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Dazed Demos Could Look to Brazil's New President

by Roger Burbach

on Brazil's New President
(PNS) -- Thunderstruck Democrats should look south of the border, to Brazil, for an example of how to win the hearts and minds of voters.

Nine days prior to the U.S. elections, Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva overwhelmingly won the Brazilian presidency with 61 percent of the vote and turned the Workers Party into Brazil's leading political organization. In the campaign, the Workers Party, like the Democrats in recent years, moved to the center.

But the Workers Party did not abandon its core, progressive principles. Lula made it clear in the campaign that the party had an alternative economic program that favored urban and agricultural workers along with the middle class and national manufacturers. Lula said no to the financial interests that speculate on the Brazilian economy and sap the country's resources. He said yes to the social sectors that are willing to roll up their sleeves and work for a better Brazil.

The day after his victory, Lula established the Secretariat for Social Services. Its mandate is to eliminate hunger among 20 million Brazilians during the Workers Party's four-year rule. This goal may or may not be achieved, but it is a goal that enjoys widespread national support.

What if the Democratic Party adopted such a bold policy by pledging to eliminate the poverty that afflicts 25 percent of America's children?

In fact, the few Democrats who did take courageous, principled stands were among the few Democrats to win resoundingly on Nov. 5.

Take Representative Jim McDermott of Washington state. Along with two other Congressmen, McDermott went to Iraq in late September and declared that "U.S. war is not a solution." Republicans immediately tried to tar him as "Baghdad Jim," and compared his visit to Iraq to Jane Fonda's trip to Hanoi during the Vietnam War.

But McDermott won reelection with 75 percent of the vote, a bigger margin than that received by any other congressional representative in the state of Washington.

Another Democratic Congressman, Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who denounced the impending war against Iraq and may be a presidential candidate in 2004, won with 74 percent of the vote in his district.

The Democratic leadership, headed by Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, who both entertain presidential ambitions, caved into Bush's war resolution. What did it gain them? Nothing.

The most poignant legacy of a Democrat who stood on principles is that of Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. After his vote against Bush's war resolution he surged ahead of his Republican senatorial opponent. In the last poll taken by the Minneapolis Star before he died in a plane crash, Wellstone led 47 to 41 percent.

On the other hand, Walter Mondale, Wellstone's replacement on the ticket, is part of the "old-boy" Democratic network and sits on a number of corporate boards like Cargill, Inc. -- the world«s largest grain trading company, which makes most of its profits by speculating on global food supplies. Mondale lost the election because the people of Minnesota realized he stood for little more than politics as usual. He was just a pale reflection of Senator Wellstone.

If the Democrats are to recover, they will have to forge a platform that stands for the disadvantaged, the working class and the troubled middle class. It will have to challenge the ever-increasing domination of the U.S. economy and politics by petroleum and corporate interests. Democrats must promote an alternative economy, one that can develop new technologies and resources to mitigate environmental destruction while simultaneously ending poverty in the United States and abroad. Such a program would require massive investments that would unleash new technological and productive forces, just as Lula is calling for in Brazil.

During the Cold War the U.S. government created jobs and stimulated the economy through massive expenditures on a wasteful military-industrial complex. There is every reason to believe that a campaign to build an alternative economy that reduced our reliance on fossil fuels and ended human impoverishment would be successful in creating a more sane and humane world. Lula took a first step in Brazil. Democrats at home should look to his example, learn and then lead.

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Albion Monitor November 8 2002 (

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