Ever since the election we have been getting letters from readers who are concerned that with George W. Bush in the White House and Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court that the GOP will seek to undo what the Democrats have accomplished in the past 68 years since Franklin Roosevelt outlined his New Deal. "I'm 81 years old," wrote one reader. "I might not live to see another Democratic president."
Some complain about our support of Ralph Nader's Green presidential campaign, which drew votes away from Al Gore. Some ask what populists can do now that the election system and the Supreme Court have been shown to be corrupt. Hopelessness seems to alternate with cynicism.
First of all, don't give up hope. Democrats in Congress are in a good position to block Republican efforts to wreck social programs such as Social Security and Medicare -- if they stick together. With a 50-50 tie in the Senate, Democrats can stop bad old bills if Democratic Leader Tom Daschle can keep the caucus together. But if Bush fills the courts with 600 clones of Antonin Scalia, they will have to get past the Democrats in the Senate. Those D's don't need to accept any nominees Bush puts up for federal courts unless they show a history and a commitment to judicial moderation that satisfies the Democrats' concerns. The GOP arbitrarily refused to confirm dozens of Bill Clinton's nominees to the courts. Democrats should return the favor, and start by redlining anybody who has any ties to the right-wing Federalist Society, or anybody whose judicial ideology remotely resembles William Rehnquist's or Antonin Scalia's.
Second, don't blame Nader for Gore's loss. "New Democrat" leaders are trying to pin the blame on Nader to cover up their own failings. Running to succeed a popular president in a booming economy, Gore fumbled his campaign, which allowed Bush to keep close enough to steal the election in Florida. Gore wouldn't even let his mentor, Bill Clinton, campaign on his behalf in Clinton's home state until the last weeks of the campaign. Gore lost Arkansas as well as his own home state of Tennessee. If he had won either of those states, or normally Democratic West Virginia, he would be preparing for the inauguration instead of Dubya. Nader wasn't as much a factor in those states as gun control was. It turns out West Virginians trust their guns way more than they trusted Gore.
Nader gave progressive voters a choice. He didn't force anyone to vote for him. He didn't steal any votes. He didn't prevent any votes from being counted. He simply ran on a progressive populist agenda, which is why we endorsed him. We explained to our readers what a vote for Nader might mean in battleground states. Those who decided to vote for him had every right to do so -- and probably good reasons. After all, the idea that Democrats could take progressive votes for granted is one of the reasons Nader got in the race to begin with.
Third, Gore won the election. Bush won the Supreme Court intervention. Bush was not elected president by the people and the only thing that distinguishes his selection is that it was the Supreme Court and not the Army that put him in power. He fell more than 539,000 votes short of Gore in the national popular vote, and we fully expect that news media-sponsored recounts will show that Bush got beaten in the Florida vote as well. The Supreme Court, for partisan reasons, expropriated the election on W's behalf. Bush will be the legal president of the United States, since the Supreme Court says so, but that doesn't mean Democrats in Congress need to play nice with him. He certainly doesn't deserve a "honeymoon."
Democrats should start by blocking the nominations of John Ashcroft as attorney general and Gale Norton as interior secretary, and they should be prepared if Bush picks another labor secretary as offensive as Linda Chavez. Selection of these right-wingers is an insult to people who believe in equal justice, conservation and labor rights. It gives the lie to Bush's claim of "compassionate conservatism," just as his previous incarnation as "reformer with results" was laughable.
Republicans blocked Clinton's appointment of Bill Lann Lee, among others, to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division on the grounds that he believed in enforcing the civil rights laws, so the Democrats have a free hand in finding Bush nominees objectionable, and there is plenty to object to in Bush's hard-right nominees.
None of them will be easy to derail. Ashcroft will be the hardest, given the courtesy normally given to former senators. Even some progressive senators admit privately that they expected all the Cabinet choices to be confirmed, except Chavez, whose appointment seemed a deliberate poke in the eye of organized labor even before it was disclosed that she had an undocumented Guatemalan woman in her house in 1993, disclosure of which forced her to withdraw from consideration for the labor secretary's position.
Unfortunately, the conduct of the Senate Democrats Jan. 6, when not a single senator would back up the Congressional Black Caucus' challenge of the Florida vote, does not bode well for the Democrats' willingness to stand up to the Republicans in Congress. That could stick in the craw of a lot of blacks and union members who provided Gore's winning margin -- and upon whom the Ds will depend in two years.
The next two years are not going to be easy. Republicans by bluff or blunder will be able to get some bad bills through, by tacking riders onto must-pass budget bills, if Democratic filibusters make them necessary. But Republicans will have to answer to the voters in two years, when 20 GOP senators will be up for election. As the Supreme Court noted, the Constitution does not provide for a popular vote for presidential electors. However, even Scalia must admit that the people still get to vote on members of Congress. In the meantime we'll find out how many of those Republicans really are moderates.
Call your congressional representative and your senators at 202-224-3121 or write them c/o the US Senate, Washington DC 20510 or the US House, Washington DC 20515. If they're Democrats, put some steel in their spine. Urge them not to compromise with these power grabbers. If your reps are Republican, tell them you're watching them closely. You might not have an impact on a Jesse Helms, or a Phil Gramm, but you might cause an Arlen Specter, Jim Jeffords or Olympia Snowe to think twice about voting for some of these right-wing schemes. You might also get corporate-minded "New Democrats" like John Breaux, Joe Lieberman or Bob Torricelli to think twice about providing "bipartisan" cover for those schemes.
Tell your Congress members and state legislators to support campaign finance reform, so that honest people can run for election without renting themselves to corporate donors, and instant runoff voting, so independent candidates can have an impact on elections without spoiling the chances of the next-best candidate. Now that Democrats have seen a general election "spoiled" by Nader's populist Greens, they might get some support for IRV from Republicans, who lost the previous two presidential elections due to Perot's populist Reformers. Also put in a plug for proportional representation, which allows minorities to elect legislators and members of Congress without resorting to gerrymandering.
Above all, don't let cynicism drive you away from the political process. When voter participation declines, Republicans win elections. And remember this palindrome: "Dubya won? No way, bud!"
Richard Winger of the Ballot Access News is one who reads
the Supreme Court's Bush v. Gore decision as a victory for
attempts to open up the ballot to minor parties. He writes in the
Jan. 1 edition that the ruling on the equal protections clause will
help to win lawsuits against states who refuse to tally write-in
votes, or states which refuse to label candidates from other than the
two main parties, or states which make it unreasonably difficult to
get on the ballot, or place minor party candidates on the ballot in a
confusing manner, or states which provide unequal treatment of voters
at the polls. We think he is overly optimistic, but it is worth a
try, if for no other reason than to show that the Bush v. Gore
order was an ad hoc ruling that served no other purpose than to
elevate the Gang of Five's favored candidate to the White House.