March 23, 2005
By Carolyn Winter and Roger Bybee
many times a day are we bombarded by outrageous media coverage of
a domestic or international event? And then, if we are not totally
foaming at the mouth from the media coverage, we are thoroughly
outraged by the feeble or non-existent response by the Democratic
When we are assaulted by so many right-wing initiatives, it is
difficult to respond in a coherent and affirmative fashion. We become
paralyzed by the number of issues and are seduced into disputing
the facts of each issue separately, rather than offering coherent
themes that express our progressive vision for a just America. In
this environment of non-stop affronts to basic democratic and humane
values, the positive aspects of our perspective get lost and it
is easy to come across as perpetually in opposition or simply "negative."
In recent weeks, there has been an onslaught of provocations from
the Administration and its allies in Congress that has left liberals
and moderates almost speechless and without a focused and coherent
Take This, Europe!
The appointment of strutting hard-liners John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz
to important international positions was beyond our worst fantasies.
It was more "in your face" than just appointing conservative
ideologues from the plentiful stock in the Bush White House. Bush's
choices were intended to taunt anyone favoring multilateral cooperation
or international law.
Choosing John Bolton, a man on record as having utter antagonism
toward United Nations and multilateral institutions, to be Ambassador
to the UN and Paul Wolfowitz to head the World Bank, are naked power
moves meant to intimidate any opposition to the current US onslaught
of unilateralism and raw "free-market" policy to be imposed
on the less powerful.
Yet, where is the vocal domestic opposition to the growing list
of Bush loyalists who are appointed to major posts at institutions
for whom they have already demonstrated their complete contempt?
Recycling Caveman Judicial Nominees
Then of course there is the resubmitting of names of a handful
of Bush arch-conservative nominees to the federal bench, who were
previously rejected by the Senate because of their extreme views,
especially on minority rights. Bush's allies are now threatening
the "nuclear option" of abolishing the filibuster in order
to ram through these nominees.
Progressive forces must re-kindle respect for the principles of
ideological diversity on the courts and the Senate's "advise
and consent" role in fighting back against Bush's regal, high-handed
approach to filling the bench with rightist clones.
Preying Upon A Deathbed Case
Adding farce to family tragedy, we witness the preposterous last-minute
moves by the Republican Congress to supersede the rulings of at
least 19 Florida judges (thus far) and the U.S. Supreme Court. This
effort has been spawned by the anti-abortion forces as an indirect
way to support their cause. All of this publicity is to prevent
the death of Terri Schiavo who has been in a vegetative state for
Each year, roughly one million American families are forced to
make a similar agonizing decision to withhold a life-support system
and allow a loved one to die with dignity. Yet the Republicans led
by Tom DeLay have drawn a line in the sand on the Schiavo case.
So much for archconservatives respecting the sanctity of marriage
and states' rights when these hallowed principles prove inconvenient!
While the media is having a field day and invading this woman's
privacy, the Democrats are caving into the pressure. No one but
Rep. Henry Waxman has been willing to say that families all over
this country want to make these painful decisions in private and
don't want to fear the encroachment of Congress.
Morally Bankrupt Legislation
In another development in recent weeks, we stood by helplessly
as Congress passed bankruptcy legislation to end many of the protections
it offered to the middle class, the ultimate fantasy of the bankers
and credit card companies. This legislation, which carefully shields
important loopholes for the richest exploiters of the bankruptcy
code, was among the baldest efforts to aid the credit-card and banking
industries at the cost of great suffering to families that have
medical emergencies or lose a breadwinner's salary, including even
soldiers in Iraq.
Where was the outrage? In fact, 18 Democratic Senators helped make
all this possible. Who is pointing the finger at Congress and demanding
an explanation of how this legislation helps the average American?
The underlying source of our frustration is the many levels of
misrepresentation and attacks on basic democratic values: i.e. the
encroaching acceptance of "torture" and other acts of
dehumanization as the American way; the purposeful misreading of
history (e.g., the disappearance of the US role in destroying Iranian
democracy in 1953, which has cast a lasting shadow of Iranian society
ever since), the daily hypocrisy (e.g., 15,000 Syrian troops are
"occupiers" who make a fair election impossible in Lebanon,
while the 150,000 American "liberators" in Iraq enhance
democracy); and the bogus "facts" that bolster right-oriented
policies from Social Security privatization to tax cuts for the
The limited perspective presented by the media is the result of
many complex and interacting forces, including the increasing monopolization
in the industry. However, the total weakness and retreats of Democrats
have enabled the growing decline of journalism into propaganda in
many cases. Without an opposition party that articulates alternative
views, the media are facilitated in covering only one perspective.
As a result, the sheer tenacity of the right-wing has been able
to normalize policies considered laughably extreme (e.g., "preventive
war," Social Security privatization, etc.) 20 years ago and
thrust them into the center of current public discourse.
Through a combination of Democratic leaders' silence and the major
media's exclusion of dissident views to weigh in on major policy
questions, the breadth of opinion has narrowed appallingly. Perspectives
that dominate in all the other major democracies in the world are
disparaged and disqualified from serious consideration in this country,
including such diverse issues such as elimination of capital punishment
or provision of universal health insurance.
If we are to open up public debate and place progressive alternatives
on the table, our immediate focus must be calling upon the Democrats
to respond to the hopes and needs of the vast majority of Americans.
Clearly, Bush and the Right are beyond caring about the public interests
or public opinion; they feel confident that they can force their
vision on America without needing consent. Thus, even as we continue
to expose Bush and Co., it is the Democrats who must be held accountable
and be pushed to live up to their rhetoric of "putting people
On rare occasions when the Democrats occasionally voice strong
objections, as with Social Security, media coverage becomes correspondingly
more inclusive and public opinion responds to their positions and
perspective. By now, we should recognize that the major media will
not thoroughly cover vital viewpoints without our pressure. The
opposition party, the Democrats, must also be vocal in order to
receive prominent coverage of viable alternatives.
On the other hand, Democratic leaders have generally seemed afraid
to articulate broader progressive themes and values, as opposed
to engaging in occasional, tangential sniping on an issue-by-issue
basis, unless they are feeling heat from grass-roots forces. The
lesson for progressives: strategically-directed and cohesive outrage
from oppositional forces is required to adequately answer Bush's
assaults and provide a true counterweight to right-wing demagogues
and forceful defense of the public interests.
Over the long run, liberals and progressives must work to create
a public-opinion climate that once again accepts the active, positive
role of government in extending a helping hand to all citizens and
preventing a de facto corporate dictatorship. Going further, we
ultimately need to popularize Franklin Delano Roosevelt's bold concept,
outlined in his 1944 inaugural speech, that all American citizens
are entitled to economic as well as political rights.
But such an idea remains far removed from the current discourse.
As stressed above, the absence of consistent, substantive opposition
from the Democrats has facilitated this increasingly shrunken range
of perspectives on all major questions, most especially on the fundamental
direction of society. Will we revert back to the 19th century model
of society, when government served only the new industrial aristocracy
and neglected the social needs of the vast majority? Or will government
be harnessed to develop a more complete democracy, where healthcare
and other fundamental needs are seen as basic rights?
Unless Democratic leaders start leading, George W. Bush is putting
us on a bridge back to the 19th century.
Carolyn Winter and Roger Bybee are Milwaukee-based writers
and activists. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.