On Native Ground
THE 2002 ELECTION: THE CHICKENS HAVE VOTED FOR COLONEL SANDERS
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Do Americans really want what could be decades of perpetual global war, starting with Iraq?
Do Americans really want more giveaways to corporations and tax cuts for the rich?
Do Americans really want to see Social Security and Medicare privatized and see those programs gambled away in the stock market?
Do Americans really want to see their air and water and natural resources polluted and environmental laws weakened or repealed ?
Do Americans really want to see more Supreme Justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas and a federal judiciary that will likely turn the legal clock back to 1900?
Do Americans really want their nation to be a corrupt banana republic run by an unelected president who has total disdain for democracy, the rule of law and truth itself?
The U.S. economy is mired in recession. The stock market has declined 20 percent in the last two years. The unemployment rate has risen from 4.2 percent to 5.7 percent in that time, while the Gross Domestic Product is about half of what it was two years ago. And who knows what will happen when Persian Gulf II begins sometime in the next couple of months?
If people generally vote their pocketbooks, why did the Republican Party do so well in this year's midterm elections? Do Americans really want an imperial oligarchy that will destroy everything we hold dear?
These are the questions that trouble me as I look at the GOP's electoral triumphs and the failure of the Democratic Party to offer any tangible resistance. I don't want to believe that the American people - or at least the 40 percent who bothered to vote - are really that virulently stupid, or worse, really do want an imperial oligarchy. Either way, this is a dark moment for America.
If anyone had any doubts before this election about the fecklessness of the Democratic Party, it now should be crystal clear to all. The party failed by trying to be a pallid version of the GOP, by pandering to the same corporate interests for campaign money, by abandoning its traditional liberal base to "move to the center" and by failing to defend its core principles and come up with new ideas.
Sure, the GOP had plenty of things going in its favor. It raised nearly $200 million more in campaign cash than the Democrats. It has a president who was willing to campaign nearly non-stop for GOP candidates for weeks before the election and who sweetened the pot by doling out billions in federal goodies in states with competitive race. It has a compliant news media who is pretty much in the back pockets of the GOP. And it has "the war on terror," what proved to be the ultimate trump card in this election.
The Democrats had a perfect campaign issue handed to them on a silver platter - corporate corruption and malfeasance on an unprecedented scale. You saw rampant insider trading and phony accounting and both President Bush and Vice President Cheney neck deep in it with the companies they had been involved with.
Unfortunately, the Democrats never exploited the issue, partly because they were part of the problem. During the Clinton era, the Democrats helped to eliminate most of the regulations and oversight of the financial industry that was put in place after the speculative bubble of the 1920s. It should come as a surprise that the banking and financial services sector has been one of the Democrats' top funding sources over the past decade.
Then there was the brilliant strategy of the Bush administration to change the subject from corporate malfeasance to bombing the hell out of Iraq. There's a great graphic representation of this in the November issue of The Progressive. In mid-July, there were nearly 300 major news stories and opinion pieces in the U.S. media regarding allegations of corporate wrongdoing by Bush and Cheney and 20 stories on possible U.S. attacks on Iraq. By early August, when the first attack plans were leaked to the press, there were nearly 300 pieces on Iraq and about 50 on Bush and Cheney's corporate wrongdoing. By early September, when President Bush lobbied both the UN and Congress to take action against Iraq, there were more than 700 pieces on Iraq and less than 20 on corporate wrongdoing.
Having the Bush administration shift the debate was bad enough. The worse part was seeing the Democratic leadership in Congress go along with a war that has no legal or moral justification. House Speaker Richard Gephardt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle were more interested in preserving their political viability than in listening to the millions of Americans who wrote, faxed, called and e-mailed their opposition to a preemptive war on Iraq to their representatives in Congress.
While not every Democrat sided with President Bush, enough of them did so to give him a blank check for unlimited war in the Persian Gulf. Once the Democrats rolled over on that issue, it was pretty much all over.
I firmly believe that had the Democrats decided to make an issue of the deepening economic mess and President Bush's rogue state mentality in the conduct of foreign policy, it would have made a difference. As it is, you can argue that President Bush's bellicosity helped elect leftists such as Gerhard Schroeder in Germany and Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva in Brazil.
By refusing to take a bold stand against the ruinous policies of the Bush administration and coming up with alternative ideas, the Democratic Party blew it big time.
As a result, we'll see more tax cuts for the rich and huge federal deficits. We'll see the robber barons who bilked investors out of trillions of dollars walk away scot free. We'll see a conservative judiciary that will overturn Roe v. Wade, uphold the U.S.A Patriot Act's evisceration of civil liberties and water down or eliminate outright any regulation that impacts the God-given right of corporations to make as much money as possible. And we'll see an imperial foreign policy that will wreak havoc all over the world and cost us dearly in blood and treasure.
There is only one thing that can prevent this bleak scenario, and that's organized and forceful opposition against the GOP and its corporate allies. The Green Party or the other third parties that are out there aren't going to do it, so long as the current winner-take-all electoral system stays in place.
Like it or not, the Democratic Party is the only game in town if you're a liberal. And the only way we are going to see change is by demanding that the Democratic Party fight for issues that are supported by a majority of Americans - curbing corporate power, raising the minimum wage, reforming the health care system, improving schools and making higher education affordable again, protecting the environment and returning to a foreign policy that is engaged with the rest of the world in a positive way.
If the Democrats won't do this, expect yet another political debacle in 2004.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).