of the Right Brigade
on the rise of Republicanism, the impotence of Democrats,
and what the Bush administration canand probably willdo
to us now
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.”
Desfosses is not so confident filibustering will be a tactic
that can be relied upon.
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
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
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.
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.”
Are You This Time?
What is grief?
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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?’”
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.”
Oils of War
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
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.
Jones is communications director for Environmental Advocates
of New York.
Are These Guys?
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 ESPN.com,
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
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
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.”
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
Except that they didn’t, not in the numbers that the Democrats
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.
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.
Trickle-Down Conservatism Blues
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
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,”
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
There are hopefully more than a few of us—the real “us”—who
think our lives really do.
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.