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WHAT WE THINK
White House and Congress take aim at favorite scapegoats
Washington's cynical charade

June 16, 2006 | Page 3

IT WAS the best news George W. Bush had heard in months. With the administration and the Republicans setting record lows in opinion polls, the Bush White House was trying to get all the mileage it could from the assassination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi--while simultaneously trying to appease their supporters on Wall Street and the Christian Right.

The media cheered Zarqawi's death as a new "turning point" in Iraq, and so did the Democrats. But Michael Berg, an antiwar activist and father of a contractor allegedly killed by Zarqawi's group, courageously told the truth on CNN: "George Bush is more of a terrorist than Zarqawi is. Zarqawi is attributed to the deaths of a couple hundred people, including my son. George Bush is responsible for 150,000 deaths and another one every 12 minutes."

White House officials cynically hope the killing will be a "circuit-breaker"--and re-establish some measure of support for the U.S. occupation.

Meanwhile in Congress, Republicans came just three votes short in their effort to permanently repeal the estate tax, levied on large inheritances going almost exclusively to the richest Americans. Despite the defeat, Republicans were happy that the vote happened. "The conservative base will appreciate the fact that we are trying," said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).

A day earlier, the Republicans were serving up another plate of red meat to the base--this time, the Religious Right, with a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. This measure, heartily supported by Bush in a speech the week before, went down in defeat, too. But it gave right-wing Republicans a platform to pick on some of their favored scapegoats.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) brought a large photo of his family onto the Senate floor and declared, "As you see...my wife and I have been married 47 years. We have 20 kids and grandkids. I am really proud to say in the recorded history of our family, we have never had a divorce or any kind of a homosexual relationship."

Democratic Party leaders and even much of the media pointed out the Republicans' cynical maneuver to whip up its base as campaigning for the November congressional elections begins in earnest.

But that wasn't the end of the story. "Washington instantly codified the moral: A desperate president at rock bottom in the polls went through the motions of a cynical and transparent charade to rally his base in an election year," New York Times columnist Frank Rich wrote. "Nothing was gained--even the president of the Family Policy Network branded Mr. Bush's pandering a ruse--and no harm was done. Except to gay people."

Antigay measures, even when they don't pass, contribute to a climate in which discrimination and bigotry against gays and lesbians is accepted.

The same can be said of recent Senate and House bills to impose new restrictions and punishments on undocumented immigrants. The politicians of both parties have accepted the terms of debate as set by the right wing--that U.S. borders are being "overwhelmed," that undocumented immigrants are a threat to "national security," that they steal the jobs of native-born workers. Right-wing vigilante groups like the Minutemen, once dismissed as crackpots, have gained legitimacy and support.

The result is an open season on immigrants, gays and lesbians--all the favorite scapegoats--with the inevitable increase and violence and oppression suffered by the most vulnerable.

The Bush administration's crisis has given Democrats a golden opportunity to take a stand against the right-wing agenda. But party leaders are too busy with their political maneuvering--above all, the hope that the Republicans will defeat themselves, leading to a Democratic majority in Congress after November--to waste their time with actual principles.

The Democrats' whole focus is on proving that they are the party with a "responsible" foreign policy and proposals that will deliver for Corporate America.

This underlines how far the Democrats fall short of offering a real alternative--and the disappointment in store for activists who pin their hopes on the party of the "lesser evil." People who want to see the tide turned on the right-wing agenda can't count on a solution coming from the bipartisan political establishment.

During the 1960s civil rights movement, when activists faced violence from racist segregationists, they learned how little the Democratic Kennedy and Johnson administrations were willing to do to help them. Debates about what it would take to destroy Jim Crow segregation and win equal rights informed and educated a generation of activists--many of whom would go on to build the Black Power movement and other social struggles in the years to come.

Today, tremendous class and social polarization is creating the conditions in which people are being forced to take sides. The potential is clear for the kind of grassroots struggles that will produce a new generation of movement leaders.

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