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Sam Smith: Bush Lost But We Haven't Won

Flotsam & Jetsam: Bush Lost But We Haven't Won


By Prorev.com Editor Sam Smith

I woke up the morning after the election feeling surprisingly glum. It took me awhile to figure out what was wrong. It certainly wasn't that Bush had lost. That was wonderful. Then it hit me. The trouble was that we hadn't won.

An improvement, yes, but nowhere near the sort of improvement that brings real joy. Then thoughts of the Clinton years came back, when the capital city turned myopically smug and anything not on the agenda was off the table. If you weren't with the program you were only slightly better than a Republican.

The fact that all sorts of issues were ignored, that the social democracy of the New Deal and Great Society was being deliberately undermined and that the country was moving steadily to the right were not meant to be mentioned. The capital had turned into another football stadium.

I wrote about it in my memoirs:

" I realized later that I had stumbled upon the outlines of a new American political fault line. It was so new that it lacked a name, stereotypes, cliches, experts and prophets. In many ways it seemed more a refugee camp than a voluntary assembly, yet, as I thought about it, the more its logic seemed only concealed rather than lacking.

On one side were libertarians, blacks, greens, populists, free thinkers, the alienated apathetic, the rural abandoned, the apolitical young, as well as others convinced America was losing its democracy, its sovereignty and its decency. On the other side was a technocratic, media, legal, business and cultural elite centered in New York and Washington. At times it felt as if all of America outside of these two centers had turned into a gigantic, chaotic salon des refuses. Another thing I noticed was that this was about far more than politics. A cultural and class coup was underway, of which the Clinton administration was a part, one that was creating a gated economy and transforming those outside the barriers into pliant, homogenized, multi-nationalized consumers for whom freedom, choice and democracy would atrophy into symbols of only virtual meaning. People like me were traitors to the cause. . .

Increasingly, the words of encouragement that I received came from somewhere other than my home town, a place whose conventional thinking I had happily challenged for nearly thirty years. In the 1960s and 1970s it had been no problem; there had always been plenty of similar voices and I never felt alone. Washington -- like Madison or Berkeley -- possessed a vigorous counterculture ready to strike out, provoke, and outrage and to enjoy every minute of it. Although by the 1980s the voices of protest had greatly dulled, dissent was still fair game as long as one's targets were Reagan or Bush.

In the 1990s, however, the Washington establishment simply closed down the marketplace of ideas. This involved not merely Democratic lawyer-lobbyists now pursuing openly the cynical abuse of government they had discreetly enjoyed during the Republican years. It included not merely journalists whose sycophancy towards the powerful was now promiscuously out of the closet. It also included the professional liberal establishment of Washington -- labor, feminist, and environmental leaders whose heady new access to government blinded them to how distant what they had once advocated was from what they were now willing to accept over -- or even in return for -- lunch.

For mainstream Washington, there was no longer any politics, only deals. No victories, only leveraged buyouts. No ideology; only brand loyalty. No conservative and liberal, only Coke and Pepsi. . . "

To be sure, it is different this time. The White House is still clearly the enemy and the Congress has some, like John Conyers, Bernie Sanders and Russ Feingold, who may be granted some long overdue respect. But the bulk of the Democratic Party remains aground on the reefs of myopic centrism where they were lured by their campaign contributors. Dean Baker of the Prospect gives some of the flavor:

"One of the items on the Democrats' '100 hours' agenda is reforming the Medicare prescription drug bill. The bill passed by the Republican Congress prohibited Medicare from offering its own plan. This denied seniors the benefits of Medicare's lower administrative costs and it means that drugs cost almost twice as much as if Medicare bargained directly with the industry and secured the same prices as the Veterans Administration or the Canadian government. The Republicans also added a seemingly gratuitous clause that explicitly prohibited Medicare from negotiating prices with the industry.

"During the campaign, the Democrats had promised that they would reform the drug bill to allow Medicare to offer its own drug plan. On NPR this morning, it was reported that the Democrats now are just planning to remove the gratuitous clause prohibiting Medicare from negotiating prices with the drug industry, while not allowing Medicare to offer its own plan.

"Removing this prohibition by itself will mean nothing. What would Medicare negotiate over, if it doesn't offer its own plan? This could lead cynics to believe that the Democrats are trying to pull in some of the campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries which have disproportionately gone to Republicans in recent election cycles. Fixing the prescription drug benefit to save seniors and taxpayers money was one of the main promises made by the Democratic Party during the campaign. If they instead pursue a purely symbolic measure, with no practical significance, millions of people who voted for them on Tuesday will rightfully feel betrayed."

What is important at a time like this is that those who truly want a democratic, decent and progressive America have to clearly differentiate themselves from both parties. There needs to be a loud third voice - not so much a political one as a moral and pragmatic one - constantly reminding the political leeches on both sides of the real issues, the real reforms, the real problems. One of the reasons Bush won office originally was because too many members of this third voice - including women's, civil liberties, and environmental groups - had indentured themselves to the Clinton machine and the sound of progress had gone voluntarily silent.

Now is the time not for silence but for the third voice of American politics to become far louder and to be constantly holding a light on a better path than is likely to followed by the new Congress. There must be a clearly visible alternative for everything the cowardly and corrupt center does or refuses to do. Phrases like 'universal healthcare' can not be politely avoided nor can the fact that those who fund both parties are destroying our planet.

We must always remember that while Bush and his capos lost this time we have yet to win.

*************

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