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Why won't the Democrats fight?

By Lance Selfa | February 1, 2002 | Page 9

THE ENRON crisis handed the Bush administration's political opponents a gift. Throughout the fall, months of media hot air seemed to put Bush in the running for spot on Mount Rushmore. But the Enron collapse served to remind the public that Bush and his cronies are the same water carriers for big business that they were before September 11.

The Democrats have an opening to expose the Bush administration--and to tie it to pension rip-offs, violations of workers' rights and energy price gouging.

Don't hold your breath. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) has already promised that he won't conduct "a witch-hunt" against the Enron crooks. And some Democrats have warned against pushing the Enron investigation against a still-popular Bush "too far." What's wrong with these people?

It's no surprise that the Democrats haven't challenged Bush over the war. They are as committed to defending U.S. economic and military imperialism as the Republicans are.

So Democrats have chosen to stake their ground against Bush on domestic issues. The millions losing their jobs and health coverage while Bush pushes tax cuts for the rich could be one constituency the so-called liberal Democrats could champion.

Instead, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and other leading Democrats have chosen to stake their case against Bush on the grounds of "fiscal responsibility." Bush's tax cuts will open budget deficits that will increase long-term interest rates, the Democrats say, making it more costly for consumers and businesses to borrow money.

If there is any argument guaranteed to obscure what's really at stake--and to let Bush and his fat-cat cronies off the hook--it's this one. They sound more like Herbert Hoover than Franklin Roosevelt.

At one time, the Democrats appealed to working-class voters as defenders of unions and Social Security and as advocates of national health care. The new Democratic orthodoxy is the Republican-lite "New Democrat" politics of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

The Democrats and Republicans have always been parties of big business. But in today's era of "soft money" and $2 billion elections, the parties suck up to big business even more. Enron, which gave contributions to 71 of 100 senators and to a majority of the members of the House of Representatives, is an outstanding example of this bipartisan system of legalized bribery.

Therefore, the traditional party of reform, the Democrats, has replaced calls for national health insurance with minimal reforms like a "patients' bill of rights."

To add to this, the labor component of what used to be called the "Democratic-liberal-labor" coalition is at its weakest point in decades. While Democrats are glad to have labor's foot soldiers on Election Day, they're comfortable ignoring labor (and Blacks, women and other so-called Democratic constituencies) the rest of the year.

The AFL-CIO has become used to expecting little and demanding even less. So when Daschle's proposed "compromise" on Bush's economic stimulus bill called for dropping increased unemployment benefits and subsidies to help unemployed workers keep their health insurance, the AFL-CIO hardly made a stir.

The Democrats clearly hope that a recession-battered electorate will toss out the Republicans. They shouldn't be so confident. They thought "peace and prosperity" could carry Gore to victory in 2000, too. But Gore's politics made him so indistinguishable from Bush that he turned what should have been a rout into a contest that was close enough for Bush to steal.

Working people can't wait for the Democrats to wake up. We must organize to demand health care, the right to join unions and money for education. That's the only way the working-class majority will make its voice heard.

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