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Charge of the Right Brigade

Essays on the rise of Republicanism, the impotence of Democrats, and what the Bush administration can—and probably will—do to us now

Confuse, Inveigle, Obfuscate

Honest Abe Lincoln famously said that you can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time. So if you’re a political party out for the good of the wealthy few versus the good of the not-so-wealthy many—“reverse Robin Hood,” as the late Sen. Paul Wellstone put it—and enough voters realize it, you’re not going to get elected. What you need to do to get into the political catbird seat, then, is fool most of the people most of the time. And that is how the party of Lincoln just swept Congress.

At the core of the Republican party, as I see it, is an alliance of big business and the religious right, who make up about a quarter of the nation’s populace, and are the voting base of the GOP on whom White House political strategist Karl Rove has persuaded George W. to keep his chips. We’ll give you what you want if you give us what we want, says an administration backed by big business to Christian conservatives. That means the Republicans will appoint activist anti-abortion judges to the federal bench, funnel taxpayer money to faith-based charities, further batter the barriers between church and state by introducing a bill in Congress allowing electioneering from the pulpits of churches, and more, if the religious right gives it what it wants: votes. What big business then wants is a tax schedule tilted to favor the wealthiest, the elimination of the estate tax so that the rich can pass on every cent of their money to their kids, and the relaxation of environmental regulations to make their businesses more profitable. And even though Jesus said it’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, the religious right says done deal, you got our vote.

But the GOP’s problem is that the upper class and the religious right by themselves do not constitute the requisite majority. The real trick for them is convincing enough voters from the political mainstream that right-wing extremists do not control the Republican party, and that the GOP actually cares about the average working family. That’s where deception becomes vital, and that’s why Bush masqueraded as a moderate in his run for the presidency.

After Enron’s demise, the stock market sank and pundits predicted the Democrats would keep the Senate and get the House back in the wake of the accounting scandal. Republican strategists huddled, and although we were not privy to their deliberations, it seems someone must have suggested the idea of life imitating art, in this case the movie Wag the Dog.

Time to bring on Saddam Hussein. The United States had been voting to keep United Nations sanctions in place ever since the end of the Gulf War, but nobody was seriously considering invading Iraq and overthrowing him before now. The conventional wisdom was that the power vacuum produced by his fall could be destabilizing to the region. The Kurds in the north and in parts of Turkey might declare their own state, inviting a military reaction from Turkey. Better the devil you knew than the devil you didn’t.

But faced with growing concern over the economy, the administration realized the melancholy sound of bear-market ticker-tape machines needed to be drowned out, and started banging the war drum. We know Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, they said. How do you know? asked the skeptics. What proof do you have? We can’t tell you that, the Bushies said. Revealing what we know may endanger the lives of our spies in Iraq, so you’ll just have to trust us. This raises serious questions of deception.

But the “weapon of mass distraction” worked (a recent Newsweek poll showed exactly that: The voters liked the president’s handling of the Iraq “crisis”) and the GOP got the Senate back. Meanwhile, former Marine and U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter has been speaking out against the rush to war by pointing out that, no, it is not known what Saddam has and what he doesn’t have. There is no pressing need to invade now, says Ritter, who counsels going in with inspectors and holding our fire. Ritter also accuses the administration of deception.

In addition to withholding their alleged evidence of Saddam’s weapons program, the administration has also less-than-credibly claimed that Al Qaeda and Saddam are working together, even though the CIA doesn’t agree. According to a recent New York Times report, the story about 9/11 bomber Mohammed Atta meeting Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague in July of last year has been debunked. Think about it: If Saddam gave Bin Laden weapons of mass destruction, he might use them on Saddam, because Saddam heads the kind of secular regime Bin Laden opposes. Saddam isn’t that stupid. So what does the administration do about the CIA’s findings? Not wanting to hear what the agency is saying, they announced a couple of weeks ago that they are setting up their own intelligence shop within the Department of Defense, which will analyze data and perhaps, they say, draw different conclusions regarding an Al Qaeda-Iraqi connection. Critics immediately saw the potential for the manufacture of false information and yet more deception.

Now, as a part of the latest Security Council resolution, Saddam has to submit a list of his illicit weapons, or face war. If Saddam accepts the terms of the resolution and his list doesn’t match ours, the administration may have a pretext for an attack, even though Syria in particular was given an assurance that this would not occur. But nobody outside of the administration has seen this list. What if Saddam denies having any weapons and invites inspectors back without conditions? That may not good enough. Worse, White House chief of staff Andrew Card said Sunday on Meet the Press that the United States needs no further permission from the United Nations to act unilaterally against Iraq. It appears that systematic deception is being used to sell the public on a military strike on Iraq.

And the purpose of this war, if it comes, will be to distract us again, this time from the hard right legislation Bush will try to push through a Republican-controlled Congress. How much blood will be spilled and how many innocent people could suffer for this crass end is anyone’s guess.

—Glenn Weiser

Tough Times Ahead

Are the right-wing Republicans about to take over the world? Are we rapidly becoming a country where corporations will control everything, where conservative judges will take away a woman’s right to choose, where more tax cuts are implemented that favor the rich, and where environmental protections locally and globally are kicked to the curb? While this certainly seems to have been the trend since President George W. Bush first took office two years ago, the question that haunts most Democrats, liberals and other third-party supporters is: What will stop him now that he has control of the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives?

While political history certainly was made last week—Republicans accomplished a feat never before achieved in a midterm presidential election—some are saying that this doesn’t necessarily mean that Bush will have carte blanche to enforce his ideology. With the Democrats’ ability to filibuster, the still-somewhat balanced Senate (Republicans won control of the Senate, but by only three to five seats), and with the country’s voting public split down the middle politically, many are holding out hope that a Democratic agenda will still see the light of day. But what exactly is to be expected in the years to come? Will the Republicans have as much power as many fear?

David Kimball, associate professor of political science at the University of Missouri, says that one change will be that Republicans will set the country’s agenda without much in the way to slow them down. What hearings to hold, what bills to consider in committee, and what issues will be addressed in Congress—these decisions are now all in Republican hands. Issues that Democrats do not traditionally support—such as further tax cuts, a homeland security bill, the use of force in Iraq, and the selection of conservative judicial nominees—will come to a vote at a much faster pace. In the past, he says, the House of Representatives would quickly pass bills that were in line with the president’s agenda, only to have the Senate veto these more conservative versions and force them back into committee for further negotiations. But now, without that Democratic leverage in the Senate, it will be difficult to send these proposals back for revisions, and inevitably, the bills will come to a vote at a much faster pace.

Helen Desfosses, professor of political science at the University at Albany, agrees with Kimball.

“Over the next couple of years, there will be a real strong pull to the right in all areas of domestic policy,” says Desfosses, who is also the president of the Albany Common Council. “Then we have the foreign policy arena, which is going to be greatly affected as well.”

Desfosses says that this shift is going to affect people in all areas of their lives, from financial to political—including their civil liberties, which, she points out, have been under constant threat since Sept. 11.

“I think the intensification of national security concerns will triumph over civil liberties,” says Desfosses. “You name it, from the death penalty, social security, health-care reform, freedom of choice to bankruptcy laws, all of these issues will be taking a backseat to more conservative views.”

Possibly the most frightening of these proposals is the idea that this administration will be nominating ultraconservative judges to sit on the federal bench. After months of complaining that Democrats, who, until the elections controlled the Judiciary Committee as well as the Senate, have been holding up the president’s judicial nominations, Republicans can now push through dozens of their picks for judgeships. In fact, a handful of Appeals Court nominees who in the past seemed unlikely to be confirmed due to their staunchly conservative views—such as Miguel Estrada, nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and Michael C. McConnell, nominated to the 10th Circuit Court in Denver—are now under serious consideration.

Even more startling is the fact that White House and Senate aides said, in an article in The New York Times (Nov. 7), that Bush is expected to renominate two candidates who were previously rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee: Charles W. Pickering Sr. of Mississippi and Priscilla R. Owen of Texas.

Vincent Bonventre, a professor at Albany Law School, says that it is going to be much easier to have confirmed nominations that reflect the president’s own views.

“It is clear,” says Bonventre, “that the president would prefer judges who side with law enforcement than rights of the accused, side more with business than workers, side more with government accommodation and even endorsement of religion as opposed to separation of church and state, and judges who are not going to extend the right to choose or recognize rights of equality for homosexuals. Democrats aren’t going to be able to reject the president’s nominees or refuse to consider his nominees as readily as they could before.”

What’s more, Bush may get the opportunity to make his first Supreme Court nomination, should a justice retire. Justices William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Connor have been talking about retiring for a while. Bush has said that he will choose someone in the mold of the two most conservative Supreme Court judges, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, to fill those vacancies.

“Now with the presidency in the hands of a Republican,” says Bonventre, “and the Senate under control of the Republicans, it is much more likely that those two might retire because they don’t have to worry so much about who will replace them.”

However, Bonventre points out that Bush may not be able to have his pick of staunch right-wingers because the Democrats can still filibuster, a legislative tactic to delay vote on issues by calling for further debate. Kimball agrees and says that this holds true for a number of issues, not just judicial nominations.

“Regardless of the Republicans’ control of the Senate,” Kimball explains, “they still need 60 votes, which they don’t have, in order to break a filibuster. As a result, they will have difficulty moving controversial legislation, such as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to a vote.”

But Desfosses is not so confident filibustering will be a tactic that can be relied upon.

“You can only filibuster for so long,” she says. “There are all kinds of mechanisms for bringing an end to that, such as parliamentary mechanisms. So I would not want to hold out for that.”

She points out that—based upon what we have seen so far from the Democrats in Washington since Bush took office—we have reason to be concerned that the minority party will have trouble standing up for issues that are true to their party.

“I think because of this sweep of four different arms of government, the pressure on any one Democrat, never mind any 10 or 20, is going to be really intense, and I think that that the whole question of how strongly people are going to dare to deviate from what the president wants remains to be seen.”

As a result, she says, the country is going to see a real pull to the right.

“We have real reason to be concerned,” said Desfosses. “And it is time for us to get our political posteriors in gear and get ourselves organized.”

—Nancy Guerin

Who Are You This Time?

What is grief?

Any pop psychologist will tell you it stems from loss. The passing of a loved one begins the downward spiral through bereavement’s five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. When Election Day resulted in the Republican Party taking majority control of both houses of Congress, many politicians, observers and pundits began mourning what they feared to be the loss of the Democratic Party from the national political landscape.

Some Democratic leaders are obviously in denial of what has been the party’s biggest criticism: its failure to advance a cohesive, compelling alternative platform to that offered by Republicans. After Election Day, Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the party’s national committee, went as far as to blame the losses on President George W. Bush’s campaigning for Republican congressional candidates. Maybe he forgot that former chief executive Bill Clinton and Al Gore, who some say actually is president, campaigned for Democrats throughout the country as well. But while Democratic leaders refuse to acknowledge the egg on their face, some political observers have moved on.

“It’s almost as if they took a purposeful fall or they were just plain stupid,” says Alan Chartock, a political communication professor at the University at Albany. “There was the economy. Where were they on that? That was their issue and they let it lapse. God only knows why.”

In spite of the issues Democrats could have stumped on—the economy, health care, social-security reform—Chartock says the Republican Party effectively used the administration’s proposal to go to war with Iraq to shape the face of the elections.

“Basically, when a president evokes his prerogatives as a war leader,” says Chartock, “many people consider it unpatriotic to oppose those prerogatives, and the Democrats were scared to death. They were so scared on the international front that they didn’t use their advantage on the national front.”

Whether it has any resonance with the voting public or not, fear of being labeled unpatriotic by the administration is something Democrats had to consider, says Joel Lefkowitz, political science professor at SUNY New Paltz. Evidence of that, Lefkowitz says, was the anti-American smear campaign against former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), a Vietnam veteran and triple-amputee, based on his desire that workers in the proposed Office of Homeland Security have collective bargaining rights.

“They attacked him,” Lefkowitz says. “They went at him with ads showing Osama bin Laden. The person who’d demonstrated the highest sacrifice other than death. Losing three limbs is as much sacrifice you’d think people would expect from someone who is still alive.”

But even if Democratic candidates were concerned about being caught up in an electorate taking sides for war, there was still an obvious issue they could have presented to the voting public: corporate corruption.

Democrats’ only major problem with discussing corporate crime should have been where to begin. The fact that investigations of criminal corporations are continuing despite a Securities and Exchange Commission that is falling apart may have been a good place to start. And in spite of the fact that the stock market’s reliability is still in question, the Bush administration is still proposing to privatize Social Security, effectively putting the nation’s retirement plan in the hands of fickle investors—and at the mercy or corporate market manipulations. The fact that no resounding Democratic plan for reform was made on any of this was a little depressing to Lefkowitz.

“I presume that people across the country that have stocks have been unhappy with much of what they have been seeing,” says Lefkowitz. “The relationship between corporate corruption, the leadership in the administration and accounting firms affects people, regardless. Democrats would have been much better served in addressing that.”

But Michael J. Malbin, professor of political science at the University at Albany, says Democrats should just accept their place as the loyal opposition party and present a compelling vision for the country. And, Malbin says, it doesn’t have to include war plans.

“The main political battleground won’t be over Iraq,” says Malbin. “The main battleground will be over who articulates a new vision and a new role for the government. The battle is going to be, how do you best keep the economy going and make sure the public needs are served?”

Neither Lefkowitz nor Chartock is speculating over who may carry out a new Democratic national vision, but both agree that Democrats carrying out the ideals of their party weren’t penalized in this year’s elections.

“It is important to remember that those who spoke their minds survived just fine,” says Chartock. “There is the age-old adage, those who try to be everything to everybody lose. When you see the me-too-ism of many of the Democrats, they leave themselves wide open to the question, ‘Why not vote for the real thing?’”

“The problem is not the presentation of the message,” says Malbin. “The problem is whether there is a message that a) unifies the party, and b) differentiates, and c) resonates. If they have interesting things to say about policies that are interesting and not trivial, then they will regain the trust of the majority of the people.”

—Travis Durfee

The Oils of War

With the Republican gain in the House of Representatives and control of the Senate, war appears inevitable. Those in power want it and, with the lack of institutional opposition, there is little to stand in their way. Despite an antiwar movement that grows daily here in the Capital Region, we are represented in the House and Senate by Democrats Mike McNulty, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, who all voted to give the president the war authority he demanded. Yet the mandate for war, apparently large, is actually slim, with support from barely more than 20 percent of the electorate.

Attention will now focus on Iraq and the Middle East, giving the Bush administration a much freer hand to push through its oil agenda, which also targets the domestic environment. Development of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, which stalled while the Democrats controlled the Senate, is being revived. And principled Sen. Jim Jeffords has become the number-one GOP Senate target. He left the Republicans and allied with the Democrats to protect federal funding for the special-education programs he championed, and to defend the environment. But Jeffords has now lost his chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is to be turned over to the rabidly anti-environment Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. The way is now clear for a Bush assault on the Clean Air Act. The environment was one of the losers in last week’s vote. But environmental concern may also be a key to the puzzle of how to mobilize support for policies that protect our air and water, and that at the same time reduce the imperative for military aggression to protect an unlimited source of oil.

This vote was strikingly like 1994, when Republicans first took control of the House of Representatives in those midterm elections. In last week’s vote, the GOP consolidated its hold on the House, moving from a 12-seat to at least a 23-seat majority. While it was the Republican recapture of the Senate that dominated the day-after headlines, the 1994 House races come to mind when thinking about what role the environment—and environmentalism—will play in the next months and years. 1994 was the year Newt Gingrich, author of the Contract With America, rode that conservative agenda to victory. In the weeks after, timid House Democrats previewed their capitulation on the Iraq war vote by supporting the Republican agenda.

But Gingrich, who later fell from grace, did see his agenda stopped before it had been fully implemented. And it was an environmental issue that did it. Among the antiregulatory measures Gingrich had contracted to deliver was a rollback of the Clean Water Act. He had delegated this responsibility to Rep. Bud Schuster of Pennsylvania, an anti-environmental curmudgeon whose ham-handed tactics finally fell afoul of the public’s belief in the right to have clean water and clean air. The hero in this fight was a New York Republican, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert. He found some 60 like-minded Republican moderates and, in alliance with most Democrats, put a stop to the assault on clean water. For his courage, Boehlert remains a favorite of the environmental movement and a right-wing primary target every two years.

Now, although the environment was not an explicit issue in this election, its protection could once again slow down the Bush war machine.

Taking outright control of the Iraqi oil fields, and holding them for the next 50 or so years, is the driving force of administration policy. If it were anything else, there would be ways other than full-scale invasion to achieve it. The current plan appears to have much in common with an earlier deal, the one Franklin D. Roosevelt cut with the Arabian king on his way home from meeting Churchill and Stalin at Yalta at the end of World War II. In exchange for providing the technology, financing and resources needed to develop the Arabian oil fields, and its political and military backing for the House of Saud, the United States was guaranteed control over its source of oil. But now, with the Saudi oil fields fully explored and Saudi rule threatened by fundamentalism, the oilmen running the United States have set their sights on the Middle East’s largest untapped oil reserves, which just happen to lie under the Iraqi desert.

Here’s what the U.S. Energy Information Agency had to say about Iraq earlier this year: “Iraq contains 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the second largest in the world (behind Saudi Arabia) along with roughly 220 billion barrels of probable and possible resources. Iraq’s true resource potential may be far greater than this, however, as the country is relatively unexplored due to years of war and sanctions. Deep oil-bearing formations located mainly in the vast Western Desert region, for instance, could yield large additional oil resources, but have not been explored.”

At its peak, Iraqi oil production achieved about 3 million barrels per day (bpd), or about 1 billion barrels per year. Largely due to Saddam Hussein’s aggressions—war with Iran, suppression of the Kurds, invasion of Kuwait—the country’s output has been down. Under sanctions imposed by the United Nations after the first Gulf War in 1991, Iraqi oil production has averaged only about 1.4 million bpd.

Is it any secret that increasing Iraqi oil production is on the White House radar screen? Not really. In a Sept. 15 report, the Wall Street Journal cites the work of West Wing economist Larry Lindsey. According to Lindsey, ousting Hussein could lead to an increase in world oil supplies because Iraqi production is “constrained somewhat because of its limited investment and political factors.” According to the Journal, Lindsey believes that a regime change in Iraq could add three million to five million barrels of production to world supply each day. “The successful prosecution of the war,” the White House economist reportedly concludes, “would be good for the economy.” The cheerleading Journal joins in with its own editorial conclusion (“Saddam’s Oil,” Sept. 15). This “is another way of saying that the best way to keep oil prices in check is a short, successful war on Iraq that begins sooner rather than later,” it writes, echoing Lindsey’s upbeat assessment.

With such a drumbeat, and such disregard for the human cost of war, opposition to attacking Iraq has grown in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

But environmentalism offers some alternatives to war for oil. Polling repeatedly shows that people believe they are entitled to clean water and clean air, for themselves and for their children. Americans are all about protecting our families. If the Iraq war is about guaranteeing a steady supply of oil to fuel our economy—and also our irresponsible driving habits—then energy conservation and the development of renewable resources can help change the equation and redirect the course of history. The United States can invade Iraq, set up a puppet government and call it a democracy while turning over control of the oil fields to corporations like Dick Cheney’s Halliburton. And economists predict a sharp rise in the price of oil under most likely war scenarios.

But there is an alternative: We can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and develop renewable energy sources. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, one step alone—raising fuel economy standards—would save nearly 4 billion barrels of oil over the next dozen years. By 2012, we would be saving nearly 2 million barrels every day. By the year 2020, this would mean a savings of 4 million barrels a day, far more than the most optimistic White House assessment of a fully developed Iraqi oil system. And it would also save the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

Never have the respective costs of these alternatives been laid out so starkly: on the one hand, the Bush-Cheney strategy, a permanent and costly U.S. military presence in the Middle East to protect the flow of oil for American appliances, SUVs, and the increasingly coveted Hummers; on the other hand, a U.S. society conscious of the fair and renewable distribution, protection, and use of the Earth’s resources.

This is unlikely, however, to be the program of the Texas oil cartel now in power.

—Jeff Jones

Jeff Jones is communications director for Environmental Advocates of New York.

Who Are These Guys?

George W. Bush, son of the former president, and Dick Cheney are rock-ribbed conservative oilmen. This is very useful to keep in mind when looking at everything they do. From their plan to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to their geopolitical strategy for the Middle East and Central Asia, George and Dick keep their eyes on the prize: black gold. Texas tea.

Energy conservation? Famously, according to Cheney, this is to be considered a private virtue, not a public policy. Alternative energy sources? A fine idea—as long as the “alternative” under discussion is nuclear. Concerns related to oil exploration in environmentally sensitive costal waters? An important consideration—as long as the area in need of protection is off the coast of Florida, where President Bush’s brother Jeb is governor.

According to two French journalists, Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, oil also helped drive the Bush administration to resume negotiations with the Taliban just months before Sept. 11. Though the exact content of the negotiations between Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca and the Taliban, which took place in Pakistan in August 2001, are not known, Brisard and Dasquie have documented—in their book Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth—that oil was the focus. As Brisard told Slate magazine last February, “We believe that when [Rocca] went to Pakistan in 2001 she was there to speak about oil. . . . There are witnesses, including the Pakistani foreign minister.”

The irony, of course, is that George W. Bush wasn’t a particularly successful oilman. He presided over a series of failed oil exploration firms. First, there was Arbusto, which Bush formed in 1977; when that company went busto in 1982, Bush reorganized it as Bush Exploration. By 1984, Bush Exploration was in deep trouble, and was rescued by an Ohio firm called Spectrum 7. The fact that George W. Bush was kept on with the company, his supporters have consistently protested, had nothing to do with his father being vice president of the United States. Two years later, Spectrum 7 was on the verge of failing, and was taken over by Harken Energy. Again, Bush was retained because of his business acumen; not, it was reiterated, because of his family connections.

There are questions from Bush’s association with Harken that remain problematic. Bush requested and accepted loans from Harken that had, at best, an appearance of impropriety. More troubling was the fact that Bush managed to sell his 212,140 shares in the company just at the moment when he needed the money—at a time when unloading that much stock in the then-troubled company on the open market would have been difficult at best. According to an article in the Boston Globe last Friday (Nov. 8), the most likely buyer of the stock was a major Republican contributor, Charles M. Royce. While Royce refused to comment, and the Bush family deny any direct connection to Royce, Royce has been documented as a contributor to both the Republican Party and George H. W. Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign.

George W. Bush eventually made the bulk of his fortune not from oil, but from his association with the Texas Rangers professional baseball team. Tom Farrey, a reporter for, has complied a useful timeline on this chapter in the story of George W. Bush, rugged capitalist-individualist. Less than three months after his dad was sworn in as president, W. managed to put together a group to buy the Rangers for $89 million. Despite the fact that his contribution was a comparatively paltry—and borrowed—$500,000, W. was made managing general partner. A beautiful new baseball stadium was subsequently built, at taxpayer expense, significantly increasing the value of the franchise. When he was elected Texas governor in 1994—his “success” with the Rangers was an important part of his résumé—Bush resigned as managing partner but retained his share of the team. By 1998, when the Rangers were sold, Bush received $14.9 million. Not a bad return on a small, borrowed share.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the president’s better half. Not Laura Bush, but the president’s political partner—Dick Cheney, the seemingly amiable, grandfatherly vice president with a bad ticker. Richard B. “Dick” Cheney, former congressman and defense secretary for W.’s dad, brought not only “gravitas” to what was then perceived as a dangerously lightweight Republican ticket in 2000, but impeccable right-wing credentials, which cemented the support of the party’s conservative base. For red-meat conservatives, Cheney’s mere presence at W.’s side dispelled any unease resulting from Bush’s “compassionate conservative” rhetoric.

Consider the facts. As a congressman, Cheney was a reliable opponent of civil rights. He voted against age discrimination legislation on multiple occasions; he voted against Title IX, which brought parity between the sexes in high school and college athletics funding; he voted against reauthorizing significant parts of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. If a government program for the poor or elderly came up in the House, Dick Cheney could be expected to have opposed it: He tried to kill Head Start, voted against adding cost-of-living increases to Social Security benefits, and voted against nutrition programs for children—including school lunches—more than 10 times. His steadfast support for far-right positions was seemingly endless. AIDS research? Cheney voted for an unsuccessful effort to cut funding. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Endangered Species Act? Cheney opposed both. The 1987 Clean Water Act reauthorization bill? Forget about it.

In light of Sept. 11, it’s interesting to note that Dick Cheney was one of only a handful of congressmen to oppose the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which prohibited the importation or production of any gun that does not contain at least 3.7 ounces of metal. It was intended as a means to prevent arms smuggling by terrorists, but Cheney instead took the opportunity to bolster his reputation as a Second Amendment absolutist. He had previously voted, in 1986, to weaken federal gun control laws.

Now, for more recent history—and of course, it’s related to oil. One of the more embarrassing moments for the vice president, in this year of the corporate criminal, was the emergence of a promotional tape in which the then-CEO of the giant oil company Halliburton delivered a testimonial for Enron accountants Arthur Andersen. In a delicious example of advertising understatement, Cheney praised Andersen: “I get good advice, if you will, from their people based upon how we’re doing business and how we’re operating, over and above just sort of the normal by-the-books auditing arrangement.”

Indeed. The Security and Exchange Commission is investigating Andersen for allegedly sanctioning accounting improprieties—to the tune of almost $100 million—allegedly committed by Halliburton when Cheney was at the helm. Meanwhile, a group of Halliburton stockholders has joined in a suit charging Chaney and other current and former company executives with lying about Halliburton’s poor condition to artificially drive up the company stock price for personal gain; at this point, it’s worth mentioning that Cheney left Halliburton and cashed in his stock to the tune of $30 million.

Possible accounting improprieties aside, Cheney’s term as CEO of Halliburton is fascinating. Under Cheney, the corporation’s share of U.S. government contracts almost doubled, the company secured U.S. taxpayer-backed loans from the Import-Export bank, and—through foreign subsidiaries—did business with Libya, according to a report in the Baltimore Sun.

As Molly Ivins pondered last June, “when you consider all the time and ink spent on Whitewater, the neglect of the Cheney- Halliburton story is unfathomable.”

—Shawn Stone

Wanted: Real Democrats

On many occasions, Republicans have tarred the Democratic Party as “the party of entitlements.” After the 2000 presidential election and the 2002 midterm congressional elections, this epithet rings true in at least one respect: If you’re a woman, an ethnic minority, a union member or any other sort of self-styled liberal, the Democratic Party believes that it’s entitled to your vote.

It doesn’t have to earn your vote. You owe it to the party.

There’s no other explanation for the craven way that so many Democrats in Congress—most conspicuously, former vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.)—have decided that in order to remain a force in politics, they have to be team players, to be “collaborative” and not “obstructionist,” to get on the Bush administration’s good side.

Anyone who’s been awake during the last two decades—the last eight years, in particular—has to realize that there is no way the Democrats can get on the good side of the American right. Whether they choose to be combative or cooperative, the Democrats will always be the enemy: a bunch of anti-American, tree-hugging, tax-and-spend heathens.

Since they’re stuck with the label anyway, they may as well start living up to it.

The fact that three-fifths of Democratic representatives in Congress and two-fifths of Democratic senators voted against the resolution authorizing war in Iraq is a good start, but it seemed to take all the party’s willpower to muster even those fractions of opposition, and many of the most ambitious and prominent Democrats in Congress, including House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (Mo.) and Sens. Joseph Biden (Del.), Pete Domenici (N.M.) and John Kerry (Mass.)—not to mention Lieberman and both senators from New York—chose to go along with the Bush administration. On blocking the appointment of ultraconservative judicial nominees, there’s also been some respectable stiffening of Democratic spine. And, if nothing else, one can generally count on Democrats to defend abortion rights.

But where are the voices demanding tougher prosecution of corporate crime, condemning the way the economy is hemorrhaging jobs, deploring the Bush administration’s new unilateralism, championing civil liberties, insisting that U.S. policy in the so-called war on terrorism bear some logical relation to the crimes that have actually been committed against us? Where are the strong proposals to improve transportation and schools, to protect the environment, to undo the administration’s regressive tax policy?

Democrats howled in 2000 when the upstart Green Party accused them of being indistinguishable from the Republicans on these and other issues. The depredations of the Bush administration have given the lie to this accusation, but the truth isn’t much more flattering: The Democrats obviously don’t share the Republicans’ agenda . . . but they aren’t willing to stick their necks out to stop it, either. Still, the Democrats angrily accused the Greens of spoiling the race by siphoning off progressive votes, votes that the Democratic Party believed itself entitled to—never mind that the Democrats were too timid to commit themselves to any actual progressive position.

Last week, we were treated to glimpses of bewildered and humiliated Democrats and supporters, searching the heavens for some sign of where they went wrong. Let the record show that, once again, they made the mistake of assuming that they were entitled to the votes of everyone unhappy with the status quo. A squeak against Harvey Pitt, a murmur against drilling for oil in Alaskan nature preserves, a muttering about the cost of senior citizens’ prescription drugs, a schismatic semi-opposition to war on Iraq: The Democrats determined that these were enough to stake out an identity opposite the Bush Republicans, to which liberal voters would flock.

Except that they didn’t, not in the numbers that the Democrats expected.

Curiously, or maybe not, voters didn’t punish the insurgent Democrats who took a harder progressive line. On the contrary, Democrats who favored collaboration with the Republican administration were, in several instances, tossed out in favor of real Republicans. Of those Democrats who opposed Bush on the Iraq resolution, only one—Rep. James Maloney of Connecticut, whose district had been redrawn—lost his bid for reelection, while voters sent home five Democratic representatives and two Democratic senators (depending on events in South Dakota and Louisiana, that could increase to four) who voted in favor of the resolution.

Clearly, voters prefer Democrats who act like Democrats. Temporarily relieved of any active role in the federal government by its fumbled campaign, the Democratic Party now has the chance—and the responsibility—to develop an aggressive, progressive new platform harking back to the heyday of Democratic politics: the New Deal years, when America cleaned up the mess created by the Republican-administered boom and bust of the 1920s and ’30s.

Will the Democrats risk a large portion of their campaign funding by unabashedly reorienting themselves away from Wall Street and toward Main Street? Possibly. But throughout U.S. history, progressive administrations have been carried into power with the backing of sympathetic wealth as well as grassroots support. Today’s Democratic Party can do the same—if it proves itself worthy.

But if the party tries to coast back in to power in 2004 on anti-Bush sentiment, if it assumes that people will automatically vote Democratic without having a clear Democratic vision of government laid out before them, James Carville will end up wearing yet another trash basket on his head. To regain their stature in Washington, the Democrats will have to regain the attention and confidence of the public. They’ll have to get their votes the old-fashioned way: They’ll have to earn them.

—Keith Ammann

Keith Ammann, a former Metroland editorial staffer, lives in Chicago. A victim of the Bush economy, he has given up on trying to find full-time work after nine months of looking and is now pinning his hopes on substitute teaching.

The Trickle-Down Conservatism Blues

Ronald Reagan famously touted the “trickle-down” theory of economics, wherein the rich got richer, and the poor . . . well . . . if they were lucky, they got a few tiny, hardly satiating droplets. In the post-9/11 era of war-on-demand, Homeland Security and Mr. Bush’s “You’re either with us or against us” mentality (by the way, who exactly is “us” and when did we-the-people stop being “us”?), I’m starting to believe that the current administration’s hard-line conservatism is shamefully “trickling down” into the very hearts of those who should know better: that exotic, increasingly endangered species once called liberals. And with the looming reality of the Republican takeover of the American government, things are bound to get worse.

I’ve already noticed the trend in my day-to-day life. For example, some of my most “liberal” friends suddenly seem to be in the throes of love affairs with their pocketbooks and the accoutrements of the good life that far surpass anything Mr. Shakespeare might have cooked up.

A woman who once bragged about hand-weaving sanitary napkins from sheep’s wool (no kidding) while on an open-ended, supposedly life-changing backpacking trip, recently admonished me on hearing that I’d left a full-time job and was pursuing freelance writing. “You really shouldn’t even consider anything like that unless you have thousands in the bank,” she lectured, blanching and adding that she doesn’t lend money to friends anymore.

Another friend, who lived in my spare bedroom rent-free for a time after she refused to continue working in a publishing job she considered a sellout, has accepted a big-money job at a large New York City publishing house. She frequently calls to update me on her weekend trips to “the Vineyard,” et al.

No, I’m not saying that one needs to live spartanly—sans creature comforts, eschewing all but the most essential reliance on currency—in order to remain politically and personally ethical. I’m saying that the apparent failure of once free-spirited folks to at least recognize the irony of their new life choices is troublesome.

Trickle-down conservatism, of course, goes way beyond economics. In fact, it’s the erosion of civil rights that could go hand-in-hand with the trend that is the most frightening. (Just consider the fact that as many as 40 judicial appointments, going all the way up to the Supreme Court, could easily be affected by the Nov. 5 conservative sweep.)

The small Southern city where I live has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the most tolerant places in America, with so-called “alternative” folks of all persuasions flocking here. CBS News’ Eye on America program a few years ago touted Asheville, N.C., as a spiritual Mecca for new-agers. True. Rolling Stone magazine, in 1998, called Asheville “America’s new freak capital.” That moniker was proffered in a long piece that focused on Ukiah Morrison, a thong-wearing male-stripper-cum-marijuana-legalization-activist who was then running for City Council (OK, Asheville wasn’t that tolerant—he lost). The article rightly mentioned that Asheville is overflowing with “hippies, neohippies, punks, witches, pagans, fairies, dykes . . . , etc.”

In other words, a colorful lot, many of whom tend to congregate en masse on city sidewalks and in downtown parks. Sure, we’re in the Bible Belt, but until very recently, there was (with a few exceptions) at least a kind of unspoken truce between the “freaks” and the establishment. That will likely change this week as the Asheville City Council, in an apparent attempt to “sanitize” the city, is poised to pass an ordinance that would ban all public loitering, panhandling, and specific behavior that includes napping on public property such as park benches. A recent informal poll of council members indicates all but one will vote in favor of the ordinance, and the mayor of our fair city recently was quoted as saying, “Well, if people are sleeping on public property, that’s their choice.” Yessir, Mr. Mayor. In one fell swoop, the ordinance will target the disenfranchised and the unconventional: the poor, the homeless, the street kids and “freaks” who simply like to hang out.

Perhaps the most shameful link in the chain of conservative kowtowing is the Democratic Party itself. And the trickle-down effect within the party actually began way before 9/11. Since the Reagan era, it seems that many Democratic leaders have increasingly disavowed the party’s New Deal roots that championed the poor and working class, while moving closer to an agenda that prizes corporate interests, holds up military spending as a sacred cow and distances itself from any notions of a “free ride” for the less fortunate (think welfare reform). Even Bill Clinton famously claimed not to be a liberal.

Looking at the current Democratic and Republican party platforms, one wonders why there’s even a pretense of two separate parties anymore (e.g., “prosperity”—and the many roads to it—literally top the list of tenets in both platforms).

Al Gore’s choice of Joe Lieberman as his running mate in the 2000 election was further proof of the party’s determination to distance itself from its liberal roots. Sen. Lieberman’s voting record was closer to that of a Bush Republican than to many of his Democratic cohorts in Congress: Frequently called “the conscience of the Senate,” he was the first Democrat to publicly criticize Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. A vocal critic of sex and violence in movies and music, he teamed up with ultraconservative former drug czar William Bennett to criticize “gangsta rap.” He has pushed for “v-chip” legislation to block objectionable television programming. He was a leading supporter of 1991’s Gulf War resolution and a strong supporter of military spending in general. He backs school vouchers, parental notification on abortion, and capital gains tax cuts, and is currently chairman of the very moderate Democratic Leadership Council.

During the most recent elections, Democrats generally fell all over themselves trying not to criticize Bush’s attack-now-ask-questions-later policy in the Middle East, as if to do so would render them that currently most dreaded (and dangerous) of all monikers: unpatriotic. Impassioned criticism of Bush’s atrocious environmental record, tax cuts for the rich, rising unemployment rates and a morbidly sagging economy, and egregious civil-rights violations of folks who appear “suspect” (read: Middle Eastern), must have been deemed unpatriotic, too.

As I watch with dismay as my friends and my city and my country and my political party toe the line (whether deliberately or subconsciously) behind an appointed president, I have to ask: Who, exactly, is left (pardon the pun) to take up the liberal mantle and run with it as if our lives depended on it?

There are hopefully more than a few of us—the real “us”—who think our lives really do.

—Marsha Barber

Marsha Barber is a freelance writer living in Asheville, N.C. She did not benefit from trickle-down economics, but is definitely suffering due to trickle-down conservatism. She voted a straight Democratic ticket in the recent election, though she’s now wondering why.

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