On Native Ground
WHAT WE MU.S.T FIGHT FOR IN 2004
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - It's not an exaggeration to say that it is imperative that President George W. Bush is evicted from the White House in 2004.
But how are we going to do it?
Only if there are more of us than there are of them.
By more of us, I mean people who believe in the traditional American values of freedom and justice; people who believe that a functioning democracy demands that citizens ask questions of their leaders and that they receive truthful answers in reply; people who aren't discouraged when those in power ridicule our ideas; people who have proudly upheld the simple notion that the highest form of patriotism is to speak out when your country is doing something wrong.
The things we have seen in the last three years of the Bush administration have been horrifying. But are there more people who are horrified by President Bush and willing to do something about it than there are people who like things just as they are?
That, my friends, is the big question that faces us in the coming months.
As we learned from the 2000 presidential election, we are a nation divided. Politically, we are a nation where the old are pitted against the young, the rich against the poor, the city dwellers against the suburbanites, Christians against secular society, liberals against conservatives, workers and consumers against corporations, Northerners and Southerners, gays against straights, whites against blacks and men against women.
And let's not forget the most important division - voters and non-voters. Barely 51 percent of those eligible to vote in the U.S. chose to do so in the 2000 presidential election, one of the worst showings of any of the world's major democracies.
Faced with these divisions, how do you motivate people to take action against arguably the worst president this nation has ever seen?
The case against President George W. Bush is easy to make, but it's even more important to make a case for a positive vision.
When people wrinkle their noses in the disgust when you say the word "liberal," all it takes to change that reaction is a reminder of the who was responsible for the hard won gains of the 20th century - child labor laws, the 40-hour work week and the minimum wage, Social Security and Medicare, the G.I. Bill and the Civil Rights Act, broader access to higher education and cleaner air and water.
These are the cornerstones of liberalism and they are all things that are firmly supported by a majority of Americans. They are also all under siege by the reactionaries who have made no secret of their desire to turn back the clock to 1900 and wipe away the social and economic progress of the last 100 years.
The recent crusade by conservatives to replace Franklin D. Roosevelt's face on the dime with Ronald Reagan's is instructive. Conservatives have hated Roosevelt for decades. It's easy to see why.
"There are two ways of viewing the government's duty in matters affecting economic and social life," Roosevelt said in 1932 upon accepting his party's nomination for president. "The first sees to it that a favored few are helped and hopes that some of their prosperity will sift through, to labor, to the farmer, to the small businessman. That theory belongs to the party of Toryism, and I had hoped that most of the Tories left this country in 1776.
"But it is not and never will be the theory of the Democratic Party," he said. "Ours must be a Party of Liberal thought, of planned action, of enlightened international outlook, and of the greatest good to the greatest number of our citizens."
Conservatives and their centrist enablers in the Democratic Party like to portray government as the enemy of the American people. Anyone who still believes that using government to work for positive social change is a good and honorable thing is dismissed as a starry-eyed idealist.
But Roosevelt's New Deal proved that government can make a difference in people's lives. It reduced poverty through programs such as Social Security and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. It created public works programs that not only provided jobs for the unemployed but built bridges, roads, dams and other public facilities that are still in use today. It created the eight-hour work day, the 40-hour work week and the minimum wage. It gave labor unions the right to organize. It helped stabilize farm prices and reclaim farm land ravaged by erosion and overuse.
"Under the New Deal the noble term 'commonwealth' was given a more realistic mean than ever before in our history," the historian Henry Steele Commager wrote after Roosevelt's death in 1945.
But conservatives did not believe then and do not believe now in the principle of the responsibility of the state to provide for the welfare and security of its people.
If you're not poor and hungry, if you're not old and sick, if you have plenty of money to sustain you and plenty of friends to help you, it's easy to believe that philosophy. The 1 percent of America that controls more than 40 percent of this nation's wealth would be more than happy to get government out of the social welfare business.
To conservatives, the free market is always right and always acts in the best interests of all, as opposed to governments, which are always wrong and never act in the best interests of all. The hegemony of the market cannot be questioned and cannot be stopped. As former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher so famously taught: "There is no alternative."
We're supposed to accept a world where corporations and capital have no loyalty to any entity but its shareholders; where jobs hopscotch the globe in search of places where the wages are lowest and health, safety and environmental safeguards are non-existent; where, as Benjamin Barber puts it in his book "Jihad vs. McWorld," we see "the privatization of all things public and the commercialization of all things private."
We are in the midst of a global crisis where decades of social progress are being swept away. It doesn't have to be like this, and contrary to Lady Thatcher's grand pronouncement, there must be an alternative to a rapacious free market that puts profits ahead of human needs.
Here in our nation, it means an electoral system that's not controlled by corporate dollars. It means a press that lives up to its responsibility to challenge the status quo. It means a government that exists to promote the general welfare, and not merely help the rich grow richer. It means developing a sustainable economy that doesn't plunder the earth. It means investing in public infrastructure, health and safety to create more jobs, affordable housing, better schools. It means a health care system that all Americans can have access to.
It also means that our government might try being a little more humble and a little more cooperative with the rest of the world.
Americans must recognize this simple fact - if our leaders decide they will not stop waging war until there are no more threats against America, there will continue to be threats against America because of the permanent war being waged against those our leaders believe are our enemies. We are struck in a seemingly unbreakable cycle of endless warmaking that creates new threats that requires still more warmaking.
Clearly, our nation's - indeed, the world's security - will ultimately depend upon a true commitment to peace and social justice all over our planet.
In a time when it seems as if all the worst instincts of humanity are triumphant, hope is a radical ideal. We have to believe that our nation and the world can become a better place. We have no choice but to embrace the hope that tomorrow will be better than today.
This is what we need to be fighting for in 2004.
Randolph T. Holhut was a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.