by Bernard Weiner
Our anger at Bush&Co. is genuine, deep and well-deserved.
The writing of articles about Bush's dangerous military adventurism
and the Enron influence-peddling scandal - along with the
dispatching of petitions and letters to our newspapers and
elected officials on these and other topics - should proceed.
But if we stop there, limiting our responses to simply detailing
the alleged crimes and misguided policies of the Bush Administration,
we're playing in their court.
What follows is less an ideological game-plan and more a
practical primer. Some of this may sound simple and already
understood, but I fear we've been so wrapped up in our denunciations
of Bush policy that we may have lost our way a bit and need
to be reminded of common-sense political remedies.
We've got to move from the reactive mode and more into the
active tense. We need to start organizing again, the object
being to: 1) to gear up for the coming elections, in order
to get rid of as many hardright Republicans as we can; and,
2) lay the foundations for a true progressive groundswell,
much like "The Movement" in the '60s and '70s, including massive
coalition-building through something like a National Mobilization
for Peace & Justice (the "Mobe").
Now, none of this is going to be easy. For starters, there
is division within the progressive left about nearly every
aspect of the "war on terrorism." Some, for example, believe
that Bush&Co., for their own political reasons having to do
with greed and power, have built up bin Laden and al Qaeda
as scary bogeymen when in reality they are not really capable
of much more massive terror. (A few conspiracy buffs on the
left continue to believe that the 9/11 attacks were the work
not of Islamic extremists but, take your pick, the CIA, Mossad,
the military-industrial complex, mercenaries hired by Bush&Co,
Dame Edna...) Others believe Bush&Co. are quite happy to use
bin Laden, et al. for their own political ends, but that terrorism
is real and is the new face of warfare in the 21st century,
and thus must be combatted - but not always in the way Bush&Co.
How to bridge the gap between these factions? My advice would
be to focus not on the things that divide us but on the goal:
a defeat of Republicans in the upcoming Congressional elections
- which might just slow down the Bush death-and-threat machine
abroad - and a defeat of Bush in 2004, assuming he's not in
jail or impeached or has resigned by then. (If Bush can thank
bin Laden's atrocities for his political surge, the left can
thank Enron for the scandal that may bring him down.)
Find conservative Republicans who are vulnerable in the upcoming
races, pump in money and volunteers into their districts,
and make this a referendum on Bush's domestic policies. Want
to stop the raiding of Social Security/Medicare funds for
the war effort? Won't happen unless the Democratic candidate
wins. Want prescription drug coverage for seniors through
Medicare? Won't get it unless the Democrats take back the
House and hold the Senate. Want to stop this amazing deficit
spending, projected to run for the next ten years? Want to
have money left over for social programs, education, infrastructure
repairs, job-retraining, etc.? Got to get rid of the Republican
and elect the Democrat.
Now, this isn't going to be a walk in the park. Bush's "war
on terrorism" is popular and so Bush is popular, and those
associated with Bush get some of that positive ruboff as well.
But poll after poll shows that while the country is firmly
in support of Bush on the war (although even here, cracks
are starting to show up), when specific domestic issues are
addressed, support for the Resident is much thinner.
The candidates we put up must not be too extreme but clearly
those who care for something more than just war and violence.
With enough money and volunteers behind them, they might just
win in enough districts to give control of both houses of
Congress to the Democrats. Bush will still have the veto,
but pushing legislation through the Congress will be quite
difficult for him, and he may even have to do what he should
have done from the beginning, given the closeness of the 2000
vote and how he was installed into office: govern from the
middle instead of from the far right. He'll also, we can hope,
become less aggressive and bullylike in international affairs.
The effect of this Dem electoral victory may well be some
gridlock in the government for the next two years, but at
least it will limit the damage to the economy and social structure
that Bush otherwise might have inflicted, and will set up
the country for a true decision in 2004 on where the nation
wants to go and how it wants to go there. Who knows? We might
even get to have a full debate on Bush's plan to attack countries
that have had nothing to do with 9/11 terrorism. (Don't forget:
Congress authorized support for the administration's going
after those responsible for the dastardly terror-murders of
9/11. It was not a total blank check for whatever military
adventurism Bush might want to engage in.)
Do not get me wrong: I am NOT suggesting that middle-of-the-road
Democrats are the kind of folks we might really want to see
in Congress. (The conservative resurgence in the past several
years has made the "center" the left, effectively marginalizing
anybody truly progressive off the stage of real influence.)
But it is the strategy that must be employed right now for
the sake of our country and of the causes we hold dear.
While all this is going on, we will also be organizing, organizing,
mobilizing, mobilizing, educating, educating. The aim always:
in the short run, to get the national agenda out of the hands
of Bush&Co. and away from a Republican-controlled Congress;
in the long run, to alter the understanding and mood of the
great middle-class in America so that they move closer to
the progressive causes that will move the country forward.
(That seems like an impossible task to some, but don't forget:
It took years of effort but protestors and activists did help
accomplish that shift with regard to sentiment against the
war in Vietnam in the '60s and '70s.)
True, we could use viable, nationally-known, charismatic
leaders around whom much of our hopes could coalesce. There
aren't a lot of obvious ones on the national scene at the
moment (and don't mention Nader, whose selfishness helped
give the election to Bush), but probably those leaders will
emerge over the coming months of struggle. In the meantime,
support must be given to those more establishment types who
at least are willing to stick their necks out a bit on such
issues as: the need, given the country's quick slide into
major deficit spending, to roll back the huge tax giveaways
to the wealthy that Bush got passed; stopping the raid of
Social Security and Medicare funds to pay for the war; the
crying need for drug coverage for seniors, etc. If this means
supporting the Tom Daschle types in the Congress, so be it.
The point domestically is that Bush&Co. are overjoyed to
slash domestic social programs, using their war plans as a
convenient excuse. When, through our efforts, the public understands
what the effects of those slashes will be on their favorite
programs -- and why so much of the largesse is going to wealthy
individuals and corporations -- public opinion will begin
to shift. It's our job to continue our education effort while
setting the stage for political victories to take back the
Congress and give Bush's arrogant, hardright policies an electoral
black eye. Let's roll.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught American government and
international politics at Western Washington University and
San Diego State University; he has written for The Nation,
Village Voice, The Progressive, and was with the San Francisco
Chronicle for nearly 20 years.