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The Throbbing Political Pulse
December 4, 2003
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

Whenever traveling around the country, I (surprise!) talk politics with folks I meet; it's often instructive and it serves as a way of taking the social pulse. Last week's trip to the East Coast, to meet with fellow website editors - mainly in New York, but checking in with Crisis Papers compadres in Washington, D.C., as well - presented me with both encouraging and dispiriting signs.

The Congressional Democrats scurry around like frightened rabbits, but out beyond the beltway this trip re-affirmed for me that there are plenty of ordinary Dems - appalled at Bush&Co. policies - who have more starch in their spines. These Democrats seem willing to unite big time behind the party's eventual candidate (providing money, energy and time), even if it turns out that they might not agree with some of the standard-bearer's positions. I heard this same commitment from supporters of all the major candidates. This is a hopeful sign.

To a person, these citizens - and even a goodly number of Greens, and Republican moderates, angry at how their party has been hijacked by far-right zealots - are willing to put ideological considerations aside in the service of defeating Bush in 2004. They know that this may be the last chance available to break the back of the neo-con momentum currently wreaking such havoc on our country, domestically and internationally. This may be the final opportunity to stop the imperial war machine as it greedily eyes other countries in the oil-rich Middle East and elsewhere. This may be the last chance to save and protect our Constitutional form of government.

I did talk to one Democrat who vowed he would support any of the party's candidates but Joe Lieberman, whom he described as "Rambo lite." The overall choice of the Dems I talked to on this trip was Dennis Kucinich - my main-man as well - but nary a one believed he had a snowball's chance in Hell to get the nomination. They thought it would be Dean or (this one surprised me) Gephardt, or, as a middle-range compromise, Clark.

But many of these same Democrats have told me that if and when the Dem nominee wins the presidency, they are going to go after the party's Congressional leadership with a vengeance. Watching the Democrats cave time and time again to Bush's threats and demands makes them ashamed to be in the same party. The best recruiter for the Greens is Tom Daschle.

The sentiment I heard again and again on this trip was that the Congressional Democrats "just don't get it." By which was meant that the supposed Democratic leaders, by and large, think their Republican opponents are just playing the usual style of politics, and thus the Dems can deal with them in the same civil way they've been used to for the past several decades. The Democrats, I was told often, simply don't, or won't, understand what activist role a Loyal Opposition is supposed to play in the current world of cutthroat Washington politics.

Because of this confusion and timidity, Democratic action translates all too often into accomodation - formerly called selling-out - that tends to give Bush&Co. whatever they want, whether it be a blank-check authorization for war, a deeply flawed Medicare bill that is the first step in the elimination of that all-important program, a bloated $87 billion bill to finance the Iraq war and to continue paying off corporate behemoths like Halliburton and Bechtel, and on and on.

Getting It And Not

In truth, the Congressional Democrats do not get it. "It" is the fact that the Republicans these days are a different breed of political animal, operating from an extremist neo-con locus - an arrogant, bullying approach to political opponents, which has so discombobulated the Dems that even Congressional Republicans that can't stomach the agenda are happy to participate. These zealots are out not just to best the opposition but to destroy it, in order to create what amounts to a one-party state.

The most obvious recent demonstration of this was the way the Administration's energy bill was created and rammed onto the Congressional floor - hammered out in secret (both by Cheney and his fellow energy-company execs, and later by the Congressional GOP leadership), with absolutely no input from Democrats permitted. Or the GOP unwillingness at times to allow proper committee hearings where Democrat objections can be heard, or to entertain Dem amendments to bills, etc. etc.

Add this movement toward one-party rule to the increasing militarization of the country, where criticism of Bush policies and the incompetency with which they're carried out is painted as support for terrorists; see the Republican National Committee's TV ads currently running in Iowa. And then there's the shredding of Constitutional guarantees of due process under the PATRIOT Act, with even more being sought in PATRIOT Act 2, the so-called VICTORY Act.

The pattern is clear: under Bush&Co., we are moving more and more quickly toward a kind of American neo-fascism, where one set of ideas is all that will be permitted. (And you can bet that plans are being hatched already in Ashcroft's office for taking care of critical internet websites such as this one: "detrimental to the war effort," you know.)

The progress made for most Americans under the New Deal and Great Society programs of the past 60 years are being rolled back. Private greed, corporate gluttony, more power to the powerful, imperial rampaging abroad, the polluters making the pollution rules, the working/middle class (and minorities) taking it in the neck - all these and more help define Bush rule, and will only get worse if the White House remains in GOP hands after 2004.

I'm not exaggerating. The handwriting is already clearly on the wall. War and represssion. It's that bad.

The Blues vs. The Reds

All those with whom I spoke on my East Coast trip, be they liberal Democrats or traditional GOP conservatives, tended to see the Bush Administration in much the same way as described above. But, we all agreed, by and large we were talking about the more metropolitan "Blue" states, those on the two coasts that tend to be more tolerant, more liberal in social outlook, more internationalist in foreign policy.

But what about the "Red," Bush-country, states in between the two coasts? How to reach those citizens and convince them that voting for Bush again is not in their interests?

Several of the website editors I talked with noted that there have been increasing signs, backed up by polling, that even in those Red states disenchantment with Bush&Co. is palpable. Even in Kansas and Idaho, for example, many small-government conservatives are deeply agitated by the extremist politics practiced by the Bush cabal - starting unnecessary wars abroad; creating a huge, Big Brother federal government; damaging the economy and the resulting enormous job losses; decimating Medicare, with Social Security next. Similarly, when I was in Texas several months ago, I heard of lifelong Republicans who already had announced that they would not vote for Bush again; many letters from moderate/conservative Republicans to The Crisis Papers and other political websites, from a variety of states, echo that sentiment.

So fertile ground is open to Democratic plowing in supposed Bush country. Al Gore vacillated back and forth in the 2000 campaign, but his initial more-populist message did resonate with many voters; Howard Dean didn't handle his position very elegantly on the need to talk sense to angry Southern white males, but he, too, like Gephardt, is suggesting a campaign that takes it to the Bush heartland on populist-type economic issues, especially in the Republican-dominated South.

If the Democratic nominee can clearly articulate how it is in nobody's economic or social interest to vote for the Republican candidate - not even, in the long run, for the corporate fat-cats - then Bush country itself is put into play and the Dems have a hope of taking some of those electoral votes. Especially given the latent disenchantment with the Bush Administration among many true conservatives in those states.

The Odiferous Necklace

In short, the 2004 election can be won. Both because of the candidate the Democrats will put up, and the scandals that hang like a putrifying collection of roadkill around George W. Bush's neck, most notably the coverup of Bush's pre-9/11 knowledge, the felonious outing of a covert CIA agent to punish a political opponent, the massive lying to the Congress and American people that led us into an unnecessary quagmire in Iraq, and so on.

So, yes, Bush is defeatable, but it ain't gonna be easy. Rove&Co. realize what's at stake here - their last chance to implement their far-right agenda, and set up their repressive infrastructure, for another decade or two - and already are way ahead of the Democrats in terms of fund-raising and money available. They are much more adept, for example, in how to employ the internet to their advantage, with the Dems just getting started in playing catch-up. So that's a big disadvantage one year ahead of the election.

Then, too, those opposed to Bush have to deal in a serious way with the touch-screen computer issue, to eliminate the possibility of GOP fiddling with the vote-counting software that currently is controlled mainly by three Republican-leaning corporations. Since those corporations refuse to permit state election officials to examine and test the software, the only way to ensure a thoroughly clean, suspicionless balloting in 2004 is for the citizenry to demand a postponement of computer-voting until the corruption and hacking issues can be dealt with and resolved.

A major activist campaign should be mounted to convince the various Secretaries of State - who will be meeting in convention in February - to refuse to purchase computer-voting machines for their respective states from these three companies until the software can be examined, tested and, if necessary, fixed, ensuring that later manipulation of the results cannot be carried out.

If this process is not done, or cannot be done in time, the only method that guarantees a fair and impartial election in November will be to use paper ballots, hand-counted, with GOP and Dem representatives observing the tallying. We've already had a tainted, controversial election in 2000; to restore faith in the democratic process, the 2004 election must be fair, and be seen as fair, by the entire electorate, untarnished by even a hint of chicanery.

If there is a fair and untampered-with election in November, the Democrat will win. But that means that you and I need to start our work now, one year in advance, to make that happen. The name of the game is active citizen involvement that will build to a crescendo of democratic (small- and large-D) activism that will eventuate in putting Bush and his dangerous cronies on the unemployment rolls where they belong.


Bernard Weiner is co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org), and was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for 19 years. A Ph.D. in government & international relations, he has taught at various universities.

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