WHAT WE THINK
November 15, 2002 | Page 3
"IF HE pushed an aggressive platform before, with a minority of the popular vote and a divided Congress, imagine what he'll seek now." Those words--written by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof--sum up the consensus view of George W. Bush and the Republicans after the GOP election victory last week.
Sure, only 39 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot--so only about 20 percent gave the Republicans their "mandate." Nor does anyone seriously believe that the policies and ideas Bush represents are popular. According to a Newsweek poll, less than one-third of people think it's a good thing that Republicans won control of both houses of Congress--and more than half are concerned that the Bush gang will move the U.S. in "too conservative a direction."
But as far as the Washington establishment is concerned, the Bush steamroller is starting up--and anyone who gets in the way will be flattened.
What will it take to stop Bush? And who's going to do it? One bunch that that no one can count on is the Democratic Party. The Democrats have only themselves to blame for losing this election. Despite the economic slump and a wave of corporate crime scandals, the Democrats' pathetic campaign didn't give even their own "supporters" anything to vote for.
The first Democratic head to roll after the election was House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), who said last week that he was giving up his leadership post. He will probably be replaced by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who the Bush gang instantly began to smear as a "San Francisco liberal."
Pelosi isn't as radical as the Bush gang--or the liberals cheering her on--believe. Last year, for example, she voted in favor of the USA PATRIOT Act giveaway of our civil liberties. Nevertheless, Pelosi is to the left of Gephardt. She could represent the start of a shift away from the Democrats' cowering behavior.
Faced with two years of being out of power in all branches of government, some Democrats will try to take advantage of the vast opening to their left. If an opposition voice, however limited, did develop in mainstream politics, it would be welcome--not because of what the Democrats would accomplish, but because of the measure of legitimacy that their rhetoric would give to grassroots struggles. But the real question, as always, is struggle.
Republicans may be crowing now, but the simple truth is that they don't have answers to the economic and social problems facing the majority of people in this country. Once they begin pushing their real agenda, Republicans are bound to face some expression of the same opposition that has met conservative parties around the world in the last decade--from the parrots of Washington's neoliberal austerity program in Latin America, to conservatives in countries like Italy and France.
That was true in the U.S. in 1994, when ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and his gang won control over both houses of Congress in a much more massive sweep of the midterm elections. But the 1994 vote was really against Bill Clinton and the Democrats, not for the Gingrichites. After the Republicans had left their campaign rhetoric behind and unveiled their real program--the "Contract on America" hit list of attacks on workers and the poor--they sparked a backlash.
The political landscape seemed hopeless after the "Republican Revolution" in November. But within a matter of months, the signs of opposition were unmistakable--from a sit-in during congressional hearings on welfare cuts, to a labor-led occupation of Gingrich's Georgia office, to local demonstrations around the country to defend welfare and homeless rights.
Meanwhile, three labor battles in the Illinois "War Zone" cast a spotlight on corporate greed--and helped begin the process of revitalizing the labor movement after decades of retreat. Stewart Acuff, then the president of the Atlanta Labor Council, captured the spirit of these struggles perfectly during the takeover of Gingrich's office. "We ain't waiting two years for another election," Acuff said. "If you're determined to rip our guts out, you're going to have a fight on your hands." We need that same spirit now.
The Washington establishment claims that the Bush gang has learned their lesson--and won't push forward with the same unbridled arrogance that Gingrich did. But that's to talk only about rhetoric. P.R. smoke and mirrors will only do so much to cover the scale of the Republicans' assault.
Just as in 1994, what individuals and groups of activists do to mobilize in response to right-wing attacks will be crucial. And our side has one important advantage today. The movement against Bush's war drive is already thriving--bringing out hundreds of thousands to protests in the last month.
The antiwar movement can be the centerpiece of an opposition to the world of war and poverty that the Republicans have in store. They have a fight on their hands--and so do we.