by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
March 18, 2001
THE DEMOCRATS: DEAD PARTY WALKING
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The Republican rout is on.
The GOP rammed through Congress a repeal of safety rules designed to protect workers from repetitive motion injuries on the job. A bankruptcy bill that will make it harder for consumers to wipe out their debts is set to become law. And a $1.6 trillion tax cut that will mostly benefit the rich appears to be a done deal.
Coming up are rollbacks of environmental regulations, limiting corporate liability for faulty products and opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling.
We shouldn't be shocked that all this is happening. According to The Washington Post, corporate America dumped $146 million in soft money in the GOP's coffers during the 1999-2000 cycle, compared to only $81 million for the Democrats during the same period. Two out of every three doll= ars given by businesses to political action committees went to GOP candidates.
The Bush camp has apparently made a deal with big business: If corporate America keeps quiet and doesn't agitate for big tax breaks during the debate over giving tax relief to individuals, they will see more regulatory relief than they ever dreamed possible.
So where are the Democrats? Dead in the water. Their strategy of the past decade of being the kinder, gentler version of the GOP has gotten them nowhere. The Republicans now control the Congress, the White House, a majority of the state legislatures and governorships and the federal judiciar= y. Bill Clinton, the best Republican president since Dwight Eisenhower, was a Democrat in name only and accelerated the party's decline with a centrist strategy that co-opted GOP themes at every turn.
Now, when we really need an opposition party to curb the excesses of a GOP intent on repealing any thing that stands in the way of the God-given right of corporations to make as much money as possible, we have nothing.
The Democrats are adrift, while our nation faces real problems. Nearly 1 in 5 kids in the U.S. live in poverty and nearly 44 million Americans don't have health insurance. We have the highest infant mortality rate and the among the lowest life expectancies of any industrialized nation. Our education system is mediocre. Our national infrastructure is crumbling.
And what are the Democrats talking about in the face of these pressing issues? The need to preserve the surplus to pay down the national debt.
According to economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the federal government now as more resources at its disposal for taking care of the nation's social needs than at any time since the end of World War II. There is more money available now than in the mid-1960s when Medicare, Medicaid and Head Start were created. Paying off the debt ov= er the next decade would marginally lower interest rates, Baker said it would amount to about a penny for every dollar of national income.
The GOP isn't interested in child poverty, lousy schools and poor health care. They want to give the wealthy and the corporations lower taxes and less regulation. They are content to reward their backers, while another generation of America's kids grow up in squalor.
This is the kind of thinking that will destroy this nation. Capitalism works when it puts greater value on long-term investment rather than short-term gain. Children that are safe, healthy and well-educated will be productive citizens that contribute to the strength of our nation. Health care that is affordable and accessible means people live longer and more productive lives. Fixing public infrastructure will help keep the private economy moving.
This was the reasoning that created government programs such as Social Security, the GI Bill, the interstate highway system, Medicare, Head Start and other investments in the general welfare of the nation. And the Dem= ocratic Party was at the forefront of all of them.
A majority of Americans did not vote for the Bush agenda. The Democrats and Greens won more than 3 million more votes than the Republicans last November. In poll after poll, most Americans support using the surplus for things other than massive tax cuts for the wealthy. So, why won't the Democrats fight?
One reason is their reliance on corporate soft money. They dumped working people, grass-roots activists and the poor to court the same wealthy donors who give to the GOP. Another reason is the dominance of the Democratic Leadership Council, the Washington-based group of mostly Southern conservative Democrats that support free trade, partial privatization of Social Security, increased military spending and other traditional GOP issues. The goal was to purge the party of the influence unions, civil rights activists, environmentalists and feminists and make the Democrats a socially libera= l but economically conservative party.
The DLC gave us Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. It also gave us a party that sold out its traditional base and became only slightly less odious than the Republicans on many issues.
This is the moment of truth for the Democrats. In the face of the conservative policy steamroller that is threatening to crush a century's worth of economic and social reform, they must stand up and fight for the common good. They have the issues and the bulk of the American people on their side. All they need is the will to free themselves from the grip of big money politics and return to the principles they discarded in their mad dash to co-opt the conservatives.
If it fails to fight the rapacious and ill-advised policies of George W. Bush and his gang, the Democratic Party is dead and it will richly deserve that fate.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).