Bush the Unificator

We have received many messages berating us for our editorial in the 2/1/01 issue ("Keep Hope Alive"), which offered hope to progressives during the Reign of George II. Many of these letters say we should be ashamed of our support for Ralph Nader. They argue, often in profane terms, that we owe the nation an apology. The "New Democrats," it seems, need a scapegoat.

Well, they'll have a long time waiting for that mea culpa. We can say we are sorry about several things related to the election -- but endorsing Nader is not among them. We're sorry that the Democrats could not find a better candidate than Al Gore for president. We're sorry that he toned down his populist rhetoric after Labor Day because it alarmed his wealthy contributors, then he blew a double-digit lead in the polls. We're sorry that Republican mobs -- organized by GOP congressional leaders -- prevented disputed ballots from being counted in Florida, while Democrats behaved themselves and relied on the process to work itself out. We're sorry that Gore's lawyers weren't able to keep the US Supreme Court from disregarding those disputed ballots and Florida state law and awarding the election to George W. Bush. We're sorry that not a single Democratic senator could be found to endorse the complaints of the Congressional Black Caucus about the voting irregularities in Florida. We're sorry that the Democrats did not regain control of the House and the Senate. But are we sorry that we endorsed the most progressive populist in the presidential race? Not a chance.

The Nader vote showed the Democratic leadership that there were consequences for their abandonment of progressive principles. Progressive Democrats can use that vote -- and the threat that it could happen again -- to demand more respect from party officials, or they can cleave to the pro-corporate Democratic Leadership Council, which believes that Gore lost the election -- despite his half-million-vote plurality -- because he was not more like the Republicans.

Democrats would be wise to seek to attract those 2.7 million Nader voters back into the fold by paying more attention to why they left. Or the Ds can excommunicate the Naderites and drive them permanently into the Green Party.

The same goes for organized labor, which shook the Clinton administration and the World Trade Organization a year ago in November 1999 when it formed a coalition with environmentalists and democracy activists to shut down Seattle and stop a new round of trade negotiations.

That coalition was splintered last year after union leaders pledged their loyalty to the Democrats despite Al Gore's fealty to corporate interests and despite the more pro-worker agenda that Nader carried to the Greens. After Seattle the Clinton administration took a more aggressive position in negotiating labor and environmental standards in trade deals. In the end, 62% of union members voted for Gore, according to exit polls -- and along with the motivated black vote they very nearly carried off the election for Gore. Yet of the other union voters, only 3% voted for Nader while 34% voted for Bush, who takes positions that are pretty much antithetical to unions.

Now the unions are back on the outside, along with blacks, Hispanics, feminists, environmentalists, consumer advocates, democracy activists and other libs. Bush stole the election with the help of partisan hacks on the Supreme Court but Democrats in the Senate didn't even want to talk about it. Now Bush will cherry-pick conservative Democrats in Congress to give his initiatives the cover of bipartisan support. Progressives can hang together for the next two years, until the next election, or they'll get hung out to dry, bill by bad old bill.

The good news is that Bush has united the old Seattle Coalition -- in opposition to his new right-wing regime. Nader supporters are as outraged as Democrats ought to be at the harassment of black voters in Florida, including the purging of black voters falsely labeled as felons, a police roadblock near at least one predominantly black voting place, substandard voting equipment in minority precincts and other voting irregularities that culminated in the Supreme Court's transfer of power to George II. Now what are we going to do about it?

As long as Bush can find a few New Democrats like Zell Miller or John Breaux -- who look more like Old Republicans than anything else -- he thinks he can get his legislative agenda through Congress. That means the Ds will have to be prepared to filibuster in the Senate and Leader Tom Daschle will have to hold onto at least 40 votes to stop Bush's initiatives.

The Republicans were very successful in cutting the legs out from under Bill Clinton when they were in the minority in 1994. They swept the House and Senate that November and put Clinton on the defensive for the next six years, even though they couldn't defeat him in 1996.

Democrats can use the same strategy but Daschle will need your help. Call your senators. If they're Democrats put some steel in their spine. If they're Republicans urge them to break ranks and support working people. Contact them through the US Capitol switchboard, 202-224-3121, or write c/o US Senate, Washington DC 20510. Politicians watch the polls, but letters from constituents also get their attention. Twenty Republicans will be up for re-election in 2002, as well as 13 Democrats, and they'll be especially sensitive to your calls.

But it's not enough to be against the Republicans. Democrats need to be for something, and there is nothing that would do working people more good than to build grassroots support for a universal health care program.

Bush got the loudest cheers in his inaugural speech from the swells for his promise to cut taxes by $1.6 trillion and build up the military. Those initiatives would dry up funding for new domestic spending -- such as reducing the number of uninsured Americans, now estimated at more than 43 million. Even middle class families are getting squeezed as businesses face the choice of dropping insurance because of rising premiums or increasing the amount of the deductible that their employees must pay before the insurance kicks in. One of my brothers pays $5,000 a year for insurance for his wife and four children -- and that's without any major medical bills. Many people don't realize how flimsy their insurance coverage is until they actually need it. Cuba does a better job of providing health care for all its citizens than we do.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., last year sponsored The Health Security for All Americans Act (S. 2888). It would allow individual states to decide how to provide affordable and comprehensive health care coverage for their residents. It would insure the uninsured, guarantee affordable health care by limiting out-of-pocket expenses, provide comprehensive care by guaranteeing a minimum benefit package equal to that enjoyed by members of Congress, and ensure the quality of care benefits by providing strong patient protections. The bill went nowhere, of course.

The Labor Party last year worked up the figures on how much it would cost to simply provide universal health coverage for every US resident. (See www.igc.apc.org/lpa.) By eliminating administrative waste and profit in the private health insurance industry, the United States can pay for universal coverage as well as extensive benefits such as nursing home, prescription drugs and long term care for the same $1.3 trillion that we now spend. Individuals would have the freedom to choose their doctors, hospitals and other health care providers, instead of accepting what their HMO imposes upon them.

The Labor Party plan would keep much of the existing health care financing in place, noting that the government already accounts for half of health care spending. Employer contributions to private insurance premiums would be replaced with a modest employer payroll tax of 3.303%. Businesses that provide health benefits would see substantial savings from the amount they now spend. It would eliminate individual premiums, and it would require no new taxes for workers (except for the wealthiest 5% of Americans).

That's a program working people could get behind. -- JMC

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