by Randolph T. Holhut
first 100 days of the George W. Bush administration have certainly been no surprise, unless you actually believed all that "compassionate conservative" nonsense that he was spouting on the campaign trail.
Edwin J. Feuher, president of the Heritage Foundation, the right-wing's uber think tank, has called Bush's administration "more Reaganite than the Reagan administration." Certainly in the areas of big tax cuts for the rich, more money for the military, weakened environmental and worker safety regulations and cuts to social welfare spending, Bush has a lot in common with Ronald Reagan.
And what are the Democrats doing? Blaming Ralph Nader, of course. It's all his fault that Bush got elected, they say. But the central thesis of Nader's candidacy -- that there is no substantive difference between the GOP and the Democrats and both are beholden to the same corporate special interests -- hasn't changed any.
The Democrats could have challenged any of Bush's cabinet appointees. Instead they approved them all. They could've stopped Bush's efforts to repeal rules aimed at preventing repetitive stress injuries. Six Democratic senators voted for that bill. They could've stopped the bankruptcy "reform" bill that will force overextended credit card holders to pay back all their debts. Thirty-six Democrats in Senate put that bill over. And instead of fighting about the wisdom of cutting taxes for the rich instead creating a national health insurance program, fixing our crumbling public infrastructure or insuring that Medicare and Social Security stay solvent, the Democrats have jumped on the tax cut bandwagon too.
Bill Clinton approved cutting welfare for the poor, championed the North American Free Trade Agreement, expanded the death penalty and generally governed as a moderate Republican. By co-opting the conservative issues while paying lip service to the left-of-center core of his party, he all but assured the death of the Democrats.
But it's easier for Democrats to blame Nader than to face the reality that their own ineptitude and spinelessness are to blame for putting Bush in the White House.
Yes, the Kyoto protocol on global warming wouldn't have been repudiated if Al Gore was president. But you didn't see the Clinton administration going all out to meet its standards. Gore might have picked slightly less odious people to the cabinet than John Ashcroft, Gail Norton and Donald Rumsfeld and he would not be pushing for a big tax cut for the rich. But we still would have gotten another four years of Republican policy, only in a kinder, gentler form. Clintonism without Bill.
That's why 2.7 million people cast their votes for Nader. Many were people who weren't going to vote for either Gore or Bush, or not vote at all, until Nader provided an outlet for those who wanted an alternative to corporate politics as usual.
Gore and the Democrats could have benefited from adopting some of Nader's platform. Universal health care, a smaller defense budget, greater environmental protections, reining in the free market and creating a economy that's less rapacious are all issues that resonate with many Americans. But they are all issues that have been avoided by the party. Without strong principles and ideas, the Democrats will never come back into power.
Nader has said the Green vote will become to the Democrats what the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Association is to the Republicans -- the critical part of the party base without whom victory is impossible. Democrats have taken the left for granted for years, because they knew they had no other place to go -- until Nader and the Greens came along.
The 2002 elections aren't that far away. The Democrats could easily win back control of the House and Senate, particularly if the economy goes sour or if voters get sick of Bush's conservatism without compassion. If the Greens get organized and if the Democrats wise up and see them as allies instead of enemies, the GOP would have its hands full in 2002.
The conservatism of the Democratic Leadership Council -- embodied by Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman -- has resulted in the Democrats going from majority to minority status in every level of politics in a little more than a decade. As Harry Truman used to like to say, give people a choice between a Republican and a Republican, and they'll choose the Republican every time.
Maybe that's why some of the real progressive Democrats in Congress such as Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia have said that Nader ultimately helped the Democratic cause by attracting non-traditional people to the political process -- folks who saw through the DLC jive of Clinton and Gore and wouldn't have voted at all in 2000 until Nader got in the race. The lefties that cast votes for Nader also helped get Maria Cantwell of Washington and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan elected to the U.S. Senate and give Democrats a 50-50 split. Several other progressive Democrats won U.S. House seats thanks to the Nader bounce.
That's why House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt is still talking to Nader. Gephardt recognized that no one last year was paying $10 or $20 to hear Al Gore speak. But Nader packed arenas around the country with young people who wanted to hear something rare in American political life -- someone who told the truth.
The smart people in politics know that Nader was not running for president to kill the Democratic Party. He was running to help revive democracy in America. If Democrats want to blame Nader for George W. Bush's presidency and shun the man who has done more for civil society and any man alive in the past 40 years, they do so at their own peril.
May 5, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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