Fighting Ghosts

The Democratic Party is haunted by two political ghosts who reappeared on the scene in August. .
Al Gore returned from his post-election sabbatical, tanned, ready and rested, with a raffish-looking beard, an appointment calendar and a new PAC to finance his forays around the country to build support for ... whatever may come.

Meanwhile, Gore's bete noire, Ralph Nader, showed up in Portland, Ore., looking as gaunt as ever on his "Democracy Rising" tour to promote a series of "civic festivals." He attracted more than 7,500 people, many of them young people, at $10 a pop. They gave Nader a standing ovation, according to reports, and during a nearly hour-long speech he exhorted them to become politically active and reject the status quo. According to the Portland Oregonian, Nader mixed a critique of the control that corporations exercise over the lives of Americans with repeated calls for people to get involved in causes including traffic safety and solar energy. "I say citizen action is fun," Nader told the crowd, urging them to take on "the global corporations and their indentured political servants."

The rally capped a day of workshops and lectures on progressive grassroots causes. Democratic hard-liners who are bitter over Nader's purported spoiler role in the past election may take slim comfort that the crowd was down from the 10,000 who paid to see Nader in Portland last year, when he was the Green candidate for president. But Nader still drew about 7,000 more than would pay to see Al Gore these days.

Some disgruntled Democrats showed up to protest Nader, blaming him for every bad thing Bush has done in office so far. Nader is noncommittal about making another presidential race in 2004, but he certainly is nonapologetic about last year's effort. He still says his only regret is that he did not get more votes.

He has founded Democracy Rising (see www.democracyrising.org) with plans to hold similar rallies in other cities around the country. He hopes to build a movement of one million people who would devote at least 100 hours a year and $100 to a variety of causes like economic and environmental justice, universal health care, campaign finance revisions, union organizing, solar energy and better public transportation.

In the meantime, the pro-business Democratic Leadership Council is still putting out the word that Al Gore lost the election (despite his popular majority) because his rhetoric was too populist ...

Whether or not Nader runs for president again, the Greens (www.green-party.org) have filed for national party status. They are seeking to consolidate gains made in the past couple years, when they elected 91 officials to local posts in 21 states and got 3% of the vote in the presidential election. Electoral laws, which were designed to shut out alternative parties, virtually force the Greens and other "minor" parties to run candidates in governor and presidential races in order to stay on the ballots. Neither Democratic nor Republican leaders want to initiate changes such as instant runoff voting or proportional representation that would let voters support the party of their choice without throwing the election to the candidate they like least.

But the Greens are having an impact at the local level. In Santa Monica, Calif., the Green city council recently passed a groundbreaking living wage ordinance, which raises wages to $10.50 an hour and provides benefits to some 2,000 low-wage workers. "The Green Party is working for the things that will make a positive difference in the lives of average people," Mayor Mike Feinstein said. "We are working for universal health care coverage, a living wage, a safe and healthy environment, an end to the inhumane and racist death penalty and war on drugs, and reforms to put power back into the hands of the people &endash;- the issues Americans care most about."

Democrats have left a vacuum on those issues, and the Greens have moved in to take their place.

Greens are also organizing on colleges and universities across the country with the help of the newly formed Campus Greens (campusgreenparties.org), which was to hold its founding convention August 9-12 at the University of Illinois&endash;Chicago. More than 200 Campus Greens chapters are expected by the fall.

If Democrats want to head off another insurgency from the left next time around they should restore the party's traditional progressive populist agenda on social and economic issues, and inspire young people to get involved in politics again. Al Gore and the DLC represent a greater threat to the Democratic Party than Ralph Nader and the Greens do.

George W. Bush scored two highly touted victories on energy and HMO reform in the House just before he left town for his summer vacation. Despite the celebrations over his statecraft, he still has to get those measures through the Senate (where the Democrats in the majority will take a more skeptical look, to say the least). Bush cut deals with moderate Republicans to get the controversial deals through the Republican-controlled House, then called it bipartisanship. The House ended up endorsing an administration-backed energy plan, and rejecting a popular amendment that would have barred exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and raised gas mileage standards.

The HMO deal in the House may have hardened the partisan lines, since Bush's compromise with Rep. Charles Norwood, R-Ga. broke up a bipartisan group of sponsors. Dan Balz of the Washington Post noted Aug. 3 that the damage would complicate Bush's hopes of finding Democratic support for Social Security or Medicare reforms in the months ahead. We can only hope ...

The Post also noted by the time Bush returns from his summer vacation at his Texas ranchette on Labor Day, he will have spent 42% of his presidency so far outside the White House. Not that Cheney really needs W in the White House to get things done, but the American people have started wondering what Bush has done to deserve so much time off. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll released Aug. 7 found 55% of respondents think Bush's summer vacation is too long (although a bunch of them probably also wish he'd stay away).

The White House spin machine has largely papered over the spurious circumstances of how Bush got in the Oval Office on a Supreme Court-approved asterisk, then humped shamelessly for the energy industry and his wealthy patrons right off the mark, but people are catching on. Ratings for America's part-time president-select bottomed out at 47% approval vs. 51% negative in a Zogby poll conducted July 26-29. White House spinners dismissed the poll results, noting that other major polls had Bush's approval in the respectable mid-50s, but it should be noted that Zogby was the only major poll that correctly predicted Al Gore would win the popular election last November.

As tax rebate checks start arriving in mailboxes around the country Bush's popularity can be expected to rise, at least until the cost of the ongoing tax breaks for the wealthy are driven home. Already the Treasury reports that it has to borrow $51 billion to pay for the rebates instead of paying off $57 billion in debt, as it expected to be able to do. Washington hardly worries about billions anymore, but it appears that the worm has turned and the Treasury can no longer expect the surpluses the Republicans so blithely predicted when they rammed through the $1.35 trillion 10-year tax cut.

The Senate was criticized as protectionist on Aug. 1 when it approved a provision by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to ensure that Mexican trucks meet US safety standards, as required by NAFTA. The Senate owes no apologies for protecting the US right to enforce safety regulations on our highways. -- JMC

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