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