UQ Wire: William Rivers Pitt - Worse Days
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By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday, 8 November, 2002
There have been worse days.
The day bullets flew in Dallas and virtually tore President Kennedy's head from his shoulders, spraying his wife with brain matter and bone meal, was worse. The day a bullet ripped through the throat of Martin Luther King, Jr., dropping him where he stood and silencing a voice for peace and justice, was worse. The day Robert Kennedy won the California primary and was rewarded with a bullet in the head and death on a dirty kitchen floor was worse. The day a partisan Supreme Court defied constitutional law to appoint a President who had not carried the vote was worse. The day commercial airplanes slashed the blue sky with ash and woe was worse.
There have been worse days, but not many.
For the first time in 17 months, the Republican Party controls every level of the Federal government. The Democrats lost incumbent Senate seats in Georgia, Minnesota and Missouri, and failed to capture contested seats in North Carolina, South Carolina, New Hampshire or Colorado. The dramatic defection of James Jeffords has been rendered null and void.
There have been worse days. There will be worse days to come.
George W. Bush now holds sole ownership of the power to make war across the globe. The Republican-controlled Congress will rubber-stamp every military decision he makes, and there will be no leavening hand even to modify the language of war-making resolutions. When the Bush resolution for war in Iraq came to Congress, the dangerously vague phrase "the region" - which would have offered legal justification for war on Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Yemen, Egypt to name a few - was expunged. That small breakwater is gone.
George W. Bush now holds sole ownership of the power to remake the Judiciary, from the Supreme Court on down. In this area, the Democrats had performed well. They had held off truly frightening nominees like Pickering, staunching Bush's desire to flood the courts with conservative activists. Now, virtually every nominee put forth will win a seat on the bench. With the impending retirement of a number of Supreme Court Justices, the implications of this free and open nomination process are profound. Consider well that this administration saw fit to nominate a religious extremist like John Ashcroft to the post of Attorney General. There will be more like him to come, and they will wear the black robe, and their word will be law.
A conservative version of the Cabinet-level Homeland Security Department will be created, sharpening the teeth of the PATRIOT Act. A conservative version of the vitally-necessary prescription drug plan will pass, favoring pharmaceutical corporations over the people who need medicine. A conservative overhaul of Medicare and Social Security will pass, further shredding the safety net for our most vulnerable citizens. Business and environmental regulations will be further eroded. "Faith-Based" religious charities funded by the Federal government will pass, tearing down the vital wall between church and state. The disastrous $1.35 trillion tax cut will be made permanent, and the budget will dive deeper into deficit as even more pro-business tax cuts are pushed through. Corporations, awash in profits, will continue to enjoy full welfare status at the expense of lower- and middle-class taxpayers. The Alaskan national wildlife refuge will be plundered for its six-month supply of oil.
There have been worse days, but when the sun came up to shine on the Democratic bodies that litter the political battlefield, those days became difficult to remember with any clarity. That there have been worse days does not lend perspective in this moment. It is in this moment that the situation must be analyzed with a cold eye.
The leadership of the Democratic Party must bear the full burden of responsibility for this calamity. The incredible Democratic defeats that came during this midterm election did not happen because America is a conservative Republican nation. These defeats came because, in the absence of real leadership, the people will look to any fool who steps to a microphone. In the absence of real leadership, those wise enough to ignore fools will also eschew the polls. The policy of appeasement proffered by the Democratic leadership - go along with tax cuts, go along with the PATRIOT Act, go along with the Iraq war resolution, virtual silence regarding corporate criminality - stripped the leadership and the party of any ability to argue in favor of a Democratic vote.
When you support a ruinous tax cut, you cannot stand on fiscal responsibility. When you support invasive and contra-constitutional legislation, you cannot stand on the bill of rights. When you support an ill-conceived war, you cannot stand on responsible military leadership. When you stand silent on the subject of corporate corruption and thievery, because too many of your fellow officeholders are deeply implicit in the scandal, you cannot stand for the rights of the little guy over the powerful. In short, when you acquiesce to virtually every major piece of legislation and policy put forth by the opposition party, you offer no reason whatsoever for the existence of a separation of powers.
In this string of failures lies the dissolution of everything the Democratic Party is supposed to stand for. Without these basic issues to stand upon, the Democratic Party has no reason to exist. The leadership of the party has paved this road, and they must answer for it. As a real Democratic leader named Harry Truman once said, the buck stops here.
Dick Gephardt has already signaled that he will not seek the leadership of the party in the House. His position is currently being sought by Nancy Pelosi, a liberal-minded member from California, and Martin Frost, a centrist/conservative from Texas. Frost has argued that the Democrats need to move even further to the right to get anything done and supports Bush in word, thought and deed. Pelosi disagrees, and has the backing of Democratic House members who are sick and tired of compromising with the administration. This contest will likely be key in deciding the fate of the Democratic Party. Mr. Daschle and Mr. McCauliffe had better be watching very, very closely.
The Democrats must beg, borrow, build or steal a media machine that will deliver the Democratic message untrammeled to the people. The glee on the faces of the talking heads on CNN on Tuesday night was difficult to miss. For more than a year, what statements or policies offered by the Democratic leadership have been perverted or ignored by the mainstream news media. The weak message was entirely blotted out. This must change. Since the GOP now controls Congress, there is no hope of reinvesting power into the Fairness Doctrine, a common-sense rule meant to bring a balance of views and ownership to the media that was destroyed when Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act in 1996.
Another way must be found to create a media forum more friendly to moderate and liberal ideologies, and it seems the only way to do this is with money from the private sector. The Democrats must know some deep pockets somewhere. It is time for them to pony up. Stop wasting money on Senate races that cannot be won because the message is not delivered, and start building a way to deliver the message with clarity. The media is the high ground, and it is currently controlled by major corporations that would like to see much of the Democratic Party in hell with its back broken. If this high ground cannot be taken, the rest is fruitless.
Finally, the men and women who make up the spine and soul of the Democratic Party must stand up and make some noise. The streets beckon, nay, demand to be filled. Since Congress has been greased for all manner of Bush proposals, the only area of true resistance left stares back at you from your bathroom mirror. If you are not represented by the leadership, if the issues that concern you are not spoken of by those who purport to be on your side, then so be it. Your last, best option can be found on the far side of a lot of shoe leather.
There have been worse days, and the events of November 5th guarantee worse days to come. The next 24 months will be a frightening journey into territory this nation has never seen. In this time, and on this ground, is when the fighters come to the fore. It is not enough to stand in the ranks for a battle you feel confident of winning. You must now stand in the ranks for battles we are sure to lose.
From this point on, the issues must be the focus. The environment, the judiciary, the budget and economic policy, constitutional erosion, as well as war on Iraq and the rest of the world are all on the table. The resignation of Harvey Pitt demonstrates that this administration still struggles with coherence of policy, though they appear to have mastered the art of electioneering. The shop belongs to Bush now, but the people must be loud in demanding what is on the shelves. The Democratic party can be an important part of this, but only after they put themselves in order. In the meantime, the job falls to us.
William Rivers Pitt is a teacher from Boston, MA. He is the author of two books - "War On Iraq" (with Scott Ritter) available now from Context Books, and "The Greatest Sedition is Silence," available in April 2003 from Pluto Press.