Fair trade activists counted some victories Nov. 5. Steffen Spencer of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch writes that the pro-Fast Track Rep. George Gekas (R-Pa.) was knocked out by anti-Fast Track Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa). In Maine, Michael Michaud's (D) campaign against "free" trade and Fast Track gave him the edge over opponent Kevin Raye (R) and on Long Island, Timothy Bishop (D) appears to have defeated Felix Grucci (R) who was pilloried mercilessly by local trade activists for his Chinese trade relations and Fast Track betrayals. It also became exceedingly clear to GOP freshman Rep. Shelly Moore Capito and other GOP members in tight districts that the trade vote can be the deciding factor in whether or not members of Congress come back to Washington. Capito managed to hold her seat in Democratic West Virginia in great part because she crossed party lines to vote no on Fast Track twice. The trade issue was prominent in several other races where Republicans were saved by the Bush-on-campaign-overdrive tsunami effect in the last few days before the election.
Through the passage of Fast Track last year, with the support of the Senate Democratic leadership, Congress already set a low bar for trade negotiations, and US trade negotiators were already busy negotiating the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas and other bilateral agreements with Singapore and Chile. "While we know the narrow margin on Fast Track and the outrageous contents of the FTAA and WTO proposals [which are due to be completed by 2005] means Emperor Zoellick (US Trade Representative] is, if not without any clothes, at least down to his undies, it's certain that US negotiators will try to use the 'official' green light of Fast Track to try to bluster and bully even more. Of course, it is our work to show this for the scam it is," Spencer said. Between now and 2004, he said, "our focus MUST be on building political power and muscle in the field!
Spencer added, "Some are going to try to say that these elections were an affirmation of Bush's agenda. We need to be the voice that repeats endlessly that what this REALLY was is an affirmation that Americans are being scared into numbness and away from focusing on how the Bush agenda is making most peoples' lives worse -- in terms of trade policy, but also in terms of the endless corporate giveaways and boondoggles from tax cuts to privatization to environmental regulation rollbacks. Our work must be to cut through the terrorism/war fear factor to help people focus on the facts: real wages are declining, unemployment is rising, corporations are stealing worker pensions right and left, family farmers and small businesses are being decimated, watershed environmental protections are being stripped away, and civil rights and democracy are being seriously undermined ... On Nov. 5th, the corporations and Bushites think they took over the country -- it's up to all of us to show them they are wrong!"
Spencer noted that it was a good sign that Nancy Pelosi, a fair trade ally and indefatigable opponent of normalized trade with China, will be the next Democratic minority leader in the House. [See Global Trade Watch at www.citizen.org or phone 202-454-5129.]
LABOR REACHED MORE MEMBERS. The AFL-CIO's Labor 2002 political program contacted more union members than ever in a mid-term election, according to an election-night survey of union members conducted by Peter D. Hart Research for the AFL-CIO. Still, disappointing results in races by worker-friendly candidates nationwide have far-reaching implications for working families, according to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. Sweeney is asking the AFL-CIO Executive Council's Political Committee to lead an evaluation of the factors that shaped the election outcomes. Asked what two top issues affected their choices in House races, 44% of union members surveyed by Hart cited the economy and jobs, followed by health care and prescription drugs with 34% and Social Security with 25%. "That the economy and jobs was the top voting issue is not surprising, when you consider that 71% of union members say they are somewhat or very dissatisfied with the economy," said Sweeney. "But in our survey, union members said they do not think either party has a plan to strengthen the economy -- and that is a particularly strong indictment of the Democrats." Union voter turnout rates were not available because of a failure of the Voter News Service tracking system, but massive mobilization by union activists kept worker-friendly candidates close in many races and won key victories in statehouses -- even though Big Business outspent working family advocates by 12-1 in the most expensive off-year election in history. In battleground Senate races, 72% of union members voted for Democratic candidates, with similar results in US House races, the survey found. See the survey and its findings at www.aflcio.org/publ/press2002/pr1106a.htm .
FEW ELECTION SURPRISES. Voter turnout rose, but again was abysmally low in most states, falling below 40% of voting-age Americans despite national congressional elections and numerous competitive gubernatorial races, wrote Rob Richie of the Center for Voting and Democracy. Only four US House incumbents lost to non-incumbent challengers in their severely gerrymandered districts, the average House race was won by more than 40%, more than four out of every five US House races were won by landslide margins of 20% or more and more than nine out of every ten races were won by more than 10%. In state legislative elections from 1998-2002, two of every five winners faced no major party opposition, including 37% this year. Women and minorities remain severely under-represented, with this year's status quo election standing in stark contrast to the 1992 surge in women and racial minorities after the last round of legislative redistricting. Compared to 1993, there are two fewer African-Americans in Congress and fewer states with women in their US House delegations. Minor parties tried harder than ever, but again made no significant gains, and the major parties will control all 50 governor's mansions for the first time in more than a decade even as a growing number of Americans, especially youth, express interest in viable alternatives outside the major parties. See the center's post-election analysis at fairvote.org.
NEED FOR POPULIST CAMPAIGN. Kelly Young of 21st Century Democrats, which promotes populist Democrats (see www.21stdems.org), is not buying the media chatter that the recent elections gave George Bush a mandate. "While the Republican base salivates at stocking the judiciary with ideologues, tax breaks for millionaires, unilateral war in Iraq, and privatizing Social Security, most ordinary Americans do not share their beliefs," she writes. "Even Bush's overwhelming popularity is a myth. His approval rating now is 8 points lower than Bill Clinton's was in November 1998, and, according to Gallup, fewer than 50% of voters say he deserves re-election in 2004. One thing is, however, clear: We must reenergize our voters and transform the Democratic Party. We certainly have inspiring issues to talk about, and we can no longer let the Republicans define who we are. Instead of being ashamed of our support of universal health care, protecting the environment, expanding economic opportunity, promoting economic justice, holding corporations accountable and balancing security with liberty, progressive Democrats must lead; we must forcefully remind voters of our values. Instead of recruiting candidates with warmed over Republican beliefs, we must recruit and support candidates that share our progressive Democratic beliefs and who won't be afraid to run on Democratic issues." She noted that Sen. Paul Wellstone inspired people by passionately fighting for progressive values and noted that Wellstone said shortly before his passing. "If we don't fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don't really stand for them."
LIBERTARIANS COST GOP RACES. Indian voters may have provided Sen. Tim Johnson (D) with the margin of victory for his re-election in South Dakota, but John J. Miller wrote in the Nov. 16 New York Times that 3,000 votes drawn by Libertarian Kurt Evans cost Republican John Thune the election -- the third consecutive election in which a Libertarian has cost the GOP a US Senate seat. In 1998, a Libertarian got more than 8,000 votes in the Nevada race that Sen. Harry Reid (R) won by 428 votes. In 2000 Sen. Slade Gorton (R) lost to Maria Cantwell (D) by 2,228 votes in a race where the Libertarian got 65,000 votes. In governor's races, Miller wrote, Wisconsin Gov.-elect Jim Doyle (D) owes his 68,000 vote victory to 185,000 votes cast for Libertarian Ed Thompson, while in Oregon, Democrat Ted Kulongoski won by 33,000 votes as the Libertarian pulled in 56,000 votes. Ironically, Green candidates were not a factor in any Senate races.
BUSH VULNERABLE. The CBS News/New York Times poll released Nov. 26 that showed "Positive Ratings for the GOP, If Not Its Policy," according to the Times, which noted that the poll showed George W. Bush has a 65% job approval rating while Democrat Al Gore is viewed unfavorably by a ratio of almost two to one. Unmentioned in the Times article or the CBS News report on the poll (but available at cbsnews.com) is the finding that only 32% of respondents would vote to re-elect Bush, while 18% would vote Democratic and 47% were undecided. Of Independents 65% were undecided.
SQUARE DEAL. Thomas Oliphant of the Boston Globe Nov. 24 recommends that Americans demand a "Square Deal," based on five fundamental concepts: Capitalism cannot grow without a well-educated and skilled population; public capital is required to boost the housing supply for working families and public policies are required to keep basic health care from being a function of money; workers have a right to expect a minimal standard of living; and workers have a right to secure retirement. "A Square Deal is well within the capacity of a $10 trillion economy, but there's a catch. It is not possible if two things occur in coming years: the government gives $500 billion to a million high-income people via more tax cuts and it gives another $200 billion to even fewer through repeal of the tax on mega-estates. Call that a Raw Deal," Oliphant wrote. "In their introspection, progressives should understand that these giveaways will occur unless they offer a competing agenda, not more tactics."