If progressives haven't figured out that the top priority for the immediate future is to stop the Republicans from dismantling the gains of the past 68 years, then they haven't been paying attention during the First 100 Days of the Bush II administration.
Many Democrats apparently are still fuming at Ralph Nader for his Green Party challenge, which they believe caused Al Gore to lose the presidential election. Many Green supporters of Nader are still sniping back that if Al Gore had not spent so much time agreeing with George W. Bush during the presidential debates, maybe 600 Floridians would have switched their votes from Nader to the Democrat. And if Bill Clinton hadn't waited until the last few weeks of his administration to issue those executive orders protecting the environment and providing for safer working conditions, Bush and his confederates wouldn't have been able to reverse them so easily once they took over the White House.
But it is past time for "told you so's." Bush has put together an administration that looks like America but it looks after big business. He has managed to get tentative approval for a $1.3 trillion tax cut that not only is heavily weighted toward his wealthiest contributors but effectively defunds progressive initiatives for the next decade. Now he has named a commission to find ways to privatize Social Security. Every time he promises to "leave no child behind," it seems another program for children gets cut from the budget. Bush has all but declared war on organized labor and environmentalists.
With blandishments to a couple conservative Democrats to give Republicans a cushion in the 50/50 Senate, they can put together a working majority in Congress as well as the Supreme Court. They mean to do serious trouble.
These guys don't play fair. They already have stolen a presidential election and they are into the exercise of power. That means they'll play chicken with the Chinese Air Force off Hainan Island to ignite a second Cold War if necessary to bolster the rationale for a missile defense system and other expensive, high-tech military hardware that will raid the Treasury and enrich defense contractors.
To allow the development of those weapons systems, they'll unilaterally renege on the 1972 ABM Treaty, alarming Russia, which on a good day is an ally in our efforts to control nuclear arms. They'll also undermine the Kyoto global warming treaty rather than try to force industry as well as SUV drivers to control their pollution. The R's turn their back on the United Nations at the same time they seek to turn over control of global commerce to multinational corporations.
Remember, this is how the Republicans act when they have no mandate, a closely divided Congress and the White House is handed to them on a split Supreme Court decision. Think of what they would do with a filibuster-proof Senate and a couple more Scalia/Thomas clones on the Supremes.
This is not their fathers' Republican Party. If Bill Clinton at times looked like an Eisenhower Republican, Bush and Trent Lott look more like Hoover Republicans. This is their grandfathers' Republican Party -- the one that repudiated the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, kept us out of the League of Nations and stacked the Supreme Court with mossbacks. When we finally got a progressive president in Franklin Roosevelt and a Congress that was prepared to support his populist inclinations, those Supremes stood in the way of the most innovative attempts to give a break to working folks and relieve the Great Depression.
Some of us may now be tempted to think we could risk giving the Republicans full rein to their bad impulses, hoping that the electorate would wake up and elect a new progressive Congress and president. But as coverage of the last presidential election shows, with the mainstream media safely in multinational corporate hands, the voters might not learn about what the Republicans have in mind until it is too late.
For example, after three months in office Bush is still enjoying his honeymoon with the public. A survey by the Pew Research Center in late April found 56% approving the way Bush is handling his job. They like the idea that he is going to the mat for a tax cut, apparently not realizing that the bulk of that tax break will go to the highest income levels -- the people who pay the most taxes, yes, but they're also the people whose assets multiplied during the past decade of economic boom. Only 28% were aware that Bush had reneged on his campaign promise to restrict carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and only 20% knew he had pulled out of the Kyoto agreement to combat global warming -- both of which are unpopular positions. Half said they had heard nothing about his decision to roll back tougher standards adopted by the Clinton administration on arsenic levels in drinking water. So progressives have their work cut out for them in getting the word out. They can't count on the mainstream corporate press to do that work for them.
Maybe some of us even think we are fairly well fixed and won't need Social Security or health insurance, and we doubt that our job will be exported to South America under the next "free trade" deal. We can convince ourselves that air quality isn't all that bad since we've gotten used to the headaches and perhaps we can afford bottled water if the tapwater is questionable. Some of our working class brethren might even think that they can afford to vote Republican because they oppose abortion, or gun control, or other hot button issues. They might think the D's pay too much attention to gays, minorities and welfare recipients. But if the Republicans get their way, they'll put us in a hole progressives will spend the next generation digging out of.
Occasionally we all need help from government, particularly when it comes to dealing with corporations. Privatization of government services and putting corporate polluters and e coli-dodging meatpackers on the "honor system" doesn't seem like the right way to go, even for a little while.
All that stands now between the Republican steamroller and working people is Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and Democrats in the Senate who on a good day can marshall the 41 votes to kill the worst Republican initiatives that are subject to filibuster. So far Daschle is doing a pretty good job of herding those cats, but he needs reinforcements.
This is not to say the Green Party or other progressive movements should stop organizing. But if they are organizing just to take out Democrats from Congress next year, as some Greens suggest, that is a ruinous course. The Greens need to establish their good faith with progressives who are justifiably nervous about the damage that a GOP with a clear congressional majority could wreak. But Democrats also need to show they can put the interests of working people ahead of corporations. They should stop going along with bad bills like the bankruptcy deform, which is awaiting reconciliation between the House and Senate, and say no to "fast track" on trade deals.
What Al Gore and Ralph Nader did last year is history. The big question is: What are progressives going to do this year to stop the Republicans from passing bad bills and next year to make George W. Bush a lame duck?
There has been a lot of bloviation lately about Bob Kerrey and the incident at Thanh Phong, Vietnam, that got him a Bronze Star and 32 years of nightmares. Without devaluing the lives that were lost in that Vietnamese village, the grudges that their family members may carry, or belittling the discrepancies in the stories that are now told about it, we must remember that war is about killing. Innocents are killed whether they are rounded up and shot by commandos because they were in a "free fire" zone or they happened to be in an Iraqi hospital or a Serbian train when our bombs leveled it. When we send troops in bellicose action, whether they are carrying an assault weapon or flying a bomber, they are in the business of killing, and civilians get caught. Bob Kerrey learned that lesson. For many of the rest of us, it never seems to sink in. -- JMC