Democratic Underground

The Onslaught

March 23, 2005
By Carolyn Winter and Roger Bybee

How 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 Party.

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 response.

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 15 years.

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 wealthy.

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 first."

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

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