Cindy Sheehan exposed George W. Bush for the coward he is. Bush showed his colors when he ran like a scared rabbit in the hours after the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11. Now he can't face up to a grieving mother who wants to know why her son had to die.
Bush is an opportunist who took advantage of the nation's rage after 9/11 to pass more tax cuts for his wealthy friends and to curb civil liberties, as well as to invade Afghanistan, which harbored al Qaeda. After Democrats made a show of bipartisan support for the president, Bush trumped up the terror threat in the 2002 election to pad the Republican lead in the House and regain the Senate majority. Then he passed another tax cut and invaded Iraq despite warnings that occupying oil-producing Iraq would validate the rants of Muslim extremists such as Osama bin Laden, who was a sworn enemy of Iraq's secular dictator, Saddam Hussein.
Through it all, Bush has been unwilling to brook any criticism for his actions. When he speaks in public, the audiences usually are carefully screened to exclude people who might disagree with him. When he had a perfunctory meeting with families of Iraq-war casualties that included Mrs. Sheehan, he didn't even trouble himself to learn her name, much less her son's name. So it was no surprise Aug. 23 when Bush said that Sheehan doesn't represent the views of most military families he has met with. Still, he won't risk another meeting with Casey's Mom.
Sheehan took advantage of the slow news days of August to put a human face on the cost of the war in Iraq. The GOP struck back the only way they know, with personal attacks by surrogates such as Bill O'Reilly, who implied her actions were treasonous, and Rush Limbaugh, who Aug. 15 suggested that Sheehan made up her son's death -- then denied a few days later that he had said any such thing. Others have made even cruder slanders. See MediaMatters.org for the ugly details. The GOP Noise Machine should be ashamed, but it is clear that they operate outside normal boundaries of decency.
We believe that Bush and his aides lied to Congress and the American people about the reasons for going to war with Iraq. But Republican leaders in Congress have no intention of investigating the conduct of the war or other discrepancies in the Bush administration. With 14 months until the mid-term election, progressives must recruit candidates for the House and Senate now. Otherwise the right-wingers in charge of the GOP will continue to run roughshod over the US and the world for two more years.
Progressive candidates need to do more than demand that Bush bring the troops home from Iraq. But we believe progressive populist campaigns can win. We propose the following:
National Security: Bring our armed forces, and particularly the National Guard and Reserves, home to protect the United States, not oil wells in Iraq. US authorities should hunt terrorists in cooperation with other national governments, not in confrontation with potential allies. Repeal the PATRIOT Act. Many of its provisions are unconstitutional and the rest is just un-American.
Education: The Bush administration has saddled schools with responsibilities and tests, but not enough money to carry out reforms. If the feds are going to be involved in local education, it should put up the money to decrease class size, increase teacher salaries, renovate decaying schoolhouses, restore financial aid to let every qualified high school graduate pursue a university education and provide better job training for those who do not plan to go on to college.
Energy: Promote independence from foreign oil through renewable energy and more efficient vehicles. With the world approaching peak oil and gas production, this won't threaten energy industry jobs. Instead it could create three million jobs in sustainable energy industries. See the Apollo Alliance (apolloalliance.org), which the AFL-CIO supports.
Health care: Expand Medicare to provide health care for all Americans. Pay for it with a payroll tax estimated at 7.7%. Responsible businesses already pay more than that (an average of 8.5% and rising) on health care premiums. They would be relieved of a major financial drain, while skinflint businesses that let their workers fend for themselves would finally be forced to pay their fair share.
Housing: Increase assistance for affordable housing so that anybody with a full-time job can afford a home. Restore subsidies for low-income housing in the Section 8 program.
Rural Issues: Encourage broadband Internet access in rural communities to help local economic development. Break up agricultural monopolies and encourage independent family-owned farms with agriculture policies that guarantee fair prices for farmers and healthy food for consumers. Stop the "vertical integration" of food production, where one corporation controls the production of meat from farm to packinghouse. "Factory farms" must be closely monitored for air, water and food contamination and the USDA must enforce tough new food safety laws.
Small Businesses: Restore the Small Business Administration, which is needed now more than ever to help mom and pop entrepreneurs. Improve the assistance to minority communities. Increase assistance for small business startups. Enforce antitrust laws.
Taxes: Since we have to pay the bills Bush and the GOP Congress have run up again, Congress should restore the inheritance and corporate income taxes so we won't have to raise middle-class income taxes.
Voting Rights: Support Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Voting Rights Amendment, which would establish a constitutional right to vote and have that vote counted, since the US Supreme Court in 2000 ruled there is no such right. Require nonpartisan congressional redistricting or proportional representation to put an end to partisan gerrymandering. Support Rep. Rush Holt's bill to require a paper trail for electronic voting machines and random audits of election results from those machines.
Worker Rights: Raise the minimum wage to at least $7 an hour. Restore the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Repeal NAFTA as well as CAFTA and negotiate new trade deals that guarantee labor rights, living wages and environmental safeguards in signatory countries.
Privacy: Republicans claim there is no right to privacy guaranteed in the Constitution. Affirm the right to privacy, so that the government does not step between you and your doctor in medical decisions from conception through death. Drug policy should emphasize treatment over criminalization.
And last but certainly not least:
Social Security: Maintain the most successful government retirement program in the world and sic the dogs on anybody who proposes to "privatize" the system or cut guaranteed benefits to seniors. To satisfy a possible 75-year funding shortfall that privatization supporters say might occur under pessimistic levels of productivity growth, simply remove the current $90,000 cap on income subject to the payroll tax.
Every time you get a chance, make the point that if voters return a Republican majority to Congress in 2006, you can bet George W. Bush and his friends on Wall Street will renew the push to privatize and dismantle Social Security.
Progressive Democrats can build upon this agenda. But with primaries coming up next spring, the window to recruit candidates and line up financing will be closing soon. Progressive candidates can get help from 21st Century Democrats (21stcenturydems.org or phone 202-626-5620).
Americans deserve a progressive choice. -- JMC