opened a great old big can of kickass and, I tell you what, they can't put the lid back on that can. The people are loose and now we've got a chance to express that through a political channel because Ralph Nader is going to carry that message of 'little d' democracy, and grassroots power, all across the country."

Without the Green/Nader option, populists have nowhere to go but the Reform Party, whose leading candidate, Pat Buchanan, holds right-wing social policy views that are unacceptable. With Nader, progressive populists at least have an alternative.

We would not advise our readers to do anything that would cause the election of George W. Bush or Republican majorities in Congress, but progressives at least must demand more of the Democratic nominee and use Nader as leverage. After Gore has clinched the nomination it will be tough to get him to address progressive priorities as he moves to pick up support on the right. But don't let him take his progressive constituency for granted. If pollsters call, tell them you support Nader even if you plan to vote for Gore. If they don't list Nader, bring up his name. Maybe he'll even reach the 15 percent threshold to crash the presidential debates.

Gore knows what's wrong with the system -- even Nader acknowledges that Gore wrote a fine book in Earth in the Balance, but as vice president he's turned his back on his principles to satisfy the powers that be. Organized labor secured his nomination but he still looks to the big-business Democratic Leadership Council and his corporate sponsors for direction. Send him and the Beltway Democrats a message: The "little d" democrats will take charge again.

And if Gore stays in the DLC camp, who knows? The election of Jesse Ventura makes all things possible.

Wall Street is pulling out all the stops to get permanent most favored nation status for China. The AFL-CIO is fighting it and more farmers and small businesses are coming to the realization that they have little if anything to gain from opening our markets to China.

Democrats don't need a trade fight as they attempt to regain a majority in the House; pushing for trade with China will only alienate workers who the Democrats will need to mobilize in the fall, but President Clinton has made China a priority. Vice President Al Gore, after giving the AFL-CIO signals that he favored renegotiating the deal to force more labor and environmental concessions from China, has gotten back with the program and will lobby for the passage of the done deal. House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, a free trade critic, reportedly has agreed to step aside and let the business lobbyists have their way, presumably in exchange for "considerations" at a later date.

However, the US Chamber of Commerce may have undermined support for the China normalization when the Chamber decided to endorse the Republican challenger to Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), a first-term moderate who has supported normalized trade ties with Beijing. It demonstrated once again that, given the choice of a Republican who will support big business 100 percent of the time and a "moderate" Democrat who will vote for big business 25 percent of the time, business bosses will go for the Republican every time.

One House aide told the Washington Post the Chamber's decision had a "direct impact" on six or seven moderate Democrats who are facing difficult reelection battles this fall and now realize they can't count on the Chamber of Commerce for support in the fall.

Labor also pointed out the potential price for a "free trade" vote in California, where Democratic US Rep. Matthew Martinez antagonized unions when he voted "present" for fast track consideration of trade deals in 1998 and then supported normalization of trade with China last year. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor recruited state Sen. Hilda Solis, a longtime union supporter who beat Martinez with 63 percent of the primary vote in working-class East Los Angeles County.

Let your representative know that China will deserve normal trade relations with the United States when it adopts fair labor and environmental standards and leaves Taiwan alone. The US Capitol switchboard is 202-224-3121. -- JMC

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